Is Ashburn Why the Redskins Stink? Part 1
Could the cozy suburb be to blame for the team's woes? Will leaving Ashburn reverse its fortunes?
On January 26, 1992, the Washington Redskins were on top of the football world. The team capped one of the most dominating seasons in NFL history by thrashing the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. The victory earned the Redskins a third Lombardi Trophy in 10 seasons, placing the team squarely in the conversation for greatest team of the decade. Eight Redskins would soon head to the Pro Bowl, and all indications were the Redskins would continue to ride a star-studded roster and savvy coaching to continued success in the coming decades.
Then, the Redskins moved to Ashburn.
Since that fateful day on August 26, 1992, when the Redskins officially moved the team headquarters and practice facilities from Herndon to Ashburn, the team has suffered a virtual freefall from the ranks of the NFL elite. As Ashburn grew and prospered, the Redskins plummeted to the bottom of the NFL landscape, gaining more notoriety as fodder for late-night talk show jokes than football accomplishments.
But if recent media reports are accurate, Ashburn may not be the Redskins home much longer. In recent months, the team has reportedly explored options to permanently relocate to Bowie, MD.
"We're really just looking at all options right now," Redskins Vice President Tony Wyllie said recently.
The reasons for the possible move are not clear. Some have cited the team's lack of an indoor practice facility as a factor, but with 162 acres of land in Ashburn, the team seemingly has the geographic footprint to build and expand as much as needed. Financial and logistical concerns may also be at issue, as the Redskins operations are currently spread out between the team's stadium in Prince George's County, MD, and Ashburn.
It's possible these are legitimate reasons for the team's consideration of a new place to call home.
But what if it's something more than money or facilities? What if Ashburn is just the wrong place for the Redskins to be headquartered? Maybe Ashburn is not enough of a football town, and the team has to leave to break the "Redskins’ Ashburn curse?"
In part one of a two part series, Ashburn Patch sports ponders whether Ashburn is the right place for the Redskins to be, and the potential impacts locally if the Redskins leave for greener pastures.
It's easy to see that Ashburn isn't really a traditional football town. The great American sports towns are supposed to be peppered with blood, sweat and grime. Pittsburgh has steel mills. Chicago has slaughterhouses. Philly has cheese steaks. Green Bay has cheeseheads. New York has New Jersey. Ashburn has ... waterfalls … manmade waterfalls … and Harris Teeters … and places called Go Bananas!
Don't get me wrong, I love Ashburn, but if Vince Lombardi grew up in Ashburn instead of Brooklyn, NY, his famous quote "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," probably would have come out as "Winning is pretty cool, but who wants to grab a cocktail at Blue Ridge Grill?"
Have the Redskins become too comfortable in the bucolic surroundings of Ashburn? As Ashburn has grown and prospered over the last decade, the Redskins have become one of the worst teams in the NFL, claiming only two winning seasons since 2000. Even stranger, it seems the team’s fortunes are inversely related to the prosperity and awesomeness of Ashburn.
During the Redskins heyday in the ‘80s and early-90s, Ashburn was little more than an outpost on the suburban landscape. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1980 Loudoun County had a population of 57,427 and a median household income (MHI) of $26,660. By 1990, those numbers grew respectably to a population of 86,129 and MHI of $52,064.
Granted, Redskin operations were based in Herndon during the team's Super Bowl era. But at the time, Herndon was an Ashburn-like quiet and distant exurb of bustling Washington, DC. Herndon offered the Redskins a secluded location where head coach Joe Gibbs could famously lock himself away with his coaching staff and out-scheme nearly every other coach in the league.
When the Redskins moved to Ashburn, the team might have envisioned our town becoming their next secluded football laboratory, a place where you either worked on football or practiced your cow-tipping skills. Ironically, it’s rumored that cow-tipping was a favored workout regimen for the vaunted Redskins offensive line known as the "Hogs" in the 1980s.
Now, however, Loudoun County is consistently rated as one of the fastest growing and wealthiest counties in America. Loudoun's MHI has reached nearly $115,000, and the population is approximately 315,000. Has Ashburn become too big, frilly and rich to support a successful football team?
One need only look at the dominance of the Ashburn high school football teams to determine the answer to that question is a resounding NO! Sure, Ashburn has a glossy exterior, but deep down Ashburn is a football factory, feeding a furnace that consistently produces top-flight players and teams from the ground up. Briar Woods and Broad Run have won the last three AA state championships. Stone Bridge remains as the only team to stand up to and beat the Phoebus Phantoms of Hampton – a public high school that fields better players than some colleges – for AAA state titles in recent years.
But even worse than the Redskins win-loss record over the last 19 years have been the never-ending string of embarrassing moments that have marked this team's tenure in Ashburn.
Let's start with the bizarre. In a 1997 game against the New York Giants, Gus Frerotte celebrated a one-yard touchdown run by head-butting a concrete wall behind the end zone. Live TV viewers watched stunned as a woozy and wide-eyed Frerotte stumbled from the wall and had to be pulled from the game and take a trip to the hospital. Worse yet, the game ended in a tie.
Earlier that season in training camp, cameras rolled as mercurial wide receiver Michael Westbrook beat up Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis during training camp. The ugly incident was not a part of the team's normal practice schedule or team-building exercises.
More recently the team has experienced a revolving door of high-priced free agents and coaches who have all added their own special blend of brown stains on the green turf of the Redskins-Ashburn legacy. From Deion Sanders and Jeff George to Adam Archuletta and Albert Haynesworth, team owner Daniel Snyder has shown an uncanny ability to consistently assemble and overpay a hodge-podge group of malcontent underperformers the likes of which are matched only by the characters on The Jersey Shore.
The Ashburn coaching carousel has seen seven coaches take the reins in 12 years, low-lighted by Steve Spurrier's now infamous flapping lips of despair in an embarrassing Monday Night Football loss, and Jim Zorn's inexplicable back-to-back fake field goal attempts against the Giants in a game that ended in a humiliating Redskins loss.
Such long term incompetence and upheaval border on the absurd, and seem only explainable by the supernatural. Is it possible the Redskins are cursed in Ashburn? Is it time for the team to leave this town to break the curse before the three Ashburn high school teams once again outperform their professional football counterparts? As a die-hard Redskins fan and Ashburn resident it pains me to say it, but maybe they need to leave.
[Correction: The word "recruits" was used in this article, but has been construed in an unintended way. The article has been changed and Patch apologizes for any confusion.]