Only a Hogette would argue that this town’s emotional attachment to the Redskins hasn’t seriously ebbed during the past few dismal seasons. But the team’s grand and totally unexpected victory in its opening game left many wayward fans feeling as if they’d had a chance encounter with a still-smoldering old flame. There we were, back in the arms of romance, swaying back and forth to Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited (And It Feels So Good).”
One game later, it’s back to “The Way We Were.”
The Skins’ 20-8 loss to the Oakland Raiders was a big serving of uglyball, accompanied by the vintage whine of running back Reggie Brooks. Brooks found a new way to stiff after being put on the inactive list for the Raiders game. Upon getting the news that he wouldn’t be suiting up, Brooks showed his breakaway speed by bolting toward the players’ parking lot an hour before kickoff.
Come game time, the Redskins who did put on pads and helmets showed themselves to be pretty much the way they were last year: zero running game combined with a familiar hodgepodge of drive-killing fumbles and drops on offense, and penalties and re-impoverished tackling sustaining the opposition’s advances on defense. Maybe Brooks knew more than we did when he picked up his toys and went home early.
Brief as it was, there were those who found the renewed romance between team and fan strong enough to exploit. Scalpers outside RFK Stadium have taken a beating during the Redskins’ slide, and are still praying for the day when demand for Skins tickets once again exceeds supply. But, buoyed by the bandwagoneering and nostalgia that overcame Washington after the Cardinals game, the sporting world’s lowest life forms were boldly asking for $150 and more per ducat an hour before the kickoff against Oakland.(A week earlier, the street solicitors didn’t even bother feigning that it was a seller’s market; the bargaining started at face value and worked its way down.)
Romance was in the air prior to kickoff. During the pre-game introduction of offensive starters, the crowd bestowed an ovation on Gus Frerotte that Heath Shuler could only get if he paid for it—which, given the terms of Shuler’s contract, is conceivable.
Shuler watched the proceedings from the sideline dressed in khaki shorts and a sport shirt, but without the sling he donned last week after suffering the shoulder separation that caused his removal from the lineup. If the pro-Frerotte roar pissed him off, Shuler didn’t let on. Instead, he admirably huddled with his less-reimbursed rival to offer input and encouragement during the pre-game warm-ups and throughout the day.
As poorly as Shuler has played here—local sportscaster Frank Herzog could’ve invoked truth as his defense for uttering “Shuler sucks!” on the air—the fact remains that were he not saddled with that seven-figure salary, at least some faction of the Redskins crowd would support him. Alas, everybody hates an overdog.
Frerotte’s performance as Shuler’s relief pitcher last week left him as the highest-rated quarterback in the NFC going into the Raiders game. His play in the Raiders game was further proof that the difference in competence between Frerotte and Shuler is as wide as the popularity gap. Yet Gus will be paid less this entire year than Shuler “earned” while watching him in civvies on Sunday afternoon. (Even more grotesque number crunching: For Gus to take in as much money as Deion “Part-Time” Sanders got just for signing with the Cowboys Saturday, he’d have to play at his current Redskins salary for the next 80 years!)
Speaking of not catching up: The key play of the game came when Michael Westbrook, alone in the end zone, dropped a beautifully thrown 65-yard bomb from Frerotte late in the third quarter. Westbrook had the gall to suggest his pooching of what could have been a game-tying touchdown pass stemmed from his belief that Frerotte “couldn’t throw the ball that far.”
Even Westbrook’s coaches bought his excuse, which is about as valid as George Stephanopoulos’ driver’s license. “Mike slowed down because he figured he was out of Gus’ range,” said Terry Robiskie, the Redskins’ receivers coach, after the game.
Under Joe Gibbs, any receiver who made that sort of clutch drop, let alone one who admitted dogging on the play, would have been banished to the doghouse until proper contrition was shown. But Norv Turner ain’t Joe Gibbs. Turner, back in his familiar post-game role of losing coach, was busy talking about next time.
“A month from now,” Turner mused, “he’s going to make that catch.”
Similarly, Turner held his fire when he was asked about AWOL running back Brooks.
“I look forward to where Reggie’s active again,” Turner said, as if the running back’s playing status were left up to the gods, not mortals such as he.
Safety James Washington wasn’t having any of the nice-try-better-luck-next-time bullshit. Washington came to the Redskins from Dallas and brought along his Super Bowl jewelry with a corresponding demeanor. He looked nasty after the game, like he just swallowed something that didn’t agree with him. “What did we get out of the game?” Washington asked, repeating a reporter’s question in palpably embittered tones. “Well, we got one and one.”