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Disregard the incompetence that Norv Turner’s team continued to showcase Saturday night in Miami. Ignore for a moment the thrashings that the once-prideful franchise now routinely tolerates. Those things aren’t what makes rooting for the Skins such a chore.
It’s the turnover.
Not the on-field turnover that young gazillionaire Heath Shuler executes so well. (The Err Apparent’s only two touchdown tosses of the preseason have been to the opposition, including that eminently dispiriting 98-yarder returned by Dolphin Louis Oliver.) No, the turnover that really hurts has been engineered by general manager Charley Casserly and his cohorts in the Redskins’ front office. The team’s personnel has changed so drastically that a Redskins fan casually mulling over the game rosters for the Washington/Miami exhibition could have real trouble discerning which was the Redskins’ and which was the Dolphins’. OK, so everybody knows Dan Marino is a Fin, but Miami also dressed two players—Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders—who had each caught more passes in Washington uniforms than all the receivers on the ’95 Redskins roster combined.
Joe Gibbs, the Redskins’ coach when Clark and Sanders played here, would have won no matter who the front office saddled him with—he proved that during the scab season. But with the either incredibly lucky or brilliant Bobby Beathard as general manager, the Redskins’ lineup under Gibbs was generally as stable as helium. The cornerstone of Gibbs’ four Super Bowl teams was the most celebrated offensive line in NFL history, the Hogs. It’s no accident that Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, and Donnie Warren blocked for every one of the championship teams.
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Stability and the Redskins parted company when Gibbs decided to go racing. Free agency, a large supply of aging veterans, and an increasingly mobile league forced the organization’s hand in many key personnel decisions. Still, the way the team has floundered over the past few years—not to mention the very real possibility that this year’s model could be the worst, most boring Redskins team ever—makes the mantra of change ring hollow. A typical schoolboy squad returns more lettermen than the Redskins have over the past two seasons. Jerry Seinfeld nailed the ludicrousness of interchangeable pro athletes on his show by saying it’s like “rooting for laundry.” We cheered like mad for Clark and Sanders whenthey wore burgundy, but when they come back in different colored shirts, we find ourselves stuck sitting on our hands. A lot of Redskin greats are still doing wonderful things in the NFL, they just work for other franchises.
Once the team’s now-completed junket toward the NFL’s lower echelons got going in earnest, Casserly purged basically every Redskin who knew how to win from the roster. (By the final cut, Darrell Green and Jim Lachey will be the only remaining Redskins who contributed to the last Super Bowl win just four years ago.)
Fans aren’t the only ones having trouble coping with Casserly’s cleansing. The general manager’s inability to retain proven talent has forced Theater Vision to settle on long-retired Sam Huff, now a broadcaster with the team, as a pitchman.
Since 1981, the Rockville-based vendor of oversize TVs has added a touch of humanity to the home team by hiring active Redskins to serve as spokesplayers in its ongoing series of adorably underproduced, low- budget commercials. Past solicitors have included offensive heroes like Art Monk, Bostic, and, most notably, the touchingly buffoonish Jacoby. Jacoby’s wobbly delivery recalled Brando as the backseat palooka in On the Waterfront.
“I still get people talking about that Jacoby ad,” laughs Jerry Bessell, president of Theater Vision.
At the beginning of training camp last year, none of the players who’d previously shilled for Theater Vision were still around. The high-water mark of Casserly’s cold cruelty came with the expatriation of the mythic Monk. (If Casserly GM’d for the Orioles, does anyone doubt that Cal Ripken would be breaking the Gehrig streak in a Yankees or Blue Jays uniform?)
Last year, the endless purging forced Theater Vision to hire underachievers Desmond Howard and Reggie Brooks as its mouthpieces. Though he’d made only a handful of receptions during his miserable career in burgundy and gold, Howard’s big contract and Heisman status gave him the highest Q rating of the dim offensive stars lucky enough to survive Casserly’s cutbacks. As everybody knows by now, Howard played and griped his way onto the Redskins’ unprotected list for this year’s expansion draft. Brooks, meanwhile, has been limping toward the waiver wire since last season.
With Howard banished and Brooks on his way out, it seemed a certainty that one of the team’s two QBs, Shuler or Gus Frerotte, would get the storied Theater Vision assignment. But, maybe because the sponsor didn’t want to commit to one of the players and risk alienating fans of the non-chosen hurler once the imminent quarterback controversy takes off, Shuler and Frerotte were bypassed.
Other than the QBs, the Redskins’ only offensive player with the least bit of name recognition is place-kicker Eddie Murray, but unfortunately, he’s not the Eddie Murray who used to hit home runs on 33rd Street in Baltimore. Perusing the obscurities that make up the Redskins roster, it’s clear Murray is not the only name that stands out for all the wrong reasons: Four defensive backs—Washington, Grant, Taylor, and Carter—and three linemen—two Johnsons and a Wilson—have presidential surnames. No wonder Huff was tapped to deliver Theater Vision’s spiel.
“Usually we use active players, but Sam Huff isn’t going to get traded or fired or retire,” says Bessell.
The loss of tradition and competence was profoundly manifest in the first half at Miami, when ex-Skin Clark found a crease in the middle of the end zone on a pass play. Dan Marino threw a customary bullet in his direction and, despite being absolutely poleaxed by new Skin (and former San Diego Charger) safety Stanley Richard, Clark held on for a Miami touchdown. Clark’s score brought Miami’s lead to 13-0, and Washington never really got back in the game. The future Hall of Famer backpedaled through his trademark TD dance and pointed to the cheering crowd, as he’d done so many times during his productive and happy days in RFK. For a moment, nothing had changed—nothing except the color of Clark’s shirt.