Redskins Blog: Jumping the Shark

When did Redskins teams of the past go from good to bad?

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Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com

October 27, 2004

The bye week officially ends Wednesday as the players go back to work in preparation for Sunday's game. Here's the last little feature piece before getting back to the deadly serious Skins talk you've come to know and love here.

Jumping the Shark

Upon reading that ESPN had let draft guru Mel Kiper go, I commented on a message board that ESPN had just jumped the shark. The expression, meaning that a TV show has seen its best days and was clearly on its way downhill, comes from a Website named, of course,
The early Baugh-era Redskins teams-- This team, led by Sammy Baugh along with other greats like Wayne Millner, Andy Farkas, and Willie Wilkin, won two championships and played for three others from the time they moved to Washington in 1937 through 1945. They jumped the shark in the 1945 NFL championship game. In the early going, Baugh went back to pass in his own end zone and his toss hit the upright. Under the rules at the time, that resulted in a safety. The Redskins lost 15-14 and didn't sniff the postseason again for 25 years.

The George Allen Redskins--After a string of successful trades that had just gotten the Redskins to the Super Bowl, Allen got a little full of himself and jumped the shark in trading for Duane Thomas. He gave up multiple high draft picks for a head case who had never been a team's first-line running back for a full season. It was a bad deal at the time, a disastrous one in retrospect. They quickly declined from Super Bowl runner-up to a team that occasionally got a wild card spot and, when successful in that, was one and done in the playoffs.

Jack Pardee's Redskins--It's easy to name the game, the 1979 season finale in Texas Stadium with the division title on the line. The specific shark-jumping moment came with 5:21 left. Washington had taken a 34-21 lead on John Riggins' a minute earlier and the Redskin defense forced a quick three and out on Dallas' subsequent possession. On third and two at the Dallas 42, the call was a safe handoff to Clarence Harmon. Either they get the first down and kill most of the clock or they punt Dallas deep into its own territory. Or Harmon fumbles and Dallas recovers, which is exactly what happened. Two Cowboy scores put the dagger in the heart of the Redskins and the shark has been jumped. A 6-10 season the next year cost Pardee his job.

The early 80's Redskins--Again, they jumped the shark at a specific moment in a specific game. At the end of the third quarter of the 1983 NFC championship game, the Redskins led the 49ers 21-0. In seven periods of postseason play that year they had outscored the opposition 72-7. The team started looking forward to the parade celebrating its second straight Super Bowl win. However, Joe Montana tied the game with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes. Washington pulled it out with a late Mark Moseley field goal, but the shark had already been jumped. They were uncompetitive in the Super Bowl loss to the Raiders.

The '87 Champions--The defending champs were 2-1 and going into a game against the Cardinals, a team they owned. In the week before the game, Doug Williams had to have his appendix removed, pressing Mark Rypien into action before he was ready. The teams battled back and for the entire game. The Cardinals held a two point lead with a minute left and Washington jumped the shark when Rypien fumbled away the Redskins' last chance. They hovered around .500 all year, finished with a losing record. That would be their first of two consecutive years out of the playoffs.

The early 90's Redskins--It would be easy to say that this team jumped when Joe Gibbs retired and that's hard to argue. However, in the 1993 season opener it appeared that Richie Petitbon might be able to maintain the Gibbs magic when his Redskins socked the defending champion Cowboys in the season opener. It didn't take long, however, to jump the shark as the Cardinals broke a 14-game losing streak to the Redskins with a win at RFK the very next week. That was the start of a six-game slide and a plunge into over a decade of mediocrity.

The 1996 Redskins--A seven-game winning streak had come crashing to a halt with a blowout loss to Buffalo but the Redskins were still 7-2 and in control of the division. The jumping waited another week. They blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to—are you sensing a recurring pattern here—the Cardinals and lost 34-31 in overtime to positively fly over the shark. That was the second of six losses in seven games and Washington finished out of the playoffs.

The 1999-2000 Redskins--After barely losing a playoff game on the road in 1999, Dan Snyder wasted no time in jumping the shark. In the offseason he signed Jeff George and Deoin Sanders. End of upswing, start of downfall.

Steve Spurrier--The Redskins were 4-4 at the midway point and going into Jacksonville for a game against one of the league's worse run defenses. Spurrier saw that the weather would be nice so he abandoned his run-oriented game plan and called 51 pass plays to just 16 runs. "I was dumb enough to think we could throw it up and down the field," said Spurrier. And we were dumb enough to think that you could coach in the NFL.

October 26, 2004

Thank You, Pick Up Your Parting Gifts at the Door

Last week it was the opening day starting tight end. Today it was the starting offensive tackle.

Walter Rasby, thanks for the memories, especially those of whiffing on Bears defensive end Alex Brown in the Redskins' last game. Some lovely parting gifts will be sent to your forwarding address

Kenyatta Jones, thank you for participating in the 2004 NFL season. Nothing personal, my friend, but you can't beat out a man 16 years older than you are. You may pick up your bus ticket home on the way out the door.

Who's next?

Both cuts were somewhat surprising. Neither player has been every effective, but they're far from the only ones struggling in the Washington offense. Rasby received a $400,000 signing bonus when he rejoined the Skins in the offseason and seemed to have a good handle on the starting job.

Jones, 25, was a holdover from last year. When Jon Jansen went down with a season-ending injury in the first preseason game he was handed the starting job. At the time, it seemed that he was Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for replacing Jansen in the lineup. Sure, Ray Brown was signed but Brown was 41, just a backup.

Brown's backup status lasted exactly 60 minutes. He was inserted into the starting lineup for the second game. Jones started against Baltimore when his elder was injured, but Brown, who has played guard almost exclusively for most of the past 10 years, was back in the starting lineup in Chicago.

Although he had been demoted, it seemed that Jones' job was safe if only due to Brown's age and demonstrated vulnerability to injury. Gibbs and company, however, decided to cut Jones in favor of Vaughn Parker, who started all 16 games for the Chargers in 2001 and in 12 in 2002. A knee injury sidelined him for most of last year.

So why Parker? Familiarity, explained Gibbs:
We had Vaughn Parker, that we knew a lot about. He had been in San Diego with [assistant coaches] Dale Lindsay and Joe Bugel. He was somebody that we felt like could play tackle for us. We know a lot about him.
As one would expect, Gibbs didn't go into any detail as to why Jones needed to be replaced.
Our feeling was that we needed to make a move and it was probably best for all of us. . . It was one of those decisions that you hate to make, but we felt like it was best for the club.
The guess here is that Gibbs never wanted Jones to begin with. Kenyatta Jones is not somebody known as a "character guy". Just a year ago, he was arrested and charged with assault with intent to maim, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and mayhem. The accusations stemmed from a bizarre incident in which he tossed scalding water at his personal assistant while he sat on the toilet. Jones paid a civil settlement and the criminal charges were dropped.

Think that's strange? Catch what Jones said about it:
To this day I wouldn't change anything that happened on that day. . .I'm glad it happened the way it happened.
Joe Gibbs is as straight-laced as they come—his idea of "party hardy" is to down an additional IBC root beer before going back into "The Submarine" with his assistants—but he's hardly intolerant of rowdier types. He did no more than sigh and perhaps roll his eyes when, say, John Riggins passed out in the presence of a Supreme Court associate justice. He welcomed Tony Peters back after the safety had been hauled off in cuffs from the dorm at training camp in 1992, the result of drug conspiracy charges that Peters eventually plea bargained on. It took a lifetime ban by the NFL due to repeated drug violations for Gibbs and the Redskins to cut Dexter Manley.

Peters, Manley, and Riggins had a big advantage over Kenyatta Jones—they were Pro Bowl to, in Riggo's case, Hall of Fame level performers. Jones was not. And Peters and Manley expressed regret about their malfeasance; neither was quoted as saying that he "wouldn't change a thing."

During the offseason, Jones was likely viewed by the staff as being destined for the first-round waiver wire due to his strange behavior. The Jansen went down—an event that had to be considered unlikely as The Rock had missed just one play in five seasons with the team--and everything changed. Jones was plugged into the spot, but the search to replace him begin immediately. Brown arrived at practice the same day that Jones was taking his first snaps with the first team. Five weeks later Brown replaced Jones as the starter. Five weeks after that, an alternative to Jones was found, a character guy in Parker.

There were no such issues with Rasby, a solid veteran. Like I said, Rasby hasn't played particularly poorly, but the position certainly was a candidate for an upgrade. It seems as though Gibbs decided he made a mistake in keeping Rasby and axing Fred Baxter in the final cutdown.

Baxter suffered a knee injury during the preseason but has healed to near 100%. Third-year player Robert Royal likely will get the start, but Baxter hopes to be ready to play.

The bottom line is that Joe Gibbs is still in the process of making this into "his" team. Most of the major parts are in place, but there is still tinkering to be done. Marginal players, even marginal starters, should continue to rent, not buy, in the area of Redskins Park.

Brett Favre

There will be plenty written around here about Packer quarterback Bret Favre in the coming days. I'm looking forward to seeing one of the top half dozen or so quarterbacks in the history of the league in person. It was entertaining to see him perform against the Cowboys on Sunday; it will not be so much fun if he carves up the Redskins in a similar fashion.

Due to scheduling oddities, this will be the 14-year veteran's first start on the road against the Redskins. However, he has played at Washington before.

In 1991, Jerry Glanville brought his Falcons to a rainy RFK Stadium for a regular-season game against the Redskins. Mark Rypien had a banner day, throwing long touchdown bombs to Gary Clark and Art Monk. The Redskins were up by 32 points in the late going when Glanville put the rookie Favre into the game for a little mop up action. Andre Collins picked off a Favre pass and rolled 15 yards into the end zone to push the score to 56-17.

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