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Max Scherzer pitched one of the greatest games in Major League history last weekend, his second no-hitter of the year. D.C. United snapped its losing streak and clinched a playoff berth. The Pigskins not only won, they came from behind, looked dominating on defense, and avoided (or at least overcame) their characteristic idiotic miscues.
The D.C. sports cynic might claim that this cluster of good news is just a malevolent universe ensuring that we understand joy so we can better plumb the depths of misery, but in reality events like these are the reasons we slog through the misery. The whole point of watching sports is to experience these vicarious thrills, the moments that make you fistbump the stranger next to you at a bar or punch the roof of your car.
They’re also really important to ignore.
The Scherzer no-hitter is weirdly ignorable despite its greatness, because it’s a last twist of the knife of a lost Nats season. D.C. United’s progress is ignorable because there’s still regular season games to play, and because (#realtalk) most people just ignore United anyhow.
The Pigskins win is trickier. From one perspective, it’s exactly the sort of win to like: They showed dominance in the first half and resilience in coming back from a blown lead. They overcame injuries to their defense, and they had unheralded young guys step up to make plays. This is the sort of win that you look at and think, “Man, maybe these guys have turned a corner, and maybe Jay Gruden isn’t totally in over his head.” It’s a win that stokes the dying embers of hope in even the longest-suffering Pigskins fan.
Problem is, if there’s one thing this team excels at, it’s selling hope. This is just them doing it in-season instead of out of season.
The players are espousing an internal mandate not to discuss the past, which sounds good in theory, and is probably best for the players (especially the new ones, who haven’t yet been poisoned by the sheer Eeyore-ness of this market). As a viewer, you would have to be delusional not to think about this team’s past almost constantly.
When I think of a Pigskins team “turning the corner” and winning a game that seemed like a franchise-changer, I think (as I so often do) of Jim Zorn. Specifically, I think of Jim Zorn’s 2008 team, which also won a big division game in Week 4—Dallas, that time, instead of Philadelphia.
It’s largely forgotten now, eradicated by the burning carnival that Zorn’s tenure became, but that win made Zorn’s team 3-1, and Zorn was being touted as a Coach of the Year candidate at the quarter pole of the season. The offense dominated on the ground, running over the Cowboys for 152 yards, which led to the most memorable image of that entire game:
Owner Daniel Snyder greeting players in the locker room, screaming “WE PLAY PHYSICAL WE WIN,” captured on video for posterity. (Well, not posterity, as it seems to have been largely scrubbed from the Internet, but you can still find blog posts describing the incident around a busted video link all over the circa-2008 web.)
For all the criticism Snyder receives, one thing is largely undisputed: He is an enormous Pigskins fan, for good and for ill. (Well, not Pigskins. He would probably HAAAAAAAAAATE to be called a Pigskin fan—he hates the whole idea of not using the name. But you know what I mean.) And that moment is the apotheosis of that. It was one big win against a division rival and he’s bought in on the idea that the whole culture and identity of the team had shifted.
I believe that this moment is why Snyder wound up being so very disappointed when things went wrong with Zorn. I think that this moment underlies all the catastrophe that follows: the bingo caller calling plays and the barely-veiled pursuit of Mike Shanahan and even Zorn’s eventual firing, all seeded here. Because Snyder the fan believed too much in one Game 4 win over a division opponent and his team eked out a win of less than a touchdown.
It’s important to remember the past.
It’s important to be cautious, to think about the losing seasons back to 1993, the parade of coaches over the last decade, the apparent unwillingness to pick a direction and stick with it. And the off-the-field stuff, too: the bizarre, Orwellian insistence that people who claim that the team’s name belittles them and their culture are somehow not people who actually matter; the the fan experience at the stadium; the way the team repeatedly makes itself a public laughing stock on- and off of their torn-up, embarrassing field.
It’s important to keep those things in mind and be cautious while you enjoy the win. Because if you don’t, before too long you may find yourself on a Crown Royal-fueled flight to Denver, looking to hire someone else you’ll regret later.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.