Redskins fans who stay home prefer style over substance
It will be curious to see the atmosphere at FedEx Field on Sunday after Redskins players declared war on their fans this week, calling them out for lack of support.
Will fans answer the call and flock to Ghost Town Field? Will they cheer loudly for their team and make noise as instructed by the video boards in the stadium?
Will they come out to support the most lackluster 6-3 team in recent NFL memory, one that, in a league fueled by offense, putters along at an average of 19.6 points per game?
They better play well against the Houston Texans, the 6-3 team they are facing with six consecutive wins. And they better play well early. If this team has a stinker in it like it did the last time Redskins fans came to the stadium a 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons Josh Norman, D.J. Swearinger and company will surely hear some noise from the fans. They might want to cover their ears since they seem to be offended so easily.
Fan support, or lack of it, has dominated the discussion in town this week far more than the fact that the Redskins have a two-game lead in the NFC East, with the rest of the division seemingly imploding and a favorable path for Washington to the playoffs. Among many good reasons for lack of support from a damaged and fatigued fan base, one that emerged that has startled some is that this 6-3 team is pretty boring, and that some fans would rather watch a more exciting offensive team lose than a comatose offensive team win.
That would be a disturbing admission for most fans, who might think winning ugly would be more compelling than losing dynamically. It is the argument of style over substance, and we seem to live in an age where the points that matter the most are style points.
What if I told you that was nothing new? What if I said that 50 years ago, the Redskins were the other side of the coin an offensive show with a defensive sieve and lost? Yet people showed up on Sundays to watch them play.
Not only showed up, but showed up in record numbers. The reality is that the famous Redskin sellout streak officially put to rest by the team this year with the acknowledgment of the 57,000 people who were there for the first home game, a 21-9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts began and grew not with winning teams, but losing ones? Losing ones that were a lot of fun to watch.
It appears that the Redskins’ sellouts may have begun in November 1966, most likely in a wild 31-30 shootout loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Sonny Jurgensen completed 26 of 46 passes for 347 yards and three touchdown. Charley Taylor caught 11 passes for 199 yards, while Jerry Smith caught six for 81 and Bobby Mitchell pulled down six for 51 yards.
The crowd for that game at D.C. Stadium was reported at 50,927. And every home game after that in 1966, the crowds were always over 50,000, with the number varying. That continued into the 1967 season, and on and on. The sellout streak became a myth in recent years at FedEx Field, but its roots began not with the arrival of Vince Lombardi in 1969 or George Allen in 1971, but instead during the first year Otto Graham coached the team in 1966.
There was some excitement about the arrival of Graham, the legendary Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame quarterback. And you could make the case that, like the last 20 years of Dan Snyder’s dysfunctional ownership that has driven away fans, the years leading up to 1966 were equally a disaster under George Preston Marshall, if not worse.
In the 20 years since Washington had last made the playoffs 1945 the Redskins had just three winning seasons, with the last one coming in 1954. So any signs of hope would perhaps fill D.C. Stadium, then in its sixth year. A 7-7 season appeared to have done just that but it was not a winning season.
Neither was 1967 a 5-6-3 record but the fans filled the stadium. And they did the same thing in 1968 Graham’s last year as coach as Washington posted a 5-9 record.
They were coming to see Sonny throw the ball all over the field.
Fans were coming to see points scored the third-ranked offense in the NFL in 1966, scoring 351 points, and the second-ranked passing game, including a record 72-41 victory over the New York Giants. The next year, the fifth-ranked offense, scoring 347 points and the top-ranked passing offense in the league. And while the offensive production dropped in 1968 to 249 points 11th in the NFL the passing offense was still the fifth most productive.
“I don’t think there was anybody in the league that could compete with us offensively,” Taylor told me in an interview for my book, “Hail Victory: An Oral History of the Washington Redskins.”
He continued, “It was just that we couldn’t stop anybody defensively. We had some great defensive players but we had some holes that we just couldn’t shore up. But we were unstoppable offensively. We had a guy with a great arm and no fear at quarterback, but we would lose games 35-33, scores like that.”
A damaged fan base that endured years of suffering. A high-scoring one-sided team that didn’t win. And fans showed up in record numbers.
That was 50 years ago.
Today, you have a damaged fan base that has also endured years of suffering. Another one-sided team except this one is winning, this time it’s because of the defensive side of the ball.
And fans are staying home.
You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.