Catch phrase from the Redskins’ past: “The future is now.” Slogan for the Redskins’ present: “The future is bleak.”

The present’s none too rosy, neither. Though this year’s schedule was as weak as office coffee—the Skins played only four teams with winning records—the team still needs to beat the Eagles this weekend to get a wild-card berth. But who really cares? Postseason date or no, this franchise is going full throttle in reverse.

The Skins left another cow pie in the Meadowlands, but nobody should be shocked. Norv Turner’s boys always play Houdini and disappear during a playoff run. Take away that fluky, ultimately trivial seven-game winning streak from the first half of the 1996 season, and Turner’s record in his four years as the Skins’ head coach is an amazing 18-37-1. (Hell, while we’re at it: Take away all his trivial wins, and he’s 0-37-1.) But he still carries himself around town like he’s freakin’ Knute Rockne. Turner’s still-shiny veneer makes Teflon look like Velcro.

No other current NFL coach has been with a team even three years without making the playoffs, but Turner, on the brink of extending that heinous streak, is still allowed to ride that “brilliant offensive playcaller” horse he rode up from Dallas on. Yet in nine quarters against the Giants—a mediocre horde coached by a reputationless rookie, Jim Fassel, and quarterbacked by a reputationless first-year starter, Danny Kanell—Turner called all the plays that brought his team all of 17 points. And, oh yeah, no wins.

After the latest debacle, Turner fed the press the same refrain he’s used since his first egg in Week 1 of the 1994 season: “We just have to find a way to win. We just need to make plays.” Turner also gutlessly attributed the loss to Matt Turk’s bumbled snap, forgetting that that pivotal play was a fourth and less than one and could have been avoided had Mr. Brilliant gone for a first down. And screw that talk about Terry Allen’s injury; on the year, Stephen Davis’ per-carry average (3.9) is a full half-yard better than Allen’s (3.4). It’s not Davis’ fault Turner stops using him after the first quarter. As Turner hosted yet another postgame blamefest, it occurred to me that the only free-agent signing that would mollify me would be Latrell Sprewell, just as long as he promised to keep up his coach-throttling ways.

Lord knows the Skins haven’t brought in anybody else for fans to warm up to. Turner always insinuates that his team’s poor play has something to do with inexperience, but unless he’s comparing his bunch to the Supreme Court’s starting nine, he’s as off-base as a Jeff Hostetler down-and-out pass. Truth is, only two teams in the NFL throw an older lineup onto the field than the Skins. Nearly all the thoroughbreds—Cris Dishman, Darrell Green, Ken Harvey, Terry Allen, Marvcus Patton—are long in the tooth by football standards, with all the anemic youngbloods waiting in the wings.

At least in theory, godawful squads are supposed to lift themselves up via the draft. But when this team was bottom-feeding, Turner and general manager Charley Casserly brought in enough busts to fill the Louvre: The prime picks earned during the Skins’ gory years of 1992-95 bore Heath Shuler, Sean Gilbert, and Michael Westbrook (or Gone, Going, and Please Go). And although the Skins went into the past two off-seasons allegedly aiming to procure free agents able to stop the rush, the run defense wouldn’t be much more porous if the McGaughey septuplets replaced the team’s current front seven.

Look for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to flee for a head coaching job as soon as the season ends.

Neither Turner nor Casserly is going anywhere, though. The Skins’ organization is in absolute disrepair. President John Kent Cooke is far too occupied by his effort to keep the team to worry about dumping nonperforming staffers, especially since those moves would cost a pretty penny: One of Jack Kent Cooke’s final acts before floating up to Hale Bopp Land, remember, was signing Turner and Casserly through the millennium.

Newspaper reports suggest that lawyers for dear dead dad’s estate are already hoping the courts will void a prenup the elder Cooke signed with Marlena, arguing that the party girl failed to capably perform her contractual duties. Seems they’d have a better chance using that same argument to get the coach’s and general manager’s pacts thrown out. Absent such a tack, Norv and Charley are, respectively, Coach and General Manager for Life. So maybe the best thing Skins fans could hope for is to get some sort of control board appointed to monitor that dastardly duo’s activities and approve their every nonceremonial move.

In any case, even if Johnny Cooke holds on to the Redskins, he won’t retain anywhere near enough of his dad’s assets to keep up with the Jerry Joneses of the new NFL. According to Forbes, the Redskins are one of the few teams whose debts are in excess of their owners’ worth. Given how rockily the first year in Raljon has gone, there’ll be even more empty seats at JKC next season if the team’s season-ticket sellers don’t have the bounce a playoff appearance would provide. Unless the club level fills up, it might not be too long before the franchise is thrown out for auction on the stadium lawn.

If the Skins beat the Eagles, the Skins will have their first playoff game since Joe Gibbs hit the pavement. Technically, that win won’t be enough: The Detroit Lions also have to lose to the Jets. But don’t worry about that. Luckily for Norv, the Jets also need a win, and they have a coach who shows up for big games.—Dave McKenna

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