Why we love to loathe the Redskins

HOG (hog) n. 1. A mammal having short legs, cloven hoofs, bristly hair and a cartilaginous snout used for digging. NFL. 2. A massive offensive lineman symbolic of the Washington Redskins football team, circa 1980-85.

The word evokes vivid images, to be sure. A recurring one for me is of an attractive, well-dressed woman watching a Washington Redskins football game. She is educated, earns a good salary and enjoys music, fine food and Caribbean beaches. But we’ll never make it together. I just can’t get past the fact that she’s wearing a plastic hog snout.

It’s not that Cowboys fans need a new excuse to hate the Redskins. They’ve been doing it quite successfully for years, thank you, and new reasons for ’Skins-hating pop up all the time. Why, a couple of Washing-tonian ingrates recently published something called The Semi-Official Dallas Cowboys Haters’ Handbook. Talk about grist for the old mill.

The rivalry between the two teams has never been friendly, but over time Cowboys fans probably haven’t had to devote as much passion to keeping the hatred going as their Washington counterparts. This is true because the Cowboys used to beat up on the “Deadskins” pretty routinely.

But hey, these upstart Redskins have won a few recently. They took the NFC East title last year, and as for the future-well, even Tom Landry is admitting that the Cowboys are not the world-beaters of yore. So Redskin-hating in Dallas today is not just fashionable or trendy, it’s damn near vital. It can also be fun. Take it from me. I did it for the last six years in Washington, D.C., a place where loathing the burgundy and gold is anything but fashionable, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. In the process I worked up this little primer, which should come in handy next time you’re in a tavern or gathered around a TV set and you feel the urge to run down the Redskins for a few minutes. This’ll allow you to do it with a clear conscience and a steely gaze.

1. Joe Theismann. A good Redskin-hater should reflect occasionally on that moment during the 1967 season when a second-string freshman quarterback at Notre Dame, whose name rhymed with “sleazeman,” announced he was changing its pronunciation to rhyme with Heisman, as in trophy. You say tomato, I say tomahto; you say frankfurter, I say hot dog. But Theismann’s word play didn’t bring him college football’s highest accolade. Hmman winners during the Theismann era were named Beban, Simpson, Owens and Plunkett, thus proving that good football will usually beat (or kick) good assonance.

So Theismann, foiled in his campaign to become the best player in football, set out instead to become the talkingest. He has succeeded at this. He has, in fact, blown away the competition. Theismann is doing for vocal cords what Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing for biceps. He is the King of Quotes, the Dalai Lama of Discourse. Herein may lie the explanation for Theismann’s choice of plays at the end of the first half of Super Bowl XVIII, 1984. Why would a mature NFL quarterback, deep in his own territory, throw a highly vulnerable flare pass when an interception returned for a touchdown would alter the game and open the door to a 38-9 Raider rout? Could Joe have been preparing his halftime remarks, and simply have forgotten he was still on the field playing football?

2. The Washington Post, et al. The press in Washington grovels at the Redskins’ altar. News organizations wallow, hoglike, in reams of Redskins gibberish. The most graphic example came on Super Sunday 1983 when the Post, that venerable Pulitzer Prize-winning institution, printed 33 articles totaling 1,767 column inches of pre-game hysteria. We learned, among other things, what types of sandwiches Mark May and Joe Jacoby prefer, enhancing our already impressive repertoire of porcine nutrition trivia.

That coverage exceeded by a full 50 percent what the Post accorded two other news events of that period: the release of the hostages in Iran and the assassination attempt on the president of the United States. Hype is nothing new to NFL cities, and let’s face it, the Dallas papers are no slouches at it. But Washington hypes the ’Skins like the Pentagon buys coffee makers-mindlessly.

3. Nine years of ethnic purity. The Redskin is pro sports’ only mascot/nickname that inherently degrades an entire race of people. That’s bad enough. But if you really want to make a limousine liberal Redskins fan squirm in his seat, run this by him:

The Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate, yes, but that could be expected from a franchise located south of the Mason-Dixon line. The sad part of the story is that they were forced to do it; impending action in the U.S. Interior Department, which would have prohibited the team from continuing to play in taxpayer-supported D.C. Stadium (now RFK Stadium), finally pushed the Redskins over the color barrier. The year was 1962, 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke pro baseball’s color barrier, fully 42 years after the first pro football team had signed a black player and an astonishing nine years after the other remaining all-white NFL team (Baltimore) had integrated.

While this helps to explain why the Redskins were so persistently mediocre during those years, it hardly stands as a model of progressive thinking for the predominantly black capital of the world’s beacon of liberty.

4. George Allen. On days when Redskin-hating, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to come as easy as it should, I like to think of George. When you need to reach down deep for that something extra, he’s always there. His contributions to the art of Redskin-hating are too numerous to mention here, but here’s one of my favorite stories about the coach who traded away 46 draft picks in five years.

When Allen left the Redskins after the 1977 season, considerable controversy raged over whether he was fired or deftly bailed out of what had all the makings of a ship about to sink. In either case, George must have sensed the end was near. It’s no secret that he dined out frequently his last year, usually at Duke Zeibert’s and usually at Redskin expense. At Zeibert’s, a typically expensive Washington haunt, Allen was noted for a couple of habits: smuggling extra steaks home on the company credit card and not tipping at all. According to reports, old Duke Zeibert himself would regularly slip the waiter $20 to avoid a mutiny.

5. Power broker bleacher bums. Redskins fans are plentiful enough, but the vast majority of them will never get in to see their team play live. Every seat in RFK Stadium is sold on a season-ticket basis, and there is a waiting list more than 15 years long for those tickets, which at up to $25 a seat are among the NFL’s priciest.

On the surface, this is remarkable, especially for a team whose competence is as dubious as Washington’s. (Note that the Redskins’ only league title in the last 43 years- 1983-was cheapened by a strike.) But to read the list of Redskins season ticket holders is not to find a cross section of longtime, loyal Washingtonians; it is to discover the Fortune 500 and the city’s most influential law firms, lobbyists and trade associations. Those aren’t real Redskins fans in those seats; they’re just the people who happen to be closest to the expense accounts of the world.

The city continues to support this franchise, even though its most loyal fans are systematically shut out of all its games. I think that’s wrong. People should be able to appreciate the Redskins in person, just as they enjoy the dialogue between Dick Clark and Ed McMahon on TV’s Foul Ups, Bleeps and Blunders.

6. John Riggins. Living testimony to the perils of the Washington banquet circuit. Just think of the calamities that have befallen Riggo since he assumed the social burden that comes with being a Redskin: His snoring has worsened, he requires considerably more sleep and his abilities as a running back are now evident almost exclusively to Redskins fans. In Washington’s humiliating first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Bears last year, Riggins gained 50 yards in 21 tries, a 2.4-yard average. Those kinds of numbers won’t get you into the Pro Bowl very often. The big guy may soon be able to devote his full attention to advising Supreme Court justices on comportment at black tie dinners.

IN MY OPINION, rooting against the Redskins is more fun than rooting for a team could ever be. Cowboys fens should increase the amount of time they spend hating the Redskins, as it could provide a nice diversion from the perennial Hogeboom-White-who’s-at-QB-dilemma.

So have at it, Dallas. Cut loose and let ’er rip. Send a copy of this to someone you know in the Washington area. Next time a Redskins fan berates the Cowboys for their “America’s Team” mantle, tell him it’s better than being tabbed as “Richard Nixon’s Team.”

And in the unlikely event your back’s ever to the wall, you can always play the hole card, the Ail-Time Redskins Trivia Question: What was the worst blowout in NFL history? Answer: Championship game, 1940, when Chicago beat the favored Red-skins, 73-0. In the second half, officials asked the Bears to forgo kicking their extra points because they were losing so many footballs in the stands.

I tell you, it’s enough to bring a tear ofnostalgia to the eye.


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