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Thursday, March 7, 2002
Updated: March 12, 5:49 PM ET
D.C. fans only 'Skin deep

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

As we know, the leading citizen of the Free World resides in the Nation's Capital. His whereabouts are often classified. In times of national crisis, his every word or facial tic causes reaction in We the People on K Street, buzz at the Pentagon, tightened suspenders and pantyhose among congresspeople and selected interns over on Capitol Hill.

Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier, pictured with free-agent acquisition Jesse Armstead, is viewed as the Redskins' savior.
Yes, sir, buddy, he's The Man, Commando in Chief. And, as far as you, the D.C. sports fan, are concerned, his name is not George W. Bush. His name is Steven O. Spurrier.

His name will soon be mud if he doesn't win. Hey. Live with it.

"Hopefully ..." That's Spurrier's calling card, what he says to take the edge off whatever blunt frankness he's uttered. "Hopefully ..."

Yo, Steve. Hope ain't got nothing to do with it, not to a 'Skins fan.

The Washington Redskins. They are not the only important thing in D.C. life -- but they're way ahead of whatever's in second place.

And to a D.C. sports fan, college hoop is in second place.

Unless, of course, you've got a family.

Then it's a tie for second place. . .

***** ***** *****

In the strangely warped psyche of the D.C. sports fan, the passion ... yea, the total sickness ... for these two, and only these two phenomena cuts across all local castes, political parties, confusing traffic circles and directional quadrants. No matter if you are from the ridiculously overpriced real estate of Northwest, the stunning desolation of Southeast, the working-stiff corridors of Northeast or Capitol Hill Southwest. If it's 'Skins, you're in. If it's hoop, you're in the loop.

Anything else is uncivilized, and unrecognized Inside the Beltway.

Take baseball. As a D.C. sports fan, you say, "Yeah. Please. Why don't ya?" If it's baseball, you don't care. If you do care, you can't say so, because none of your friends care. If you and your friends care, then you must be from "outta town." And you have to go out of town, 40 miles up the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, over to Camden Yards at B'more Inner Harbor, to even get a conversation.

Stephen Davis
Stephen Davis and the 'Skins dominate sports talk in the Beltway.
If you are a baseball fan in D.C., your name is probably George Will. You do get your own personal newspaper baseball columnist, in one Tom Boswell. Plus you get your own state. Virginia. Where big-league baseball is talking about expanding. Yeah? And? So?

That's you thinking, D.C. sports fan.

Back to the Redskins. Ever the Redskins. Hail to the Redskins. It is unknown, at least to me -- and I was a 20-year resident of the District and environs -- when this contagion began. Redskins fever. Catch it. If you come to D.C., you will. I don't care if it is March.

Want to assimilate quickly in D.C.? Don't worry about gear, slang or political affiliation. First topic to run by the D.C. sports fan is the State of the 'Skins. Only don't say anything, unless you have an intelligent -- if not learned -- opinion.

Even the homeless people on the streets of D.C. are encyclopedic in their Redskins knowledge and cogent analysis. You can wake them up out of drunken stupors and ask, "Say, what's 3 plus 2?" and they'll hesitate, thinking it's a trick question. Ask about the 'Skins QB, and even the looniest launch a dissertation that puts Stephen Hawking on the universe to shame.

By the way, just so you'll know and won't make a fool of yourself when you visit D.C., understand there've only been three Redskins coaches whose names can be mentioned in public without stirring up an argument, if not a beat-down. Only three were not run out of town on a Metro third rail. George Allen, Joe Gibbs and ... first, understand Gibbs is a patron saint here. Won three Super Bowls with three different QBs, all in Republican administrations. In D.C., Joe Gibbs isn't really Joe Gibbs. He's Ronald Reagan.

Parcells? He's just a guy Gibbs landslides in these precincts.

Norv Turner
'Skins fans would rather not speak of the Norv Turner Era.
The rest of the Redskins head coaches? Norv Turner, Norvie-poo? Glorified offensive coordinator. Couldn't lead men. Marty? The Devil himself. Spurrier? Well ... he might be No. 3. Yeah, he can get his people open, and you dig hell outta that, man. But ... but ...this whole Danny Wuerffel thingamajig? This Shane Matthews crapola? Not that Danny and Shane are crap, but you, D.C. fan, don't care if they are or not; if Spurrier wants them in QB meetings and holding clipboards on the sidelines and hand-waggling in plays, fine. But until Spurrier gets a QB, like Sonny, or Billy, or Joe, or Douggie, or the Indian, like somebody who ain't a stove-in imitation of Spurrier, the natives will be restless.

Spurrier will get about, oh, 10 minutes, to produce some Cowboy Wins. Notice you do not say Quality Wins. You say Cowboy Wins.

Funny thing, there is a considerable slice of authentic D.C. fandom that actively roots for the Dallas Cowboys, and is encouraged to do so. Goes into the Two-Party System box. Gives the rest of you somebody to laugh at. Unless the Cowboys win. If that happens -- and it has happened a little too regularly for the last decade or so -- then they roll up the sidewalks in Georgetown. Go in any barber shop -- not no Supercuts, but a real barbershop -- any time of year in D.C., you'll hear it play out. Cowboys fans are tolerated.

But even if I were George W. Bush, I wouldn't test this theory.

Mention any other NFL team in D.C., you might get cut outright.

And we don't mean by the Turk, baby.

Joe Gibbs
Joe Gibbs solidified his legend by winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.
Union? What Union? D.C. is still trying to get Taxation Without Representation on line. The 'Skins are the Union, the One Good Call that all D.C. fans can agree on, Georgetown to Adams Morgan to Anacostia. We can talk brackets and March Madness and Final Four. But if you don't talk Redskins first, you are a resident alien. Which is OK. Half of D.C. is resident alien, one way or another.

Every four years, a quarter of the District's population changes. Republican or Democratic regime alike, in order to gain any local support, or get good table at the Palm, just say Go 'Skins.

Isn't that Gary Condit over there? He's a big 'Skins fan. What girl?

Marion Barry? If he hums "Bitch set me up!" to the tune of "Hail to the Redskins," he gets a free pass, if not re-elected. Believe it.

The day Jack Kent Cooke died was a day of municipal mourning.

Lesley Stahl? Known around here as Dat Blonde Who Used To Be Up in the Owner's Box Back In The Day When Jack Ran Crap Better than Crap Is Run Now. 60 Minutes? 'Skins better play hard for 60 Minutes. You got a week's pay down on them bums to cover. You can call them bums. Everybody else better bow down. That includes John McLaughlin, Gwen Ifill and the Joint Chiefs.

Now from afar you'd think a politically incorrect, downright inflammatory team nickname like "Redskins" would be cause for trouble in such a political town. Yeah? Just try to change it.

Hog heaven? Even hulking fans who dress in pig snouts and dresses somehow become telegenic as hell. They get commercials and enjoy fame, hype and celebrity in D.C. Every ex-Redskin who is ambulatory and can speak at least broken English has himself a radio show, or appears on any one of the 15 million Redskins analysis shows locally, or is a local network TV sports anchor.

Hoggette
Sure, D.C. fans are sick. But at least they know they're sick.
Sonny Jurgensen, the Red Baron, has George Michael playing straight man for him, for God's sake, and George is national. But Sonny is local, and all politics is local. Especially in D.C.

Wilbon and Kornhesier? They were great newspaper columnists at The Washington Post for a good long while before PTI took them deep inside your freaking domes. Blew up in D.C. mostly after John Riggins authenticated and anointed them, by appearing with them on a local Redskins analysis show, with George Michael, where Riggo seemed to respect -- or at least tolerate -- their opinions.

What's the one anecdote you know about a Supreme Court justice? A Benjamin says it involves Sandra Day O'Connor & Riggo the Diesel.

You can keep tickin' em off. Tony McGee, Rick "Doc" Walker, Mark Moseley, Mark May ... Jess Atkinson, a Redskin kicker, a cut Redskin kicker, for God's sake, became a sports anchor here. If you're an ex-Redskin, and not in jail, you're a made man. Even if you are in jail, if you're an ex-Redskin, George Michael will run a feature spot on you. Ask Dexter Manley. He's not only been in an institution, he is an institution. Redskin fever baby. Catch it.

So much for the Redskins.

Did we mention the Redskins?

D.C. is basically a sleepy Southern town where the 'Skins are the E ticket ride. Cherry blossoms? Smithsonian? For the tourists. The open greens of the Ellipse and the Mall (no, not that mall) hosts their share of activity; volleyball and softball games, soccer games and Marine Corps marathons. They are mostly enjoyed by military personnel and congressional attaches in D.C. for their four- to eight-year run before they book on back to Texas, Arkansas or wherever it is they go. But the real down D.C. sports fan? There have been violent D.C. stickup men who, in the back of the paddy wagon on the way to the stationhouse to be printed and booked, made full confessions after first asking, " 'Skins up or what?" "Yeah." "You got me then, G-men ... but it's cool, as long as LaVar's busting up dem Eagles. What's da sco'? We need to put a hit out on damn Donnie McNabb. Need to push a button on dat guy. You guys ever meet Danny Boy Snyd? Been to his crib? Got nice stuff? Tell him Second-Story Man said hello. Know where he live? Just kidding. Although ain't a security system nowhere I can't beat. S'long as Champie Bailey makin All-Pro, and we gettin' to the Bowl, I'll do my nick. I'll do a nickel in solitary for dat. S'long as we get to the Bowl. S'long as we get rid of Westbrook ... been waiting all my life on that dude ... a tired-ass tight end is what he is. F'real ..."

D.C. United, the best pro soccer team in America (for a couple of years, anyway) played over at RFK, under the shadow of the D.C. Ring of Honor. The D.C. sports fans who weren't bilingual barely heard about it. Most D.C. sports fans wondered what all that noise was over at the old oval. World Cup? Missed it. They haven't been to RFK since the 'Skins (sniff) left for the wilds of Landover. You want to get on the season-ticket waiting list? Sure. Hop on. Maybe your great-grandchildren will get in for a game. Sick ... totally ...

... and proud of it, too.

***** ***** *****

This brings us to college hoop.

Len Bias
The death of Len Bias rocked the Beltway in 1986.
It's either Let's Go Hoyas, or Maryland, My Maryland ...

It's either all DeMatha's seniors always getting full rides, or the D.C. public league champion being the real run. Sweetney didn't have a chance to go nowhere but G'Town. Unless it was Maryland.

Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Adrian Dantley, Austin Carr, from the high schools to the world. Moochie Norris. Moochie alone is a tradition. Even James Brown was once the throw down. No, not that James Brown, the Fox NFL pregame's James Brown. He went to Harvard. Which is almost as good as starting at DeMatha.

Tom McMillen, Congressman, Maryland. Len Elmore, attorney, Maryland. John Lucas, coach, Maryland. And Len Bias, R.I.P, Maryland ... when Bias OD'ed, it was the congressmen on Capitol Hill who, under pressure, passed laws that filled up jails with small-time rock-slingers from places like Anacostia, where their only hope was making the basketball team and going to college off it, and if they didn't, all that was waiting for them was retail. How many dimes are not being dished but being done, in the joint?

Style? D.C. hoop style is not exactly straight street, not exactly Rucker League, not all drive, dive, soul to the hole, freaky-deak reverse lays and shimmer-slams. The deep shot is here, too. The D.C. sports fans is still looking, always looking, for the all-court Godhead figure, the Jordan, the Kobe. They had the first. Elgin. Far as they're concerned, they'll have the last. When Jordan came to the Wizards, it didn't seem wrong here. Seemed right. They don't know who the next Jordan is. But they're always looking.

Juan Dixon
Juan Dixon is an all-American, but isn't a lock for the first round.
Some local team always in the hunt. Maryland now. Seen that boy Juan Dixon? Boy no bigger than a thermometer. Got some game though. Know how to play. Lonny Baxter? D.C. Public. And that Wilcox, that beast? He'll play 10 years in the Association. Final Four last year. Should go back this year.

Cole Field House. Cap Center. Both gone now. Both loud once. All ball, baby. All ball.

G'Town. Maybe the Hoyas ease into the tournament this year. Maybe they escape the shadow of Big John Thompson from John Carroll High School. He still looms large over there. Once, in the '80s, G-Town Ruled. Everybody from Dan Rather to The Exorcist author climbed on board. So did some others, like that big-time cocaine distributor, that Rayful Edmonds boy, whose crew played palsy-walsy with Alonzo Mourning, until Big John summoned Rayful to the coach's office at G'Town, to tell him to stop blinding 'Zo with the bling-bling from Rayful's diamonds, his hooked-up Benzes and Jags, and those big-legged honeys.

Rayful's in the pen now. 'Zo, he's made a career out of saving Pat Riley's rep. Big John does the NBA on TNT and has his own D.C. radio show. With an ex-Redskin, of course, Rick "Doc" Walker.

John Thompson
John Thompson and Georgetown were as big as Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
Big John Thompson. Possibly the most misunderstood man in the history of college basketball. The D.C. sports fan doesn't say that with regret. He says it proud. Fifteen pros, baby. Soul in the hole.

Thompson handed the reins to Craig Esherick. Nice guy, Craig. Nice guys don't get the front page. Got himself a club over there now. Sweetney. P.G. County, Maryland -- D.C., might as well say.

Go-Go. That's the name of the music they play by. All beats and drums, sweat, sex, Chuck Brown, Rare Essence, dribble-drives, pull-ups, throw-downs. Ecstasy is how hoop and Go-Go feel.

Sce-nario ... sce-nario ... Don't know? Better ax somebody.

Yee-ha? Wrong Zip code, baby. Yee-es! More like it, Dog.

Yo, D.C. sports fan -- can't blow you out of D.C. with dynamite. Can't get you off the Redskins for love or money. Can't stop you from hooping with a sharp stick in the eye. It's the way you roll.

It's so wack inside the Beltway. Part of me will never leave.