The new coach (interims just don't count – sorry Terry Robiskie) turned out to be Marty Schottenheimer. Marty was a lot of things his predecessor was not. He was a taskmaster. He was a disciplinarian. He was a demon for making wealthy athletes toe the line and follow rules. He was a ‘three yards and a cloud of dust' guy from the old school. And if ever a team needed some Old Schooling, it was the Club Med Redskins.
I was so enthused over the new regime that I managed to make a pilgrimage to Carlisle to watch Scottenheimer run a Redskin training camp. I got Marty's autograph and watched him bark at the troops on the practice field.
It was great. But then came pre-season and the team looked absolutely wretched. Marty…steadfast Marty…told us to be patient. The season began and the Washington Redskins reeled off five of the worst games imaginable. Marty told us that his way would work.
You know what? The guy was right. Those 150 or so NFL wins under Schottenheimer's belt mean something. The team won eight of the following eleven games in the most conservative fashion imaginable. Even as we won, we didn't look very impressive. Fans were asking, "Is that all there is?" And it was. To be absolutely fair, nobody fooled us…Marty himself told us from the get-go how it would be. But our direction seemed positive. We finally learned how to play special teams. The defense was stopping other teams more often than not. And the offense attempted to receive the benefit of the field position game Marty played. We controlled the clock. We ran the ball…sometimes a lot. Once in a while, we scored.
In fact, Marty gave us, in large measure, exactly what we'd been asking for. The Redskins were competent…. capable…respectable…and as dull as a fashion show in Taliban-ruled Kabul. Marty's dealings with the press were competent…capable...respectable…and dull. (You'd get about as much insight on things if you asked your father about his day at work.) We won as many games as we lost but there seemed to be hope that we might improve (with the same game plans, of course – the only improvements in Martyball lie in execution. Norv complained that the players had to execute better. Marty actually got them to do so).
But then Steve Spurrier, Head Coach of the Florida Gators announced he wanted to take his ideas on winning football to the pros. And everything changed.
It didn't hit me until someone on an Internet message board floated the notion that Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, would fire Dave Campo and Spurrier would take his aerial circus to the Silver Star. I knew it posed the greatest threat to us since the signing of Jimmy Johnson. And at that moment, I knew I wanted him with the Washington Redskins. Like a middle-aged man dropping his wife of 20 years after a ‘come on' from Rebecca Romjin-Stamos, I dropped whatever affection I had for Marty and jumped onto the Spurrier bandwagon. It may not be a pretty sight…I may feel abashed when or if I come to, but right now I'm excited over our prospects for the future.
I don't think I'm alone. The idea of Spurrier…the Darth Vader of the SEC…coming to Washington has brought something different to the franchise…excitement! You can read about it in every sports media outlet (Playoffs? What playoffs…all the news is Spurrier-related.) There are new fans posting on the message boards.
Living in Tennessee, I've had the pleasure of watching The Steve Spurrier Show from the vantagepoint of someone in the enemy camp. Even now, I can see it in my mind….That smugness..that sideline hauteur says it all. Steve Spurrier's animated features and overall look of disgust would make you think his team was a group of inept high school kids. Florida's QB missed Jabbar Gaffney downfield and settled for a 14 yard completion (with a first down) to Reche Caldwell. But Steve Superior is not impressed with first downs. Those are expected. He's angry over the missed TD and he's letting his QB know how he feels. (Think about how a defense feels when they see the opposing QB berated for not marching down the field fast enough - a bit demoralizing, no?)
There are a lot of criticisms of Spurrier. Probably the least valid is the one about how he has a recruiting advantage in Florida. Keep in mind that Spurrier won at Duke, during his second season. In three seasons at Duke, Spurrier posted a 20-13-1 record. And if Florida has such a terrific recruiting advantage, how come they'd never won an SEC title before he arrived? During his tenure he either won the SEC or came in second almost every year. In a 15-year college career, his one blemish was a 5-6 opening season at Duke. Since then, you don't want to meet his teams on the field.
We heard the one about how he had great, celebrated athletes in college to work with. Of course, if you point out that relatively few of his players have gone on to stardom in the pros, the criticism then shifts. Then it's ‘Well, it's the system down there….he doesn't produce good pros'. The folks that don't like Spurrier – and they are legion – will always find something bad to call him. As he notes, just don't call him ‘loser.'
And now he belongs to the Redskins. He's not a recycled coach from another pro team – he's all ours. I've got a feeling that football is gonna be fun for Redskin fans again…and maybe just a little less fun for the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones. Wouldn't that be too bad?