NPR COMMENTARY/TERENCE SMITH
The Washington Redskins are on a roll. After a frustrating first half of the season, they have won four games straight, the last two by big margins. If they beat the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday – and the stars are properly in alignment, meaning the New York Giants lose on Saturday – they could win the NFC east title and sail into the playoffs for the first time in six years.
This may not seem like big news beyond the Beltway. But it is. When the Redskins are winning, the nation’s capital is a different place, a better place. Top to bottom, everybody’s mood brightens. The lobbyists on K Street, the staffers on Capitol Hill, the politicians, the journalists, the cops on the beat – they all smile when the Redskins are winning.
You can hear it in conversations all over town. Iraq may still be a mess, the budget deficit as big as ever, Big Brother still listening, the Republicans still squabbling among themselves, the Democrats drifting, the weather cold, the traffic terrible, but when the Redskins are winning, actually winning, there is something else to talk about.
It is a reminder that Washington is a real place, with real people who care passionately about things beyond Congress or the White House. It isn’t simply a political Potemkin village. It is a city, like Philadelphia or Boston, a place beyond politics.
There was a comparable exciting period last spring. The Montreal Expos were reincarnated as the Washington Nationals and against all the odds, won ballgames. Lots of ballgames. For weeks they were first in their division. The town – remember, that’s cutthroat, take-no-prisoners Washington – was giddy with delight.
Far more than the Redskins, the Nationals were a great leveler for Washington. There were no luxury boxes at ramshackle old RFK stadium. Tickets were relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the Redskins, so the powerful and the proletariat sat side–by-side in the blue plastic seats and loved it.
Of course it was too good to last. The Nationals went into a swoon after the All-Star break and ended the season in the cellar. At the same time, the President’s standing in the polls was plummeting and Congress was descending into disarray. A causal relationship? Who is to say? It’s no sillier than predicting the stock market by the rise and fall of hemlines.
Might it follow, then, that if the Redskins keep winning, the President’s poll numbers will rebound? If the running back, Clinton Portis, has another 100-yard game, will sweet harmony erupt on Capitol Hill? If the Redskins make the playoffs will Judge Samuel Alito breeze onto the Supreme Court? If they get to the superbowl for the first time in 14 years, will peace break out in Iraq?
Maybe not, but why not root for the Redskins and find out?
(Commentator Terence Smith is a former media correspondent for The NewsHour on PBS who has suffered with the Redskins through good times and bad.)