Hey can condemn their deposed coach, snicker at their despotic owner and bicker over who deserves the bulk of the blame. But if the Washington Redskins want to end their nightmare, they'll have to start assessing the inadequacies inside their own uniforms. As their 2000 season wheezes to a dismal conclusion, it's clear the Redskins have many worthy scapegoats not named Dan Snyder or Norv Turner—45, to be exact, assuming the zombies wearing those crimson-and-gold jerseys at Texas Stadium on Sunday were in fact the men who collectively draw the league's heftiest paycheck.
Given a chance for renewal and redemption, Washington, the trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, lost everything—its fire, its composure, its pride and, for all practical purposes, any chance of sneaking into the playoffs—in falling so disgracefully to the Dallas Cowboys. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams, the other two NFC division favorites who are fighting for their postseason lives (pages 116 and 118), were making strong statements last week, the Skins were losing 32-13. This much is obvious: There indeed is a constitutional crisis in the nation's capital, with no quick remedy in sight. For the Redskins' faulty fortitude is something neither stirring speeches nor fat signing bonuses nor quarterback switches can assuage, and the motivational magic of interim coach Terry Robiskie turned out to be a mirage.
"It's sick, just as disgusting as can be, and we have no one to blame but ourselves," cornerback Deion Sanders said after the Skins' seventh consecutive defeat by their NFC East archrivals. "Forget losing to the Cowboys—the sickest thing is that we felt we laid down on Terry and made him look bad. We had a great week of practice, but something happened to us between the locker room and the field, and I can't begin to tell you what it was."
There will be another eight months' worth of speculation as to what went wrong, much of it by Snyder, Washington's young, brash and free-spending owner whose national popularity ranks somewhere below that of the NFL's blackout policy. Despite the Redskins' having lost five of their last six games to fall to 7-7, Snyder won't get a ton of sympathy, although six days after he rocked the Skins' universe by firing Turner and promoting Robiskie, he abandoned his usual bravado and gave some himself. "I feel bad for Terry, because he deserved better," Snyder said after Sunday's defeat. "I'm rooting for him—I really am. The players let him down."
Robiskie commendably assumed responsibility for Washington's meltdown against the Cowboys, who came into the game with a 4-9 record and scored all but six of their 32 points while being quarterbacked by a second-year player named Anthony Wright. Anthony Wright? Damn right! He threw only five passes and completed three for a grand total of 73 yards.
If you didn't see this blowout coming, you weren't alone. All week, Washington touted the jolt of energy being provided by former passing game coordinator Robiskie, whose blunt, passionate banter during his seven years as an assistant made him a locker room favorite. On Dec. 4, in his first speech as a head coach, Robiskie, 46, told his players how much the opportunity meant to him and what would be required to make it last more than a fortnight.
"I'm ready to go to war," Robiskie bellowed. "You know me—I'm going to Dallas, and if you ain't gonna bring your balls with you, I'm gonna cut 'em off and send you back where you came from. I'll go up to each and every one of you in the locker room before the game and shake your hand, and if your hand is trembling, I don't want you with me."
Robiskie might have been better advised to have grabbed his players' wrists to check if any of them had a pulse, for the Skins were moribund from the start. Having replaced special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel with tight ends coach Pat Flaherty, Robiskie expected immediate improvement in that department. What he got was David Terrell's penalty for an illegal block above the waist on the opening kickoff, which forced the Washington offense to begin on its own six-yard line, and a pair of first-quarter punt returns by Dallas's Wane McGarity that totaled 60 yards and set up two short field goals by Tim Seder.
Just before the second of those kicks gave the Cowboys a 6-0 lead, Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, the No. 2 pick in the 2000 draft, did what many teammates have accused him of doing far too infrequently—he made a play. With Dallas having third-and-goal at the Washington one, Arlington chased veteran quarterback Troy Aikman to the sideline and slammed him to the turf as Aikman released an incomplete pass. The blow caused Aikman's fourth concussion in the past 21 games, ending his afternoon and, perhaps, his glorious career.
If so, the record will show that Aikman's teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer, running back Emmitt Smith, marked the occasion by summoning a flashback of his brilliance from the Cowboys' three championship seasons between 1992 and '95. In joining Walter Payton and Barry Sanders as the only backs to exceed 15,000 career yards, Smith exploited a Redskins' defense missing its best run stopper, flu-stricken tackle Dana Stubblefield, for 150 yards on 23 carries. Stubblefield spent the afternoon on a table in the visitors' locker room, vomiting while receiving intravenous fluids. Had he been able to stagger to the sideline to view Washington's performance, he might have gotten really nauseated.