Friday, October 16, 2009

Sleeping with the Enemy: Week Six, Chiefs @ Redskins (with sick new twist on rivalries)

In the words of Guru, "Listen here. Listen, listen here." It's Friday. You ain't got no job, you ain't got shit to do. Okay. You might have a job. You might have some stuff to take care of, but make sure you leave a little time for some "Sleeping with the Enemy."

It's Native American week in the National Football League, and, as usual, we've got a fan of the team facing the Chiefs to talk hash bowls marks and sideboobslines with us. Trail of Tears, East Side joins us, one click away.

Bankmeister: Before we get into any nuts and bolts, give our vastly immeasurable readership a bit of background about yourself. Was it family that made you a Redskins fan? Geography? A bit of both? What are your favorite 'Skins memories? Do you get out to see games much?

Trail of Tears, East Side: Born in New Jersey, midway between Giants and Eagles territories, but moved a couple miles outside of DC when I was four. My dad didn’t have any strong allegiances so pretty much started following the home team. I was eight in 1982 when Joe Gibbs won the Super Bowl in his 2nd season. To this day I can name more guys on the '82 team off the top of my head than the current team: Theismann, Riggins, Washington, Bostic, Jacoby, Grimm, Monk, Manley, Grant, Butz. We had the Fun Bunch (wide receivers would get all together for a group high five in the end zone), the Hogs (the famed O-line that was tough as nails).

Probably see one game a season. I did see the Monday night game where Lawrence Taylor snapped Joe T’s leg and ended his career. We didn’t have the jumbotrons in that era, so all we knew in the stadium was that he was hurt bad and the game was stopped forever. Only the next day did I see the replay. Nasty. But it was a clean hit. Till this day, Lawrence Taylor is a name that carries a lot of feeling in DC –- begrudging respect is the closest way to explain it.

Have two best Skins memories: 1) my Dad taking me out of school to see the Redskins parade after winning the Super Bowl in 1982. It was a cold and rainy in January, and there was a lot of standing around, but it was the coolest thing I had ever been a part of. 2) In 1991, en route to their four Super Bowl appearances in 10 years, Tony Kornheiser, just a local Washington Post columnist at the time, started writing articles about the “Bandwagon”. After crushing Detroit in the first game of the season, he started writing every Monday about how the 'Skins were going to win the Super Bowl, and everybody should just get on the bandwagon now.

Each week it became bigger and bigger, and every Tues/Wed morning I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the paper to devour the story. In retrospect, man was Tony lucky –- if the 'Skins had petered out along the way, or lost in the early round of the playoffs, the columns would have been forgotten as a cheap gimmick. But since they won, it seemed like God itself had lined up in Burgundy and Gold that year and whispered in Tony’s ear to let him know it was coming. If you ask any Washington fan who was around then why they will always love Tony K, it has nothing to do with PTI, Wilbon, or the ill-fated MNF role. It is all about the Bandwagon. When, in the depths of our depression about the current state of affairs, we can relive the glory days here.

B: Those are great memories. One of my fondest is my pops taking me out of school for the Royals parade after they won they '85 series. Same exact feeling: cold, windy day; coolest thing ever. But, for the section of the country that is not Redskins fans, can you explain to us what you know about the Hogettes, or whatever those dudes are called that don ladies' dresses and pig snouts? Seems a bit peculiar to me.

ToTES: Not exactly sure how that came to pass, probably some misguided way of showing their love for the hogs –- I’ll give you peculiar on that one.

B: Speaking of (what some call) misguided, what's your stance on political correctness as it pertains (or does not) to team names? I mean, one of my colleagues thinks that Chiefs is disrespectful, but he also thinks that Phil Simms is the greatest quarterback ever, so we don't really listen to him. On the other side of that coin, The Kansas City Star has, for some time, had a policy wherein they simply do not print the word Redskins. Period. Now, in your average edition of the paper, you'd scarecely notice it as the team's (city) name comes up in the standings and in spreads, etc.

It is when the Chiefs and Redskins play one another, in fact, that it is glaringly obvious. Sports writers, and lower forms of such like myself, tend to look for any opportunity they can to substitute words for freshness, i.e. "Kansas City kicked a field goal. The Chiefs threw a pass. The guys in red and gold turned it over." When I open next Monday's paper, it will say Washington, Washington, Washington, Washington, which is simply maddening. Not to mention, when these teams play each other, there are typically small crowds of Native American folks outside the stadium in protest. What's your take?

ToTES: This may be more of a testament to the left-leaning majority in and around DC, but frankly it is an embarrassment when people stop to think about it and discuss it. Unlike “Chief,” the term “Redskin” cannot be interpreted as anything other than, at best, old-fashioned and inappropriate, and at worst, an offensive slur. Though the term “black” still appears to be acceptable, I don’t think anyone would say calling an Asian person “yellow” was OK. People have tried to argue that the term should be interpreted as a noble nickname, but personally I don’t buy it. All of that being said, I haven’t heard this topic mentioned in years, literally, and since no one really talks about it, I think it’s fair to call it a non-issue.

There have been flare-ups in the past about changing the name but it never took hold. I think that changing the name of the Washington Bullets had a greater sense of urgency to it, when DC was the nation's murder capital (per capita). I bet that the next time the Redskins issue flares up, they’ll change the name to just plain old “Skins” and let it be. Things that would alter that prediction: Obama mentioning his displeasure would drive an immediate change AND/OR three more pitiful seasons and they’ll want to go through a whole rebranding.

B: I see. So basically, you're on board with the Star: nothing wrong with Chiefs; Redskins we can't do. As you might know, this is the fourth of four consecutive NFC East games for KC. They got rocked by the Eagles, kinda made a game out of it against the Giants, and last week, Dallas needed overtime to beat this slovenly squad. As I mentioned last week, these last two games are sort of the easier half of the division to play. Personnel-ly speaking, Dallas is a lot more talented than the Chiefs, and Kansas City led most of that game. As I peer at the Washington roster, however, I'm kind of amazed.

Obviously, y'all gave eleventy-zillion dollars to Albert Haynesworth. You've got London Fletcher, Santana Moss, and the nut job known as Clinton Portis. Toss in Ladell Betts, DeAngelo Hall, Antwaan Randle El, Fred Smoot....I dunno. It just looks like a strange assemblage, like a huge bunch of castaways, but maybe it's because I pay so little attention to your team. What's your take on this squad? Is it your token mix of youth and veteran leadership? Were you stoked about the draft? I know there's a lot of hope for that Orakpo kid.

ToTES: First of all, as we move to the present, there is despair run amuck in Chocolate City. This team is hopeless again this year. I think by and large the fans are transitioning from the fourth to fifth stage of grief (depression to acceptance). This is not a playoff year and now we’re trying to figure out if it’s even possible that next year could be one.

Back to your question: the 'Skins are a hodge podge of talent, all who seem to be evaluated as individuals and not as they could fit together on a team. Since Snyder arrived, DC has been the place for veterans to come to get paid. They almost always don’t perform up to expectations (either because they’re too old too soon, or because there’s nothing left to worry about after the zillions of dollars in the bank account). Along the way, they’ve traded draft picks willy nilly. Now there've been some good drafts (Betts, Campbell, Cooley, Orakpo hopefully) but Snyder has never seemed to have much faith or patience in building the team by drafting. Hence salary cap problems, no chemistry, players who come and go.

B: Those questions were kind of a lead-in to these in a way: Give us the 4-1-1 on Dan Snyder. What do fans think? I can't think of an NFL franchise owner that gets more national pub, which most of the time, makes him look like a total prick. Is that unfair? Here're a few more oddities: The 'Skins Web site looks bizarre, like someone very young and green designed it. But that's fine. What's weird is that there's no (that I could find) tab or link called "Front Office." Does this team have a general manager? Is there a scouting department? A personnel crew? Why would you omit that from your page?

ToTES: I’m not aware of any single person that loves or even likes Snyder. There’s I guess some respect for his business accomplishments. But he’s run the franchise into the ground from a football perspective, and along the way, has made it much more expensive to be a fan. You can’t even call it nickel and diming, because the increase in tickets, parking, etc, etc, etc is significant $$. If he wins a Super Bowl will it all be forgiven? Probably not. But if he wins two or more, than probably yes.

He has a buddy named Vinny Cerrato who is EVP of Football operations. He’s basically the GM, and has been since Snyder came in, except for the couple of years that Marty was at the helm and demanded total control. Locals say Vinny is in a solid position cause he’s like family, but fans don’t like him.

Can’t speak to the Web site, but I have to imagine that when this is not a strong suit for the team, no one wants their name out there.

B: Next subject: Jim Zorn. Discuss.

ToTES: Zorn. Nice enough guy. In over his head. Better at developing QB talent than being an offensive coordinator or worse, have overall responsibility for a team. Can’t see him surviving. And can’t seem him wanting to stay here with the firestorm he faces.

B: Moving on: Jason Campbell has, to me, been perhaps the most difficult quarterback to assess in the league over the past few seasons. I know he missed significant time last year, but this year the kid's sitting on a 66.7 completion percentage, a rating of 88.8, he's (barely) got more TDs than picks, and he's on pace to throw for 4000 yards. Also, he's average five yards per carry when he rushes. Some pretty good things there. On the other hand, he's coughed up the rock eight times already through 13 sacks. Those eight fumbles are kind of staggering if you consider the following:

Tony Romo's been sacked nine times, lost the ball thrice; She-li over in New York has been sacked twice and lost two fumbles; and Philly quarterbacks have been sacked six times and lost three balls. In the AFC West, JaMarcus Russell has been sacked 15 times and fumbled on four occasions. Philip Rivers has been dropped 10 times, but only lost two. Kyle Orton's taken eight sacks and lost one football, and even Matt Cassel, a guy that wears pink polo shirts, has been sacked 14 times but only fumbled four times. For whatever reason, I thought Washington had a pretty solid offensive line. Did I dream that? Or do they, and Campbell just doesn't protect the pigskin very well?

What's your prognostication of where Campbell's career goes? Will he become a top-tier slinger? Will he be a game manager at best? Somewhere in between?

ToTES: Campbell. Like others before him, he shows just enough brilliance to keep your dreams alive, but day in day out his performance is marginal. Yes, he coughs up the ball way too much, but yes he’s scrambled like Randall Cunningham. Yes he throws picks, but he has dropped some glorious longballs right into breadbaskets. Right now, I think he’s over coached and under too much pressure. Zorn is in his ear non-stop during the games, and you just seem him following each step (read the D, snap the ball, check the progression, etc.) without it being a fluid, graceful process. He’s no slinger –- doesn’t seem to have that in him (although I never saw him at Auburn). He’s trying to be a manager, a system QB, which will be great if he can do it. The key to that kind of thing is limiting the downside, since the upside is not often going to be amazing. He’s not there yet.

I think he has the potential to be a Rich Gannon. Sometimes starter, then backup, who one day late in his career will get a shot and have a great year or two. He’ll do his time and should be able to be respected for it.

B: Your club, as I mentioned, gets a lot of pub, and it's mostly Snyder-related, which leaves the media hungry for firings and hirings. I don't necessarily want to feed into all of that, but what were your thoughts surrounding the Marty Schottenheimer firing? You could make the argument that, spanning from Norv Turner to Terry Robiskie to Marty to Steve flippin' Spurrier to the reincarnation of Joe Gibbs to Jim Zorn, that Marty, who'd seemed to turn the proverbial corner at the time of his firing, is probably the best coach that club has seen in a decade. But I digress.

ToTES: Marty was the best thing that could have happened to the 'Skins after Gibbs Round I. Looking back, it’s a no-brainer. But what you hear is that Marty was such a control-freak, and didn’t give Snyder any chance for input and involvement, that it was never going to last because Snyder fancies himself part of the mix.

B: Yeah. It seems like every time I turn on the tube, or go browsin' the Webs, there're rumblings of a Zorn firing. He has, headed into this game against the Chiefs, been given the exact amount of time that Snyder gave Schottenheimer, and posted an identical win-loss record. Is he gone if the 'Skins drop this game, or has Snyder grown wiser over the years and realized that these things take time? Kansas City, by the way, has lost nine straight games and an astonishing 31 of its last 37 contests. Neither team can afford another loss at this point, but I guess it goes without saying that Zorn is in hotter water. What's his leash length look like?

ToTES: Short. Can’t see him getting fired mid-season though.

B: Last week's Cowboys fan, when prompted, had some choice, definitive words for each of the other three teams in the division, which rung true for our theme of division-rival hatred here in the House of Georges. Have you any thoughts/words you'd like to share regarding Washington's rivals?

ToTES: So I hate the Eagles because of the fans. The team itself I can appreciate, but Philly Fan is the most obnoxious thing walking around east of the Mississippi. I hate the Cowboys because I was taught to. They are cocky and beat you when they have no right to.

As for the Giants, I have to recuse myself. Much to the chagrin of my fellow 'Skins fans, I am a Giants fan, too. Story is too long to go into here, but suffice it to say I have enough room in my heart for two football teams in the same division. It is heresy. But I also love the Maryland Terrapins and Duke Blue Devils. I consider it a blessing. I’m not soliciting any more feedback on this though.

B: As much respect as I’ve had (and have) for you over the years, rooting for two teams in the same division is like dating two girls at the same time who both have the same name, and neither knows about the other. Or banging all of your girlfriend’s sisters and thinking that anything shy of a train wreck is possible. Since you’re skilled in these areas, though, can you let us in on your secret? What happens at Thanksgiving when everyone’s at the table? You know, these clubs face each other twice a season at minimum. Who gets a bigger helping of the Trail’s sausage gravy? But better yet: What about the outcome of this game? Who'll be the stars? And, let's have a score prediction.

ToTES: I tend to hang my hat on the port-side of the political sailboat. In normal seas I can be found around the middle most of the time, but I’ll hike out if the waters get choppy and I feel compelled to help keep the boat in balance. I’ve been called a “mended heart whose bandages tend to leak”.

On to my love for the Giants and Skins…

Admittedly, in practice it can have ugly moments. I take merciless shit from every football fan, 'Skins, Giants or otherwise. I have twice the exposure to heartbreak. I tend to root for the underdog heading into the game, unless the underdog is so far out of it that a win wouldn’t benefit them. In 'Skins country I tend to play up my Giants loyalties and vice versa. This is not the easiest path, but it is the noble way to honor these two loves. I do get two huge payoffs that I’m not shy about admitting: 1) I always feel good about the winner of a game between the two at the end, no matter who I wanted at the outset and 2) each year, I have two horses in the race (six wins in eight tries in Super Bowls since I’ve been watching football).

But there is a higher concept in play here. Let me try to put it in terms you can understand (your analogy notwithstanding).

Consider this duality in my football soul to be like the dual love of the wilderness and the city. Contradictions sure, but yet, why does one’s need to be alone on a path, amongst the trees, in a brisk alpine air mean that one cannot also need to walk the streets of a busy eastern city at the end of a workday, with its history, million stories, and urgency? Does one begrudge one son’s accomplishments in favor of another son’s? No, one does not. Does one rise up in defense of one sister less than another? No I say to you, no, one cannot and shall not. You cannot hear it but I’m pounding on the podium right now with both fists!)

I argue that anyone who does not embrace love in its many, complex and competing facets, its yin and yang, its chocolate and vanilla, its Cain and Abel, its Redskins and Giants, cannot truly know love at all. My heart goes out to anyone so mercilessly doomed to a single love, who will never know the richness in spirit and nuance and struggle, that I experience every Sunday during NFL season.

B: Jesus. You're like the lovechild of H.D. Thoreau and Ezra Pound. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, but carry on.

ToTES: As for this particular game, I think it will be close. Larry Johnson will arise from the dead and have a nice day. But Cooley will have a TD and some huge catches on 3rd downs to keep the Skins alive in critical moments. It will be anyone’s game in the 4th quarter, but end up 17-16, 'Skins over Chiefs.

B: Holding on for a Washington win, eh? I'm gonna disagree for the first time in a month. Chiefs get their first victory, 23-17. Either way, it was a pleasure chatting with you. Stop by anytime.