On Ken Beatrice’s sports call-in show last Wednesday night, a suburban listener asked the WMAL-AM host if he’d heard that Redskins Head Coach Richie Petitbon had been fired. No, Beatrice answered, he hadn’t.
“They’re going to replace him with a Chinese head coach, Win Sum Soon!” exclaimed the jokester, who hung up.
“Oh, boy,” twittered Beatrice. “That’s cold. They’re getting nasty now.”
Everything being relative, Beatrice’s unironic retort was on the mark: Over the next hour of the program, not a single listener called to bury the hapless Skins or to praise the team, now suffering through its worst season in three decades. Instead, the Capitals, Bullets, and even horse racing were mulled over by Beatrice and his sports-minded audience.
Throughout the very prosperous Gibbs administration, it was easy and perfectly proper for what seemed like all of Washington to cheer on its Redskins during each of the team’s perennial championship runs. So where’s the equal and opposite reaction now that the Redskins have hit the skids running? Why shouldn’t the worst record in the conference (even after that shameful, didn’t-cover-the-spread win over the wretched Colts) at least spawn a vigorous toilet-papering of Petitbon’s Bar & Grill? And if Vince Foster’s parting shot about D.C. being a city where people’s lives are ruined for sport were really true, wouldn’t at least a few malicious monsters be visiting ruination on the coaches and players by now? Instead, there’s nothing. No vitriol. No calls for heads to roll.
Other serious sports towns wouldn’t be suffering these bums in silence. In New York, the scribes didn’t waste much time grooming Ray Handley for retirement when he succeeded super-successful Bill Parcells as Giants coach. Handley took harder hits in interviews than his special teams did on kickoffs.
And what if the Skins still played in Boston? What kind of treatment would this year’s squad get from Beantown’s rabid media and vociferous sports fans? Even the venerable Celtics, with all their NBA titles, aren’t above public rebuke when they start filling up the L column. In the lean years prior to Larry Bird’s arrival, for example, then-owner (and former governor of Kentucky) John Y. Brown was more commonly referred to as Why? John Brown or Mr. Phyllis George by Boston Garden attendees.
Same for Chicago: Mike Ditka was hailed as a hero for helping bring the town an NFL championship, but when he became a loser—and Ditka’s Bears never plunged to the depths this year’s Skins appear to be headed for—the local media ensured that punches were thrown, not pulled, during the coach’s weekly press conferences.
The wide world of sports, by definition, is about half-full of losers. Washington Redskins followers, unlike fans from genuinely sports-centric metropolises, don’t realize that spewing venom at their beloved squad can make even a dismal season like this one worth paying attention to. The good news is that there are still eight games to go, plenty of time for leveling creative abuse or even a simple Bronx cheer. The current Redskins offer all the usual targets:
The Coach Isn’t everybody at this point sickened by the sight of Petitbon, at least a C-note overweight, strolling the sidelines, his playbook strapped to his belt like a colostomy bag? Doesn’t petit bon translate literally to “small and good”? Forget about renaming the team to appease some Indians; the French should be crying for the Skins coach to either shed a few lb.’s or change his moniker. Maybe Richie Bon Appetit would suffice. And if the guy had any sense, would he have opened an eatery in the same Falls Church spot where Jay Schroeder’s cafe quickly went belly up? Doesn’t take a CPA to see that the book on Coach Bone’s bistro will also end after Chapter 11. Sure, it’s irrational to even think that Petitbon doesn’t deserve at least another year before a gotta-go verdict is issued. But being a true sports fan means never having to say you’re rational: Petitbon’s gotta go!
The General Manager Salary cap, schmalary cap. Injuries, schminjuries. Charley Casserly is the reason that this team has no depth. Two years ago, he traded two first-round draft picks to get childish bust-in-progress Desmond Howard. Then things got worse: When the NFL’s current collective-bargaining agreement was signed last year, virtually all the pundits assumed that the Redskins would thrive under the new system. “Who wouldn’t want to play in Washington?” was the conventional wisdom. Legendary fan support, deep-pocketed owner, and, under Gibbs, an organization that simply oozed respectability. What a difference a year makes. Forget Lachey’s injury. In the name of shoring up the pass defense, Casserly blew his whole wad in pursuit of god-squadder Reggie White. But in the process of losing the former Eagle lineman to Green Bay, Casserly ignored quality pass rushers Fred Stokes and Jumpy Geathers and cornerback Martin Mayhew, who all departed for greener pastures. Casserly’s PR campaign against on-field fire-starters Wilbur Marshal and Gary Clark also hurt, but the real long-term damage will come from his treatment of Art Monk. The Skins GM told the league’s all-time leading receiver during last season’s very public contract negotiations that he’d have to accept a diminished role on the team. Then, after being signed to a deal that paid much less than Cincinnati castoff Tim McGee, Monk was put back in his old role in time for the opening-night game with Dallas. In the next off-season, the buzz among free agents is more likely to be: “Who would want to play in Washington?” Casserly’s gotta go!
The Owner The team’s image certainly wasn’t helped by Jack Kent “Mr.” Cooke shaking state and local governments down for a free site for his new stadium. And the tabloid tales that fill his personal life, most notably his jailbird wife’s boys-on-the-hood episode in Georgetown, further tarnished the reputation Saint Joe cultivated. Cooke has, truth be told, suffered a few hits during the team’s loss binge. “Jack Kent Crooke” graffiti has popped up on city streets, and Congress has taken to bashing the deal given Cooke by D.C. authorities. The lesson there is that a winning team has more political clout than one vying for the top draft pick. Cooke’s gotta go!
The Media On Page 1 of Saturday’s Washington Post Sports section, the Redskinsweren’t mentioned a single time. This on the day before the Colts game, the first home date in four weeks, and not a word?! Instead, there were big write-ups on the Bullets and Caps, whose seasons didn’t start until after the Super Bowl back in the old days. But, given the quality of the Post‘s attention to the Redskins, maybe that sort of non-coverage is a blessing. The “don’t ask/don’t tell” strategy employed by virtually every one of the Post‘s Skins beat reporters (combative punk Tom Friend’s talents would probably be more greatly appreciated if he were following this pitiful team) doesn’t hold up when the on-field goings-on are as bad and bland as they are this season. The Post‘s gotta go!
High-Profile Supporters Why oh freakin’ why are the Hogettes still around? Somebody, somewhere, at some time, must have told the old farts that getting dressed as women dressed as pigs before each game was a good idea. But get real. They probably can’t even name two Redskins offensive linemen that played in the Colts game, and besides, that dress-up crap isn’t cute when the team sucks. Every time the Hogettes’ Ford commercial is aired, real sports fans conjure up visions of these idiots in Ned Beatty’s Deliverance role. The Hogettes gotta go!
And, while we’re at it:
The Team Old players, poor drafts, poor free agent signings, etc., have left the Skins’ future prospects looking grim. With a new stadium on the way, why not petition for one of those expansion franchises the NFL will soon award? C’mon, this ain’t the Special Olympics! This is the year to say it: The Redskins gotta go!