NFL History 101

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Take another dive into NFL history, but use proper pressurized air breathing, for we’re plunging into a void…

Know thy enemy…

NFL history: The Washington…um…uh… Football Team?

As a franchise, the Washington collection of football players has played 1250 games.  The first 1234 games they had a team name, but then they were woked.  They were originally started in Boston in 1932.  Confusion alert:  The team started as the Newark Tornadoes, who left the league in 1930 and sold their franchise rights back to the NFL.  This franchise was what they used for the Boston franchise.  Neither the current franchise nor the NFL now recognize the Newark team as part of the current Washington team’s history.   The Newark team was “cancelled” even before the internet existed and brought this term to the mainstream. 

The teams initial name was the Braves, modelled after the Boston Braves baseball team (who were also their landlords).   In 1933 they moved their home games to Fenway Park and changed their name to the Redskins. Team owner George Marshall said he made this change because he wanted to avoid any confusion with the Boston Braves but still wanted to keep the native connotations.  The fan attendance in Boston was poor, so in 1937 Marshall decided to move his team to his hometown of Washington.  His quote was “I moved my team to Washington because the Boston papers gave girls’ field hockey more coverage than the Redskins”.

Marshall tried to incorporate many aspects of college football into the Redskins since college football was more popular than the NFL, which was still trying to shed its barnstorming image.  In 1937 the Redskins marching band was founded consisting of all volunteers.  The goal was to entertain fans from the start of the game to the end.  They are still one of the two NFL teams that still have an official marching band.  The other is the Ravens.  They were also the first team to have a fight song, “Hail to the Redskins”.  Their first year in Washington was a good one – they drafted Sammy Baugh and used the forward pass as their primary method of moving the ball, which was unheard of in that era.  They would win the championship that year.  “Slinging Sammy” played quarterback, cornerback, and punter.

While they would be successful the next several years, they had a few abnormal events occur.  In the 1940 NFL Championship game they lost to the Bears 73-0, setting a record for the most lopsided score in NFL history.  Also that year, team captain Turk Edwards called the pre-game coin toss and shook hands with the other team’s captain.  When he pivoted to head back to his sidelines his cleats caught, and he blew out his knee, ending his season and career.  The 1943 season ended with Sammy Baugh leading the league in passing, punting, and interceptions.  In 1945, they lost the NFL Championship game by a safety.  However, the safety was caused by a forward pass hitting the goal post, which at the time were on the goal line.  The ball bounced back and landed in the end zone for a safety.  After this the rule was changed so that this would be an incomplete pass.

From 1946 through 1970 they would be consistently bad.  They’d finally get back into the playoffs on 1971. Their record wasn’t the only thing bad – by 1961 the Redskins were the only NFL team to have not integrated.  Owner Marshall continued to refuse to integrate, until finally the federal government stepped in, threatening legal action as well as not allowing them to play in their stadium, as it was owned by the Department of the Interior.  The Redskins finally caved in.  Ironically, the Department of the Interior is supposed to look after the Indians.

A large part of the team’s struggles in the 1960s stemmed from Marshall’s mental decline, which began in 1962.  He died in 1969, and minority owner Edward Williams took over running the team.  Vince Lombardi was hired to coach them, being promised part ownership of the team as part of the deal.  He led the team to a 7-5-1 record, which was their best finish in 14 years, but died of cancer before the next season.

In 1971 George Allen took over coaching.  His preference was to sign veteran players rather than unproven rookies, hence his team was known as the “Over-the-Hill Gang”.  His coaching would return the team to the playoffs, and it 1972 make it to the Super Bowl only to lose to the undefeated Dolphins 14-7.  They would make the playoffs 3 of the next 4 years, only to lose their first playoff game each time.  Allen was fired after the 1977 season after failing to make the playoffs with a 9-5 record.  Redskin’s majority owner Jack Kent Cooke moved back to the area from Los Angeles and took over the teams operations.

Cooke hired Jack Pardee as coach. He lasted 3 years and was replaced with race car owner Joe Gibbs in 1981.  It appears he could coach too, as the team became consistent contenders, winning Super Bowls in 1982, 1987, and 1991.   These teams consisted of Joe Theismann at quarterback, John Riggins running, and Art Monk catching passes.  They also had an offensive line called “the Hogs”, which was one of the first instances of a team’s offensive line weighing over 300 pounds.  Their wide receiver group was known as “the Fun Bunch” because of their group celebrations after touch downs.  Their actions resulted in a league wide ban of “excessive celebrations”.  Since the “Fun Bunch” couldn’t have fun anymore, they were replaced with “the Smurfs”, a group of wide receivers of whom the tallest was 5’10”.

At the start of Gibbs coaching tenure, he had a problem with John Riggins.  Riggins had requested to renegotiate his $300,000 per year contract in 1980, but the Redskins refused and Riggins sat out that year.  Gibbs decided to visit with Riggins, so he headed out to Kansas to try and make peace.  As Gibbs described the story, Riggins was wearing camouflage and had been hunting with a buddy.  It was 10 in the morning, and he had a beer in his hand. Gibbs wasn’t impressed.  While they were discussing things, Riggins told Gibbs that “You need to get me back there – I’ll make you famous”.  Gibbs figured he was an egomaniac, so he’d get him back to the team and then trade him.  Then Riggins said there was only one thing he wanted in his contract, and that was a no-trade clause.  Riggins returned to training camp in 1981, telling the media that “I’m bored, I’m broke, and I’m back.”

In the 1985 season Joe Theismann suffered his catastrophic broken leg, forcing him to retire, so in 1986 they brought in Doug Williams as a back-up quarterback to Jay Schroeder.  By the end of 1987 he won the starting job.  The day before the Super Bowl, he had a 6-hour root canal, and still led the Redskins to victory the next day, winning the MVP.

Joe Gibbs retired from coaching in 1993 and went to NASCAR.  The Redskins would go on a run of mediocrity for the next dozen years.  During this span Jack Kent Cooke died at the age of 84 in 1997.  In 1999 Daniel Snyder would take over ownership. For $800 million.  In 2004 Joe Gibbs un-retired and came back to coach the team.  They would continue to be average, or worse, occasionally losing the first game of the play-offs through the 2020 season.  Generally, the only way they made it to the play-offs was because their entire division was terrible.  They traded for Alex Smith from the Chiefs to try to improve, but they broke him. 

By 2020, even the Redskins were embarrassed of their poor performance, so they decided to change coaches and hired Ron Rivera.  However, they sucked so bad that they also had to change their name.  (There may have been a couple other reasons too.)  So they publicly announced they were dropping the Redskins name and changing it to …   Oops, they forgot that part.  Afraid of coming up with a name that might be offensive to anyone, they opted to come up with nothing, which offends everyone.  The actual name is “the Washington Football Team”.  I’d have thought they’d realize that this would be offensive to all the real football teams.   The name “Redskins” was good for 88 years, but like everything else these days, the new generation decided the old generation was clueless and cancelled the name.   They could call them the “Politically Corrects”…

To sum it up, their strategy appears to be to continue losing to buy time while they try to come up with a “winning” name.

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Big Chief
Big Chief
06/08/2021 4:50 pm

I remember when they won the SB in 87, I was ticked because I hate seeing NFC teams win (it goes back to following the Chiefs when they were still in the AFL), but being excited because I genuinely thought that they would have to make the OL, or at least one or two of them, the SB MVP. The OL was SO dominant in that game. Doug played well, but so did Timmy Smith, and both for the same reason, the dominance of that OL. I was stunned when the announcers started talking about Doug Williams being the MVP, because of course they did. They just can’t give the OL the love they deserve even when there is no reasonable alternative. Bugs me to this day.

Big Chief
Big Chief
Reply to  Big Chief
06/08/2021 4:55 pm

And while I’m ranting – I couldn’t stand “the fun bunch.” They’d score and then the game would be held up while the whole group, including guys who were on the bench when the TD happened, all trotted down to the end zone, lined up, and timed their stupid high five jump. I didn’t think they needed to make it illegal, just call delay of game every time and it would have stopped.

But on a positive note Joe Gibbs was a heck of a coach.

And I do like their color scheme.

pompano
06/08/2021 2:34 pm

Yet another job well done.

Chickennpickles
Chickennpickles
06/08/2021 2:17 pm

Thanks, hoosier. Loving the series

paulkcc
paulkcc
06/08/2021 1:38 pm

When I think of the Washington…um…uh… Football Team, this is the guy I think of. He killed it for several years in the early 70’s. I liked that he was a Big 8 guy (K State), and was totally unheralded before breaking out. He fought for everything he got.

Grassy_Knoll
Grassy_Knoll
06/08/2021 1:24 pm

First I scroll down to rate this article a 5, then I read. I’m really enjoying this series. Thanks Hoosier.

Chief-Blinders-On
Reply to  upamtn
06/08/2021 12:03 pm

RIP JIm Fassel, I remember a few times during Chiefs coaching searches. Particularly when the Chiefs hired Haley, that fans were looking into the Chiefs pursuing Fassel. He was a good football coach.

The Washington Football Team is a bad team, but they do have a rich history and have had some great players over the years. I love the Alex Smith comeback and would read more about that–all day. I love this series, learn something each time.

871510
871510
06/08/2021 10:38 am

Love this series. Thanks.

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