Much has been written of late as to what new ownership is going to have to do to draw back many of the Washington Commander fans who just threw their hands up in disgust at the antics of the previous regime in recent years and resigned themselves to finding other things to do on Sunday afternoons.
Sunday, however, I may have seen something that at least for this old man could be a factor.
His name is Sam Howell.
I’m one of those fans who for over 50 years never missed a snap when the Redskins were on television. Heck, at one time in my life, I would drive hours just to be somewhere where I could hear the RADIO broadcasts of Sonny, Sam and Frank. But in recent years, my interest has waned considerably to the point of it became just something in the background on television on Sundays.
I was disgusted with the ownership, but I was equally disinterested with the team. They weren’t exciting to watch, they would win a few games here and there, and while statistically they’d be in the playoff race, they’d fade down the stretch as their lack of talent would eventually cost them. They were coached by someone who seemed to be more a temp than a head coach, at one point not even knowing he had just lost a game that eliminated the team from the playoffs.
I mean, if he didn’t care enough to know that, why should I?
It wasn’t so much winning or losing, but being in a position to have a chance. I fell in love with the team in the days of Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Jerry Smith, Bobby Mitchell, etc., even though they were perennially 5-9 to 6-8 teams.
But they were exciting to watch. The defense could give up points about as fast as the offense could score them, but with Sonny at quarterback, you always had a chance.
That’s what I have never understood about the team the last few years. Bill Clinton once created a campaign strategy around the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” but when it comes to football, it is and has always been “it’s the quarterback, stupid.” It’s not rocket science either, because if you have a quarterback that can complete passes to receivers who get open, you’re always in the game. Not to mention your receivers give that little bit extra to get open, knowing that work will be rewarded with a football coming their way.
Last time the Washington team had a QB like that was Kirk Cousins. Last time they had a winning season was when the team had a QB named Kirk Cousins. That’s not a coincidence.
Sunday, Howell showed me glimpses of that kind of quarterback, which had me edging forward in my seat and rekindling some of that old emotion toward the team. It wasn’t so much statistics – he was 14 of 23 for 150 yards – but he made the throws to his receivers when they got open. He threw 3 touchdown passes, and gave you that feeling of confidence the offense COULD score if and when it needed.
That’s not to say I thought the team would win (although they did hold on to do so). It’s the same defense and the same coaches who haven’t produced a winning record in years, after all. But back in Sonny’s day, the team had to score 30 to even have a chance at winning; one year they scored 72 against the New York Giants and that only made them 6-6 at the time.
I still loved those teams because there was hope. And it was fun.
Despite all this praise, this doesn’t mean Sam doesn’t have work to do. He still holds the ball longer than my dog holds the tennis ball when I ask her to give it back, and he pays for it with sack after sack.
But under offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Howell isn’t making as many mental mistakes as he has in the past. He seems to understand the game better, and is even developing a bit of a swagger. Like Sonny back in the day, he walked up to the line on a short yardage play at the goal line Sunday and seemed to know he was going to fake the defense out of its shoes to complete an easy touchdown pass.
So yeah, new ownership can work on everything from a new name to fan-oriented promotions to bring the fans back, and some of them may work. But all we really want is some reasonable hope that the team will be in each game and have a chance to win.
Sam Howell provided that Sunday.