When the Saints open the season against the Washington Redskins it will be against a franchise that has been struggling for nearly two decades, yet always seems to give the Saints as much as they can handle. Even during the Saints Super Bowl run they were barely able to get out of Washington with their winning streak intact before escaping with a 33-30 overtime victory against a pitiful Redskins team. Since 2001, the Saints and Redskins have played each other six times with each team winning three apiece and victory usually going to the visitor.
This series has special meaning to me. From 1997-2009 I lived in D.C. and became heavily exposed to the trials and tribulations of the Washington Redskins. The Washington sports media, which I followed closely, constantly pointed out the team's failures, both on the field and with the management style of owner Daniel Snyder.
This heightened awareness of the Redskins flaws made it especially frustrating when they seemed to play so well against better than average Saints teams. Much of the negative media reports on the Redskins had to with the constant turnover of the coaching staff which of course all played into how Snyder managed the team. Since 1997 the Redskins list of head coaches include: Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Terry Robiskie (interim), Joe Gibbs Part Deux, Jim Zorn and now Mike Shanahan. If you think that is a lot of instability, just be glad I won't list the starting quarterbacks during this time period.
To be fair, the Burgundy & Gold have had a few bright spots over the last decade. The team earned Wild Card spots twice during the return of Joe Gibbs. Bolstering this mini resurgence was a strong defense under the leadership of Gregg Williams. As a close observer to the highly aggressive style of play that the Redskins defense exhibited under Williams, I became hopeful and rightfully so when he was named defensive coordinator for the Saints. Williams also showed a tendency to skirt around authority then, but not from a bounty system perspective.
One of his main proteges was free safety Sean Taylor, the swagger-filled 5th overall draft choice out of "The U." As you may recall, Taylor was killed during a home invasion when he stayed over in South Florida an extra night following a Redskins away game against the Dolphins. In the game following Taylor's murder, Williams had the defense take the field on their first series with only 10 players in honor of their fallen teammate. While the sports world seemed to perceive this as a nice gesture of respect, Williams also received some criticism for sending only ten players out on the field without Gibbs' knowledge or seeking his approval.
Having moved back to Mississippi by the start of the 2009 season, the last Saints/Redskins game I attended was in 2008. It was only the second game of the season, and the weather at Fed Ex Field that day was scorching. Adding to the challenges from the heat, the Saints were forced to wear their black jerseys, with the Redskins choosing their customary white home jerseys. Both teams battled back and forth for most of the game, then the Saints appeared they were going to pull away with the victory when a Reggie Bush touchdown punt return gave the Saints a ten point lead with around eight minutes left to play.
However, as he did to Brian Urlacher in the NFC Championship Game during his rookie season, Bush got caught up in the moment and waved at the last defender chasing him. This gesture seemed to set off a string of bad karma as the Redskins overcame the ten point deficit in the final quarter to win 29-24. Jason Campbell, another native Mississippian, threw a 67-yard winning touchdown bomb to Santana Moss with only a few minutes left. That play has to be the highlight of Campbell's career.
Six years earlier I was also at Fed Ex Field for what was a much more enjoyable experience between the Saints and Redskins. Former beer man Michael Lewis was the star on that brisk mid-October afternoon. In what had to be his best career performance, Lewis returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and also took a punt 83 yards to the house leading the Saints to a 43-27 victory.
Making his first NFL start that day for the Redskins was former Tulane quarterback Patrick Ramsey. Steve Spurrier was coaching the Redskins and fans were anxious to see if the Ol' Ball Coach could get the same type of productivity out of Ramsey in the NFL, as Redskin fans were anxiously waiting to see if Spurrier could be as successful in "coaching up" Ramsey as he was with the quarterbacks he had at Florida. Spurrier's Fun' N Gun never took off in Washington and Ramsey's NFL debut was a disaster as the team he shared a home field with in college butchered him with seven sacks.
Jim Haslett was the winning coach for the Saints that day. On September 9th, Haslett will return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as the enemy. Now in his second year as defensive coordinator for the Redskins, Haslett has done an impressive job as his side of the ball has far outperformed the Redskins offensive. Just like in 2002 making his NFL debut will be another Redskins quarterback with strong ties to New Orleans. Despite moving around frequently, second overall pick Robert Griffin III out of Baylor considers New Orleans his hometown, as his parents who served in the military are natives of the city.
Let's just hope the Redskins will be the only team in the game breaking in a new starting quarterback.