For Redskins, NFC Championship has become someone else's party
It’s Final Four weekend in pro football, and for the 19th straight season the Redskins aren’t one of the Four. Once upon a time, they were at the center of the NFL solar system, but now they’re like more Pluto, the Planet That’s No Longer a Planet.
Sad but true: You’d have to be at least 25 years old to have much memory of the last Redskins team to play in the NFC championship game (Joe Gibbs’ 1991 juggernaut, which won it all). An entire generation of fans has grown up thinking a 10-6 record – and occasional wild-card berth – is the absolute limit of the club’s capabilities.
That should scare the bejabbers out of Dan Snyder. I mean, if the franchise keeps scuffing along like this, keeps changing coaches and quarterbacks and the way most people change radio stations, who in the future is going to buy Redskins belt buckles?
Hard as it is to believe, the Redskins have been lousy almost as long as they were from 1946 to 1970 (the years between Sammy Baugh’s last title game and George Allen’s first playoff team). To go 19 seasons without making the Final Four nowadays – in this glorious Era of Parity – defies probability. Consider:
• Only two NFC clubs HAVEN’T reached the conference championship game in the last 19 years – the Lions being the other. These are the depths to which the Redskins have plunged. (And Detroit, of course, has beaten them the last two seasons.)
• 12 of the NFC’s 16 teams have gotten to the conference title game AT LEAST TWICE since ’92. (Indeed, 23 of the 32 teams in the league have been to the conference title game at least twice.)
• The Panthers, who started from Square 1 in 1995 as an expansion club, have been to the NFC championship game THREE times.
Here’s how the title game berths (1992-2010) break down by conference:
NFC: Eagles 5, Packers 5, Cowboys 4, 49ers 4, Panthers 3, Vikings 3, Bears 2, Bucs 2, Falcons 2, Giants 2, Rams 2, Saints 2, Cardinals 1, Seahawks 1, Lions 0, Redskins 0.
AFC: Steelers 8, Patriots 6, Colts 4, Broncos 3, Jets 3, Bills 2, Chargers 2, Jaguars 2, Raiders 2, Ravens 2, Titans 2, Chiefs 1, Dolphins 1, Bengals 0, Browns 0, Texans 0.
(And let’s not forget, the Texans didn’t join the league until 2002, and the Browns didn’t rejoin it until 1999.)
In Washington, in other words, Final Four weekend has become Somebody Else’s Party. And what makes it particularly galling for Redskins fans is that that Somebody Else has often been the Steelers, Eagles and/or Ravens – the three franchises closest to D.C. (15 conference championship games among them since ’95).
So if you’re feeling a sense of emptiness the next few days – of deprivation even – it’s perfectly understandable. It’s been a lengthy dry spell for the Redskins, lengthy enough to test the resolve of the most loyal rooter. It’s also been more than a bit disorienting. For decades, after all, teams like the Saints and Cardinals existed, basically, to be beaten . . . and now they’re going to the Super Bowl.
On Sunday afternoon, the Bears and Packers, eternal blood enemies, will do battle at Soldier Field in the NFC title game. In the evening, the Steelers and Jets will vie in Pittsburgh for AFC honors. And the Redskins once again will be sitting in the Peanut Gallery – and wondering when the nightmare is going to end. So it has been for 19 seasons, as long as many of their young fans can remember.
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