Ron Rivera Credit: All-Pro Reels Photography/Wikimedia Commons

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It would be factually correct to say that I came into this Washington Football Team season with high hopes, although you have to take the team’s miserable recent history into account to understand this very specific value of “high.”

Did I expect them to be Super Bowl contenders? I did not. Did I think they could make a shocking playoff run? Not really. Did I think they might surprise some people by winning more games than usual? Also no. Those lofty ambitions are all for people following other, better teams.

But they had Ron Rivera, an experienced head coach with at least a patina of leaguewide respectability. They got rid of their name, so I could stop awkwardly referring to them as “the team in Ashburn” or “the Washington NFL squad” and finally use something comfortable like “the Washington Football Team.” The young quarterback seemed to have had a good offseason and was getting the chance to start. The team even cut Adrian Peterson, letting me not think about severe capital punishment every time the team was on offense. They had fresh, interesting faces in crucial public-facing roles, including a new team president, Jason Wright, and a new senior vice president of media, Julie Donaldson

It’s not exactly “added a couple of players to build off last year’s success and should be a contender,” but it made me hopeful that the team would be fun to watch.

At the bye week, that seems to have been a laughably ambitious expectation. I’m still finding the team to be dreary slog to watch. Things have gotten at least nominally better, but that doesn’t mean they’re good.

The head coach is well respected, which is great, but he’s also made more than a few questionable, seemingly contradictory in-game coaching decisions, which have been decidedly less great. 

The temporary new name is far less awful than the previous one (and I genuinely love the new logos and branding) but the seeming inability to lock in a permanent one has been quixotic at best.

The young quarterback started four largely underwhelming games before being benched in favor of yet another guy who seems likely to be a lifelong NFL backup, and then being drowned by the usual flood of negative leaks out of Ashburn. (My editor asked if I planned to write something in the event that he was traded, and I was genuinely dumbfounded because I can’t imagine anyone giving up anything for an asset that has been this publicly distressed.)

I still regularly think about the nature of suffering and punishment, mainly masochism, when the offense is on the field.

Rivera, the public face of the team, is free from the various shadows of historical racism and cheerleader harassment scandals, but is also largely relying on gauzy, feel-good narratives like “the head coach is doing great in his battle against cancer” and “the backup quarterback is all the way back from the near-amputation-and-death caused by an on-field injury” and “the team’s COVID protocols are holding up pretty well.”

Honestly, I just want to have a local football team where we get to be excited for victories over things like “Giants” and “Cardinals” instead of “cancer” and “severe bodily trauma” and “COVID” and “two decades of devastating mismanagement.” That shouldn’t be too much to ask, but, again, I guess those lofty ambitions are all for people following other, better teams.