Washington, D.C. is a divisive town. Political discord dominates and often destroys. More people from more different parts of the world seem to live in the city than any other. Eclectic is everything and the only thing.
One afternoon, however, all that disharmony and diversity disintegrated. It was December 31, 1972, the time of year when darkness descends around 4:30 pm. The Washington Redskins whipped their all-time rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, 26-3, in the National Football Conference championship game, spring boarding them to their first-ever Super Bowl.
As a nine year old, I watched Charlie Taylor on TV streaking down the right sideline past defender Mark Washington, catching Billy Kilmer's pass and racing into the end zone. That play sealed the victory, arguably the greatest in Washington Redskin history, certainly the first of monumental significance.
Pandemonium erupted in Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, the city's only true home base then or ever. The city's team-the only one it has ever really cared about deeply and irrationally-became winners after spending decades as major losers.
The timing made that game unforgettable. It was New Year's Eve. The game ended around 7:30 pm. With people all around the city and suburbs already gearing up for New Year's Eve parties, and with the game ending only a few hours before those parties started, the night turned electric. A party on top of a party equals a really, really good party.
My family had already planned a New Year's party at our house in suburban Maryland. A college-age neighbor from up the street was the first guest to arrive. I answered the door bell. He wore a grin, blue jeans, button-down shirt, and a burgundy baseball hat with a gold "R" front and center. That image stays with me, along with Charlie Taylor's TD catch, as the moment I fell in love with the Redskins.
Forty years have passed since that glorious night. The game I remember most occurred a few decades later. Known by Washingtonians as the "We Hate Dallas" game, it was the NFC title game against-who else?-the Cowboys. Around the city fans with tickets found poster boards, placards, whatever, and wrote "We Hate Dallas" on them; no more, no less, just "We Hate Dallas." Throughout the game, from sideline to sideline, those signs hung like pretty bulbs on a Christmas tree.
My Mom told me not to say I hate anybody, but I hate the Dallas Cowboys. I hate Roger Staubach most of all because my Mom liked him because he was a good moral guy and, all the while, smoked the Skins in last-minute comebacks countless times. There is nothing worse than nice guys from opposing teams beating the only team in the world you really care about. I hate Harvey Martin, who once after a Cowboys victory over the Skins sarcastically threw a bouquet of red roses into the Redskins locker room. I hate Butch Johnson, who after catching TD passes against the Skins would hop up and pretend to pull guns out of his holsters and shoot them.
Hate...put Michael Irvin on my list, along with Drew Pearson, Clinton Longley, Cliff Harris, Charlie Waters, Lee Roy Jordan, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant. This list would amount to 45 players per roster per season x 40 years watching the Skins play the Cowboys. Thousands of Cowboys I hate, millions if it were mathematically sensible.
Which brings us to this weekend's monumental match-up between the RGIII-led Skins and-who else?--the Cowboys. What could be more at stake than the NFC East Title, a first round home playoff game, and knocking the other team out of the playoffs? The world is at stake in this game. My world. The city of Washington's world. Our world. Washington Redskin fans have been watching their team implode for 20 straight years. It's been a lifetime ago when they had this much glory within their collective grasp.
At times like these, with emotions running this high and anxiously, I often consider not watching or watching where no one I know can see my behavior. It's disturbing to be around me--even for me. This stuff cuts deep into my psyche. It is my town, my roots, what I remember as bliss when just a nine-year-old. My youthful innocence and harmony are under siege.
Can the Skins unite this crazy city once again?