From Redskins Glory to Commanders Rebirth: Tracing Washington's NFL Journey
The Washington Commanders, once known as the Washington Redskins, hold a special place in NFL history and in the hearts of their fans. I moved to Maryland in 1984, just in time to witness the Redskins win the Super Bowl, marking the beginning of my support for the team. This period was also significant due to the departure of the Baltimore Colts, leading many Maryland fans, only an hour away from Washington, to shift their allegiance to the Redskins.
The mid-1980s marked a period of exceptional success for the Washington Redskins, a time that saw the team rise to the pinnacle of their game. This era was a defining moment for many fans, including myself, who had recently found a deep connection with the team.
Joe Thiesman: As the quarterback, Joe Thiesman was more than a player; he was a leader who ignited passion and a winning spirit within the team and its fans. His leadership on the field was a driving force behind the Redskins' remarkable success during this era.
John Riggins, Art Monk, and The Hogs: John Riggins, known for his powerful running style, and Art Monk, an integral part of both the offense and the celebrated "Fun Bunch," played pivotal roles in the team's dominance. The offensive line, "The Hogs" also provided the backbone for the team's potent attack.
The Fun Bunch: This group, known for their coordinated touchdown celebrations, included wide receivers Art Monk, Virgil Seay, Charlie Brown, and Alvin Garrett, running back Otis Wonsley, and tight ends Doc Walker and Don Warren. They exemplified the team spirit and camaraderie that defined the Redskins during this time.
Joe Gibbs: Coach Joe Gibbs was a mastermind behind the team's strategies and successes. His coaching philosophy and ability to bring out the best in his players led to three Super Bowl victories. Gibbs' tenure with the Redskins is remembered as a period of tactical brilliance and exceptional leadership.
Darrell Green: Darrell Green, known for being one of the fastest players in the league, was a shutdown cornerback whose skills made him one of the greatest ever to play the position. His speed and agility on the field were unmatched, making him a cornerstone of the Redskins' defense.
This period wasn't just about the victories; it was about the spirit and unity the Redskins brought to their fans. The blend of skilled gameplay, strategic coaching, and the infectious enthusiasm of players like those in the Fun Bunch created a golden chapter in the team's history.
In 1996, Baltimore, where I lived, welcomed the Ravens; the Ravens originated when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell decided to relocate his franchise. This event coincided with a shift in my football allegiances as I began to refocus on the Ravens. A few years later, in 1999, Dan Snyder purchased the Washington Redskins, ushering in a challenging era for the team I had once called "my team."
Controversies and Criticisms: Under Snyder's ownership, the Redskins faced significant controversies. The most contentious issue was the handling of the team's name, "Redskins," which had long been criticized for its offensive connotations towards Native Americans. Despite mounting public and legal pressure, Snyder initially resisted changing the name, leading to significant backlash and alienation among fans and social advocates. Moreover, the team's on-field performance saw a persistent decline, failing to replicate the success of its past. This underperformance led to growing frustration among the fanbase, who were disheartened to witness the decline of their once-beloved team.
Organizational Misconduct: The challenges extended beyond the field and into the organization's internal operations. Allegations of misconduct painted a troubling picture of the franchise's culture and management under Snyder. This culminated in a formal investigation by the NFL, uncovering evidence of a toxic workplace environment, including allegations of sexual harassment and other forms of mistreatment. The severity of these issues led the NFL to impose a significant fine on the franchise, highlighting the gravity of the situation and the need for substantial organizational changes.
Impact on the Team's Legacy: The era under Snyder's ownership, marked by controversies and challenges, starkly contrasted the team's former glory. The combination of poor performance, controversial decisions, and organizational issues led many fans, including myself, to long for a return to the Redskins' winning ways and the values that once made the team a source of pride.
This problematic phase in the team's history served as a catalyst for significant changes, eventually leading to the team's rebranding as the Washington Commanders. The controversies and challenges during Snyder's ownership impacted the team's immediate circumstances. They set the stage for reflection and transformation for the team and fans like me, who found new allegiances amidst these changes.
The transformation from the Washington Redskins to the Washington Commanders marked a significant turning point in the franchise's history. In 2020, following years of controversy and amid a broader social and cultural reckoning, the team decided to retire the Redskins name. This decision was not just a change in branding but a response to the longstanding concerns over the name's racial insensitivity and a move towards a more inclusive and respectful identity. Then, in 2022, the team unveiled its new identity as the Washington Commanders, officially closing one chapter and beginning another.
Embracing Change and Moving Forward: The transition to the Washington Commanders represented more than a mere name change. It was an opportunity for the franchise to redefine itself and embark on a path of renewal and rejuvenation. This rebranding was a chance to leave behind past controversies and establish a new legacy built on respect, inclusivity, and community engagement.
Fan Reception and Community Impact: The announcement of the new name and brand identity received mixed reactions from the fanbase. While some welcomed the change as a positive and necessary step, others felt a loss for the historic name that had been part of their lives for generations. However, the rebranding also opened the door to new fans who had previously felt alienated by the old name, allowing the team to expand its reach and embrace a broader and more diverse fanbase.
Building a New Legacy: As the Washington Commanders, the franchise is now focused on building a new legacy. This involves success in the field, creating a positive impact in the community, and fostering a culture that values diversity and respect. The team is keen on developing new traditions and creating memories that will resonate with fans, old and new.
As we look ahead to 2024 and beyond, the Washington Commanders, emerging from the storied legacy of the Washington Redskins, stand on the brink of a new and exciting era. Under the new leadership and refreshed outlook, the Commanders are poised to reclaim their esteemed place in the NFL, much to the anticipation of fans, including myself, who have followed the team since the 1980s.
Building a Competitive Future: The focus now is on building a team that mirrors the spirit and success of the mid-1980s Redskins, a team that became a source of immense joy and pride for fans in Maryland and beyond. The goal is to assemble a roster that combines skill, determination, and the kind of team spirit that once made the Redskins a dominant force in the league. This involves nurturing talent, fostering a culture of excellence, and focusing on strategic gameplay that can propel the Commanders into playoff contention and beyond.
The New Ownership Group: This group, led by Josh Harris, the billionaire owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils, finalized an acquisition of the Washington Commanders for an NFL record $6 billion from Daniel Snyder, which brings the franchise a renewed sense of hope and ambition. This group is tasked with the critical role of steering the Commanders towards success. Their approach to management, investment in the team, and overall vision will be pivotal in shaping the team's trajectory. The new owners are expected to infuse the franchise with fresh energy, resources, and a commitment to reviving the team's fortunes, much like the transformative era of the Redskins in the 1980s.
Embracing the Legacy and Looking Forward: The Washington Commanders carry a rich history, a legacy of triumphs, and a past filled with legendary players and memorable moments. As they embark on this new chapter, the team represents the continuation of a beloved franchise and the promise of recent achievements and milestones in the annals of NFL history. This period is one of renewed excitement and hope for fans, especially those who have witnessed the highs and lows since the 1980s.
The transformation from the Redskins to the Commanders symbolizes resilience and evolution, reflective of both the team's journey and the changing landscape of the NFL. As the Washington Commanders look towards the future, they do so with an eye on recapturing the glory of their past and a commitment to writing new, triumphant chapters in their storied history. For fans and the community alike, the anticipation of what the future holds under this new identity and leadership is palpable, marking the beginning of a hopeful and promising era in Washington football. Occasionally, I find myself checking in on my old friends, the Washington Commanders, filled with memories of their greatness in the past and nurturing the hope that they can someday climb back to the success they enjoyed in the 80s. This enduring connection is a testament to a team's lasting impact on its fans, transcending changes in names, ownership, and eras and continuing to inspire loyalty and hope for future triumphs.