Under Eccentric Owner, Always a Circus in D.C.
Ashburn, Va. — Mike Shanahan called it a “circus atmosphere.”
He didn’t have to. Washington Redskins fans already know the drill.
From “maroon and black” to “bingo,” from Spurrier to Zorn, Robert Griffin III’s benching this week fits right in with the narrative that’s been spun during Dan Snyder’s 14 years as owner, the latest in an amazing string of surreal Redskins moments from the still-young 21st Century.
Here are 10 of the most memorable, in chronological order, all of which were worthy of one reaction: “Well, that was awkward.”
Pay for Practice: The idea of charging fans to watch training camp practice in 2000 was “clearly a mistake,” as conceded by Snyder after the fact, but it was compounded by the uninformed approach of then-team president Steve Baldacci, who initially claimed that the $10 charge — plus $10 for parking — was comparable to that of other teams. After it was shown that no one else charged to watch practice, Baldacci backtracked twice, eventually claiming that “several teams in the NFC East” charge for parking. (They didn’t.) This was also the season Baldacci explained a ticket price increase by saying: “We’re delighted to hold the line on prices for our fans.”
Vinny Speeds Away: Vinny Cerrato, Snyder’s right-hand man in the front office for most of a decade, had a mixed record when it came to overseeing a roster. The most confusing day came in 2000, when Cerrato mistakenly cut Chad Dukes because he didn’t know that suspended guard Tre Johnson wouldn’t take up a spot. Coach Norv Turner referred questions to Cerrato, who then left Redskins Park by a side door and drove away as reporters approached his car. Dukes was back on the team five hours after he was cut.
Pepper and “Coach Robinskie”: Snyder fired Turner late in the 2000 season even though the Redskins had a 7-6 record. The owner was reportedly ready to hire former college coach Pepper Rodgers as Turner’s replacement — until assistant coaches Terry Robiskie and Ray Rhodes rebelled. Rodgers instead became the VP of football operations and gave a rah-rah news conference, while Robiskie — whom Deion Sanders infamously called “coach Robinskie” — was promoted to head coach.
“5-11. Not Very Good”: There are too many Steve Spurrier moments to count, including the time the “ball coach” was hanging out with reporters in the media room during the draft and looked up at the TV and realized the Redskins were on the clock. (He quickly excused himself.) The unrivaled classic was his farewell news conference in 2003, which included the silver lining summation: “OK, we wound up 5-11. Not very good. But there was some worse than us. I guess that’s one positive way to look at it, we weren’t the worst team in the league.” Spurrier was on a golf course two days later when he resigned, then claimed he didn’t, then said he did. “We had a little miscommunication there,” he told the AP, using someone’s borrowed cell phone while still on the course.
“Maroon and Black”: Jim Zorn, hired because Snyder ran out of candidates after a monthlong search, was clearly unprepared to be the Redskins coach, and it showed at his introductory news conference in 2008. He referred to the team’s colors as “maroon and black” instead of burgundy and gold and paid tribute to an assistant coach that the team had recently fired. Standing behind the team’s Lombardi hardware, Zorn said: “I look at these three trophies, and it’s quite intimidating.” He lasted two seasons.
Bingo! Cerrato said he had no idea what Sherm Lewis had been up to when he called the longtime NFL assistant out of retirement to help a floundering offense in 2009, so reporters asked Lewis himself the next day. “I had to go to the senior center and cancel my bingo calling,” said Lewis, who had been out of the NFL for nearly five years. “And I had to cancel my Meals on Wheels today.” Instead of calling “O-64,” Lewis eventually ended up calling the plays for a 4-12 team.
Snyder & The Band: Snyder doesn’t speak to reporters often, and, when he does, he is well-known for finding convenient ways to end the conversation quickly. The team was so bad in 2009 that he felt the need to apologize at a charity event in Maryland, but the Q&A was interrupted when the Surrattsville High School marching band walked by, playing at full volume. Knowing a good exit cue when he heard one, Snyder walked away, leaving a meaty query about Zorn unanswered.
Conditioning Test: Seemingly every day was an awkward day with Albert Haynesworth, who announced his arrival by saying, “You’re not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust,” and proceeded to prove himself wrong. He was in constant legal trouble and was suspended for the final four games in 2010, but he truly became a league-wide punch line when he needed 10 days to pass a conditioning test at the start of the ’10 camp, including one attempt that failed because of an extended potty break. “He had to use the restroom,” strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright explained that day. “You get 3½ minutes. He was gone close to 10.”
“Cardio” What? If there’s a good reason for the skepticism over Shanahan’s explanation about Griffin’s benching, it’s because this is the same coach who sat another marquee QB, Donovan McNabb, in the fourth quarter of a game in 2010 and claimed it was because of McNabb’s lack of “cardiovascular endurance” in the two-minute drill. The truth was that McNabb wasn’t playing very well, and by the end of the season Shanahan conceded that the head-scratching comment had backfired. “I should have been a little bit more honest than I was,” the coach said.
RG3’S Benching: Shanahan had to dig deep to explain his rationale for benching a healthy franchise player, especially because he had spent the previous several weeks saying Griffin should be taking every snap possible to gain crucial game experience. Wednesday’s 28-minute news conference was an impassioned performance, set against the background of another losing season and uncertainty about the coach’s future. Shanahan can be tight-lipped when he wants, but this time he was so intent on explaining himself that he dropped in an instant contender for the coach-quote Hall of Fame: “What I’m trying to do is be as honest as I can. And I don’t normally do that.”