No one can question just how huge the Washington Redskins are in the world of American Football. They are, quite simply, a colossal force in the sport. They have won every major National Football League (NFL) trophy at least once and picked up the mighty Super Bowl in three out of five finals.
They also have the wealth of a small nation at their disposal so are never short of a dollar or two – just so you know, they’re worth roughly one and a half billion dollars.
If you don’t know American Football then one of the teams you need to know about is The Skins. “Hail to the Redskins” is their fighting song and any team that pretend they didn’t find those words intimidating would be liars.
A bit of a Boston beginning
Remarkably, the Redskins didn’t even originally have the word Washington in the name. The team began as the Boston Braves and they played their games in Boston at Braves Field, obviously. After a few years of building their reputation, they moved to Fenway Park and subbed the word Braves for Redskins.
The Boston Redskins would complete three seasons in the NFL Eastern Division but they weren’t attracting very many crowds and their future was looking in doubt. They decided it was time to pack up and move to pastures new.
In 1937, the team moved to Washington D.C and joined the baseball team the Washington Senators at their home, Griffith Stadium, in the hope of pulling in more crowds.
It needed a wash-ington
With a new stadium, a new city and new fans, the Redskins brought in new players and none were more influential to their season than the ultimate all rounder Sammy Baugh. He revolutionised not only the team but the sport of American Football as a whole.
He helped to thrust the newly named Washington Redskins into the nation’s eye and, in their first season in the capital, they won the Eastern Division title. In the years leading up to the Second World War, they faced a rivalry of their own against the Chicago Bears and, in some tensely fought games, the Redskins again established themselves as the superior team.
After the war though, things took a bit of a downturn. Their infamous owner, the mogul George Preston Marshall, had a somewhat dictatorial attitude. His refusal to integrate the team and allow any black players into the squad brought the Skins very bad press and weakened performances on the pitch.
Eventually they had to back down and in 1962 they drafted in Ernie Davis, who sadly died of leukaemia before ever playing a minute for the Redskins. They would make up for it with a certain Bobby Mitchel, another black American, and he would become a Redskins and baseball legend.
Mitchell wasn’t the only black player to make the Skins seem like a new fighting force. Names like Sam Huff would help re-instil people’s faith in them. However, although they were winning points in the nation’s hearts, they weren’t really matching this on the field.
They were being held back by the increasingly difficult Marshall and when he died in 1969 some might have seen it as a blessing. Local big-wig Edward Bennett Williams took charge shortly after this and his first move was the wise appointment of the legendary Vince Lombardi. Soon after this the Skins started to pick up.
Super (bowl) times
The seventies and eighties would chart the rise to ultimate glory for the Redskins. They began their campaign with a tragedy though, when Vince Lombardi died of cancer just before the 1970 season began. In his place came George Allen, who had proven his worth out west for the LA Rams.
Allen would surprise a lot of people by drafting in some fairly mature names to the first team and favour them over the college graduates. They might have become known as the Over-the-Hill gang but they certainly didn’t show any signs of this on the playing field.
Allen took the Skins to the Super Bowl playoff five times in his seven years as coach. They were crowned the Conference and Division champions in 1972 and they made the rest of the sport eat humble pie.
Nevertheless, it was the eighties that would see the Washington Redskins really conqueror the game. A new owner (Jack Kent Cooke) and a new coach (Joe Gibbs) helped the team flourish and three stand-out names from this era – John Riggins, Joe Theismann and Art Monk – made a huge impact. Throughout the decade they would reach an impressive four Super Bowls and walk away with victory on three occasions.
The legendary Joe Gibbs
Gibbs’ effect on the team was near immediate. He insisted that they play their home games in white jerseys, despite the Redskins traditionally wearing burgundy and gold. They would return to wearing burgundy and gold in the early 2000s and their crest bears these colours so will always be a part of their iconography, but this was quite a bold move from a man that was soon to become one of the most crucial figures in the franchise’s history.
1983 stands out as one of the team’s greatest years. Although they lost their first game against their enemies, the Dallas Cowboys, they only lost one other game in that season and finished the year with an NFL record of 541 points.
Despite that achievement, it was arguably surpassed in 1988 when the Redskins contested one of the most famous Super Bowls of all time (XXII) in 1988. The Redskins were up against the Denver Broncos and began the game ten points behind.
However, a few moments of sheer genius were soon to grace the stage in San Diego when their quarterback Doug Williams took the game by the scruff of the neck and passed four touchdowns with the help of running back Timmy Smith. The Broncos didn’t score another point but the Redskins bagged 42. It was the biggest comeback in the history of the competition.
Joe Gibbs’ era was a defining period with the Redskins. He continued his incredible success with the side into the 1990s. In 1992, they won their third (and most recent) Super Bowl, beating the Buffalo Bills by 13 points.
They were Division and Conference champions the year before and quite clearly the most toughest side in the league. When Gibbs retired in 1993 many of the fans feared that it might spell an end to their dominance of the game, but that wasn’t to be the case.
New owner and new coach
Daniel Snyder bought the team when Jack Kent Cooke passed away in 1997. They wouldn’t rise to the same glorious levels instantly but, in 1999, they made the playoffs and won the NFC East title. No one could really call into question Snyder’s passion for the team, as he was a notorious life-long fan, but it was quite a hard pill for fans to swallow when he offered the name of the famous RFK stadium to the highest corporate bidder.
As a result, in 1997, it became known as the FedEx Stadium. Snyder also booted out some heads in the backroom staff. Out went coach Norv Turner and in came a couple of men who would only hold their places for a matter of a few seasons. The Redskins’ coaching position became something of a poisoned chalice.
They weren’t playing very well and a lot of this was put down to the lack of an inspiring coach. They needed someone who could match the success of Joe Gibbs. So, in 2004, Snyder went one better than finding the next Gibbs, he asked Gibbs himself.
The second coming
Joe Gibbs was back were he belonged but sadly he didn’t provide the team with the immediate success that everyone had hoped for. 2004 ended with more losses than wins and some people were calling into question whether the owner’s financial motives were conflicting with the team’s best interests.
However, Synder’s business mind brought with it some very interesting acquisitions, many of which meant the signing of free agents, a gamble which often paid off. Griffin, Moss and Portis were some of the names to join the fray and, off the field, Gibbs shifted some of the coaching staff too.
They made progress and just made it into the playoffs in 2005 but there was still a lot of work to do and Gibbs strongly felt this had to come in their offensive play. Adjustments were made to the coaching staff but, sadly, 2006 will go down in the Redskins history as one of the most disappointing ever.
They finished the season out of the playoffs and in need of some sorting out. They have recently picked up and acquired some promising new talent but no one could deny they are now living in hope of a return to past glories.
The Washington Redskins will always be one of the most appealing and dangerous names to come up against. But many of the fans worry that their legacy isn’t enough to help them through seasons.
They have recently had some men with incredible money making skills in their camp and that has been proven in their ten tonne bank account. But what good is all that money if you can’t win any games? The fans live in hope that the future isn’t all dollar signs.
- Super Bowl – Winners (1982 (XVII), 1987 (XXII), 1991 (XXVI))
- NFL Championships – Winners (1937, 1942)
- Conference Championships – NFC Winners (1972, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1991)
- Division Championships – NFL East Winners (1936, 1937, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1945), NFC East Winners (1972, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1991, 1999)