Elfin's Endzone: The Redskins Have Been Mediocre For 20 Years Now

6:59 AM, Jan 30, 2012   |    comments
Washington Redskins wide receiver Brandon Banks (16) gets tackled by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Brandon BCredit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE
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WASHINGTON (WUSA/Elfin's Endzone) -- The world was very different in January 1992. 

  President George H.W. Bush was favored for re-election against a Democratic field that, at first, was led by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and former Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas. The big international news was the breakup of post-Communist Yugoslavia which would lead to the Bosnia conflict during the Clinton Administration.

  The Dow Jones Industrial Average wasn't much above 3,000. The Internet and cellphones were in their infancy. Clint Eastwood's Western "Unforgiven" dominated the Oscar nominations. Michael Jackson's "Black And White" had just fallen out of the top spot on the charts. Believe it or not, "Roseanne" was the top-rated primetime TV show.

   Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were defending their first NBA championship. The New York Yankees hadn't won the World Series in more than 13 years. Verizon Center, FedEx Field and Comcast Center weren't even on the drawing board. The Nats were the Montreal Expos.

    That's how long ago 20 years was. And 20 years ago last Thursday was when the Redskins last ruled the NFL as they pounded the Buffalo Bills 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis. An entire generation has grown up since not witnessing Washington ever being the top team. 

  The Redskins' first Super Bowl appearance, 39 years ago this month, remains special because it was the first as well as the only one for late Hall of Fame coach George Allen and The over The Hill Gang.

   The second Super Bowl, a decade later under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, is cherished even more because it was the first victory and was so unexpected, coming after four straight years out of the playoffs. 

  The third, in January 1988, chronicled in this space last week, is unforgettable for Doug Williams proving that a black quarterback could lead his team to a title and for that offense's record-setting day.

   Super Bowl XXVI's place in Redskins lore is not only as the last triumph for Gibbs and his core group of Coleman, Monk, Grimm, Jacoby, Bostic and Green, but because the burgundy and gold hasn't come close to matching that glory in the two decades since. 358

  Although seven Redskins starters that afternoon in the Metrodome had reached the big 3-0 and another seven were 28 or 29, there wasn't a thought that this team was at the end of the line.

  After all, unlike the 1982 and 1987 champions who were slightly tainted by the strikes that had disrupted those seasons, the 1991 Redskins were the NFL's best from start - 11-0 - to finish - 17-2 including the playoffs. Their two defeats were by a total of five points.

   Washington's offense scored a then-record 485 points and allowed a record-low nine sacks while its defense gave up just 224 points (second in the NFL) and forced 43 turnovers.

   Other than part-time middle linebacker Matt Millen and Russ Grimm, the former All-Pro guard whose injuries had reduced him to a backup role, the Redskins returned pretty much intact in 1992, the last season before unrestricted free agency began changing the NFL for good.

  However, an injury-riddled season ended with Washington barely sneaking into the playoffs, upsetting Minnesota back in the Metrodome and then being eliminated at San Francisco. Then came the shock of the exhausted Gibbs announcing his retirement at 52 after 11 yeoman years on the job.

  The Redskins have never really recovered. They went 13-35 the next three seasons, didn't reach postseason again until 1999 and have won just three playoff games since (two during Gibbs' less-than-satisfying second tenure from 2004-07). Those three postseason victories during the past two decades equal their total from that 1991 championship season. 

  Only Cincinnati, Cleveland (which didn't have a team from 1996-98 before being reborn as an expansion franchise), Detroit, Houston (which didn't have a team from 1997-2001 before being reborn as an expansion franchise), and Kansas City haven't been more successful.

  A dozen teams have won Super Bowls since Washington's last triumph and another 10 have reached the big dance. That list includes all three of the Redskins' NFC East rivals. Philadelphia has lost one. Dallas has won three. The New York Giants, having won one and lost one, will play in another on Sunday against New England in Indianapolis.

  Not only has Redskins owner Dan Snyder failed to win big during his 13 seasons with Super Bowl-winning coaches Gibbs and Mike Shanahan and Hall of Fame players Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders (and all-but-sure enshrine Champ Bailey), if anything Washington is getting worse as time goes by. Only St. Louis (10) and Cleveland (14) won fewer games the past three years than Washington's 15.

  Fortunately for the Redskins, the Rams and Browns are on the 2012 schedule along with Tampa Bay (17 victories from 2009-11) and Carolina (18). But so are 2011 playoff teams Baltimore (33), Pittsburgh (33), Atlanta (32) and New Orleans (31) as well as the required six games with the Eagles (29), Giants (27) and Cowboys (25).

  At the rate they're going, the Redskins, like Moses and his followers might need another two decades in the wilderness before they finally return to the promised land.

 WUSA-9's Sports Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of seven books on local sports including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History." 

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