One has to wonder whether Cooke and the city of Washington have the patience to give Turner enough time to make things better. Although it is true that few NFL teams enjoy fan support as hysterical as that of the Redskins', it is also true that few fans are as spoiled and whiny.
The Redskins draw mainly from southern Maryland, northern Virginia and the District of Columbia, a region with more than three million people who expect to watch their football team straight through to late January and the Super Bowl. A recent history of winners has made them that way, starting in the mid '70s with George Allen and his Over the Hill Gang.
The Redskins have had sellouts in 207 straight games (not including those played by replacements during the 1987 strike) at RFK since 1966. Some 60,000 people are on the waiting list for season tickets, 4,000 more than the total number of seats available. No wonder Cooke is so anxious to build a new stadium.
Turner says he appreciates everyone's enthusiasm, most especially Cooke's, but he adds somewhat soberly, "I have a pretty good understanding of what we're capable of doing. And I think if you live in a world of fantasy...well, maybe I shouldn't call it fantasy. But if you start thinking I've got some kind of magic and that because I'm here we're going to change this thing overnight—I can tell you, that's just not going to happen. It's a long process."
But how long is long? For some Washingtonians, not very. When the Redskins scored with just under two minutes left on Sunday to cut Atlanta's lead to seven points, less than half the crowd was still around to see it. Everybody else had gone home. "Give me a refund," one man cried in a raw voice.
"Talk to Mr. Cooke," said another.
The band played Hail to the Redskins, but empty seats don't sing. And neither do losers. In the Seahawk game, even Cooke's guests were reported to have left his box early, not wishing to get tied up in the rush of angry traffic, or maybe just afraid of having to deal with their host's disappointment. The desperation to see the Redskins win big again also seems to have spilled over into the press. Two days after the loss to Seattle, Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell pointed a long, admonishing finger at Turner, then wagged it. "Turner looked like a man who'd been thrown out of a plane but hadn't found his rip cord yet," Boswell wrote. He concluded the piece by alluding to Petitbon, now a restaurateur in the D.C. area: "Whatever Turner learns about himself, it still wouldn't be a bad idea to buy a restaurant."
"It was a hard column," says George Solomon, editor of the Post sports section. "But if nothing else, it let Turner know that he was now in the bigs."
If Turner weren't so well-equipped to fight his own battles, one might be inclined to come to his defense and shout at the lusty throngs, "Hey! Give the guy a break!" Boswell's shot, however, didn't seem to intimidate him. "One game isn't an entire season," he said. "Obviously we're judged by what happens on Sunday, but I'm not quite ready to judge us yet."
Lest he forget, this is Washington, and judgment comes crashing down whether you're ready or not. Take quarterback Heath Shuler, for instance. The former Tennessee star was the third player chosen in the 1994 draft, and the Redskins gave him an eight-year, $19.25 million contract. Shuler, if handled properly, could develop into a marquee player, but fans at RFK apparently forgot that when they mercilessly booed him in the preseason. It seemed to them he was taking too long to complete a pass, or maybe they simply didn't appreciate the fact that a 22-year-old greenhorn was making all that money.