In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
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I think there's a chance that today's decision by an independent tribunal of the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the "Redskins" trademark protection could turn out to be blessing in disguise for the Redskins and the NFL.
Perhaps this view is way too contrarian for my own good but today's ruling sets the stage for a federal court to bring a certain conclusion to this most recent version of the name-change discussion. The Redskins will appeal today's decision. That appeal will eventually be heard and ruled on by a judge in a federal court. What if the Redskins win? What if that judge overturns today's decision?
Furthermore, what if the judge that eventually rules on the Redskins' appeal not only rules in the Redskins' favor but distributes an opinion that reads something like this. "The evidence was insufficient to conclude that during the relevant time periods the trademark at issue disparaged Native Americans. The US Patent and Trademark Office's finding that the marks at issue ‘disparage’ Native Americans is unsupported by substantial evidence."
That quote wasn't made up out of thin air. That was precisely what a federal judge wrote when he overturned a similar ruling on the Redskins name back in 2003. So what if it goes the same way again? Wouldn't that be a huge victory for the Redskins, NFL, and those that support the name?
Wouldn't that silence the non-Native American journalists, broadcasters, and politicians who have recently amped up their very public volunteer fight on behalf of what Native Americans supposedly want? In many cases, without even being asked?
Wouldn't they have to step down, toss in their arms, and move on to the next supposed worthy cause? Probably not, but while many of those would likely continue their fight in the face of a trademark loss, they would proceed without their single biggest weapon to date.....perception.
In this discussion recently, the perception among many, especially those new to this topic, is that the debate over whether the name is offensive was long ago settled. Slam dunk. 'Don't worry about researching that, we've got that one covered, of course it's offensive.' That's what the likes of Bob Costas and others want you to believe.
Despite it being not true, those in favor of a name change have done a masterful job of creating the perception that Native Americans are overwhelmingly offended by the name. They like to move on from this very legitimate debate over whether the name is actually offensive as if it's already been decided. They don't want to spend much time on this because the truth is, they don't have enough substantive data that supports this view. They would rather move on to when and how the name changes rather then have a legitmate debate and conversation about what Native Americans really believe and want. They want you to take their word that the only people in favor of keeping the name are Dan Snyder and a few other crazed outliers.
This quote from NFL Senior VP Adolpho Birch on ESPN's Outside the Lines speaks directly to the notion that this is still a topic worthy of being debated versus a topic that's already been decided. He said, "the team name is the team name as it has been for 80-plus years, and what we need to do is get beyond sort of understanding this as a point-blank situation and understand it more as a variety of perspectives that all need to be addressed, that all need to be given some weight, so that at the end of it we can come to some understanding that is appropriate and reflects the opinions of all.”
This is what the name-changers don't want to consider. They want you to believe it is a "point-blank" situation. They want you to believe that the offensiveness of the name is not up for debate. This is the perception they have created even in the face conflicting data.
To date, the majority of available data out there suggests that a significant majority of Native Americans don't feel the name is offensive yet that has been buried under an avalanche of perception that the opposite is true. The name-changers want you to believe that the 2004 Annenberg Poll that found that 90% of Native Americans didn't believe the name Redskins was offensive is an outdated poll.
The problem is, the name-changers don't have a more recent poll that reflects their "point-blank" view that there has been a massive shift in Native American opinion. So they mask the data with an onlaught of used-car sales tactics......'hey, you don't need to look under the hood, the engine works like a charm.'
Clever sleight of hand magic has created a favorable public perception for the name-changers. A perception which is the backbone of their volunteer fight that might crumble if today's decision is eventually overturned by an actual court rather than a court of perceived public opinion.
This is my Top-10 list of 10 DC-area sports seasons that ended too early. This list includes teams that were playing well and expected to do more when it all ended abruptly like the Wizards' season did last week.
I have excluded Orioles' seasons because, well, it's Baltimore.....this list is a DC-area list. Also, I didn't include seasons that ended in championship games like the '82 and '85 Hoyas or the '83 Redskins. Technically speaking, those seasons didn't end early, they ended disappointingly.
Here's the list.
#1- 1979 Redskins. The Skins played the Cowboys for the NFC East title with home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs at stake on the final Sunday of the '79 season. The Skins led 34-21 late in the 4th quarter when Roger Staubach capped a stunning comeback with a touchdown pass to Tony Hill in the final minute of the game. The Skins lost 35-34 and despite finishing 10-6, they didn't even qualify as a wildcard. From being a Super Bowl-favorite to out of the playoffs in about 5 minutes. The worst feeling ever for me as Redskins fan. That team was very good and playing its best yet were deprived of even one playoff game. It took weeks to get over that one.
#2- 2012 Nationals. The Nats finished the season with the best record in baseball and led the Cardinals 6-0 in the deciding 5th game of the first-round. St. Louis pulled off a shocking comeback scoring 4 in the 9th to win the game 9-7 and end the Nats' season. What looked like a lock NLCS appearance vanished in minutes.
#3- 2012 Redskins. The Skins were on a 7-game win streak and had an early 14-zip lead in their first-round home playoff game against Seattle. They were the NFC's "hot" team and feelings of a deep run were justifiably strong as they manhandled the Seahawks early. But then RG3 got hurt and the game was lost. The ramifications of that day are still being felt by the organization today.
#4- 2010 Caps. The Caps took the President’s Trophy and had a 3-1 series lead in the first-round of the playoffs before Montreal won 3 straight to stun the Caps and end their season. It was their 3rd straight Game 7 loss at home. This one was the worst because most thought they were good enough to win the Cup.
#5- 2010 Terps. Maryland had won the ACC regular season title and was playing its best basketball of the year heading into the NCAA Tournament. Seeded 4th, they pounded Houston in the first round and took a 1-pt 2nd-round lead against Michigan State on Grievis Vasquez's runner with 10 seconds left. Victory and a deep March run perhaps to the Final 4 seemed like a decent bet until Korey Lucious hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the Terps' season.
#6- 1974 Terps. Maryland was ranked #4 in the nation but had to beat NC State in the ACC Tournament Final to get to the NCAA Tournament. They lost one of the greatest college basketball games of all-time 103-100 in OT and sat at home and watched March Madness. The only reason that this isn't higher on the list is that Maryland's season didn't end because they fell short; it ended because the rules prevented arguably the 2nd-best team in the nation from participating. The NCAA fixed that the following season allowing for the first time more than one team per league to play in the NCAA Tournament. It was dubbed "The Maryland Rule".
#7- 1989 Redskins. The Skins won their final 5 games to finish 10-6 but missed the playoffs because the NFC was loaded that year. 7 NFC teams finished with 10+ wins that season. Two losses were the difference between a potential Super Bowl run for the Skins and no postseason. They were the only team to lose to Dallas that year in Jimmy Johnson's first season and they blew a 30-14 lead in week 2 at home against Philly. The Eagles wild 42-37 win at RFK in early September was the difference between the Eagles capturing one of the two wildcards and the Skins being home for the holidays.
#8- 2008 Hoyas. Georgetown was a 2-seed off a Big East regular-season title. The Hoyas had gotten to the Final 4 the year before and were expected to make a deep run again. They had a 17-point lead on Davidson in the 2nd round before Steph Curry scored 25 of his 30 in the 2nd-half to end the Hoyas' season.
#9- 2014 Wizards. This just-concluded Wizards' season didn't end ridiculously early but didn't most of you think that Indiana was there for the taking? The Wizards played such a dominant Game 5 to force a Game 6 at home that it felt like at the very least, a Game 7 was a good bet. It was a fun team to watch and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance against Miami would've been interesting.
#10- 2005 Redskins. The Skins' 5-game win streak to end the season sent them into the playoffs with a ton of momentum. Joe Gibbs' team beat Tampa Bay on the road to advance to a Divisional round game in Seattle. They were up 3-zip in the 2nd qtr when Carlos Rogers dropped a pick-6 that would've put the Skins up 10 and on the verge of an NFC Championship game at Carolina. Instead, a 20-13 loss, season over.
Others that could've easily been on this list.
2009 Caps. As a 2-seed, lost at home in Game 7 to 4-seeded Pittsburgh.
1996 Hoyas. Multiple pros on the team including Iverson and Harrington but lost to a UMass team seeded higher but from a lesser conference.
2013 Hoyas. A 2-seed ranked 5th in the nation loses to 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast.
1998 Terps. The Steve Francis-led Terps upset in the Sweet 16 by St. Johns.
1986 Terps. Len Bias' final season ends in the 2nd-round against UNLV. Terps were a trendy Final 4 pick and had an 8-point lead in the 2nd half against the Runnin Rebels.
1985 Redskins. Jay Schroeder came off the bench when Joe Theismann broke his leg to lead the Skins to 5 wins in their final 6 games and a 10-6 record. The 10-6 missed the playoffs.
1989 Caps. Top-seed in the Patrick but lost to the Flyers in first-round.
1992 Caps. Blew 3-1 lead and lost to Penguins.
1992 Redskins. The defending champs beat Minnesota and had the #1-seeded 49ers on the ropes at a rain-soaked Candlestick Park in the Divisional Round. Down 17-13, the Skins were on the move and on the verge of taking the lead when Mark Rypien and Brian MItchell botched a handoff. The lost ball led to a lost game and a lost chance to play Dallas in the NFC Title game.
The good, bad, and more from the 93-80 season-ending loss in Game 6 to Indy.
1. 2nd-half run. After a lifeless 1st-half, the Wizards hung in there and made a run to take the lead 74-73 with 8:30 left in the game. Beal's 3-pointer after he ripped a defensive rebound out of Hibbert's hands to give the Wizards the lead provided so much momentum but it was short-lived. Indy answered with a 17-2 game-clinching run.
2. The season. There wasn't much good tonight but the season was a big step in the right direction. They made their longest playoff run in 35 years by advancing to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semis. Their young backcourt of Wall and Beal were much improved from 2013 and they got valuable playoff experience. Wall's huge night in Game 5 proved he could play big in a meaningful spot. He wasn't consistent during the postseason but they wouldn't have made it this far without him. Gortat and Ariza emerged as crucial pieces on a team that won 44 games but both are free agents. When healthy, Nene was their highest IQ player and the team may not have beaten Chicago without him. Webster, Booker, and the AARPers of Miller, Gooden, and Harrington all had their moments in both the regular season and playoffs. Randy Wittman did a very nice job with a system that took advantage of everyone's strengths, specifically Wall's.
3. Hibbert finally got called for a walk. After 15 walks that were not called in the first 5 games, they finally whistled Hibbert for his first travel of the series.
1. 1st-half defense and pace. This game was lost in the first half. They just didn't play with a level of urgency necessary to win a do-or-die Game 6 at home. The defense was awful in the first half. Indiana got to the rim repeatedly on the way to a sizzling 58.8% shooting half. They shot 68% in the first quarter. Offensively, there was too much walking the ball up court, especially in the 2nd quarter.
2. Bad shooting night. The Wizards got very few looks in transition which usually for them leads to lesser shooting percentages. They shot 39.2% for the game and went 2-18 from behind the arc. I felt that after Gortat went off in Game 5 that Indy would focus on stopping him which would result in more open 3-point attempts. They needed a few more to go down to make it a game. Webster, Beal, Wall, and Ariza all had chances but missed and missed badly at times.
3. No answer for West. David West was easily the best player on the court tonight. He made everything he looked at and most of the time controlled the tempo of Indiana's halfcourt attack. His 29 points on 13-26 from the floor was the difference in the game. The Wizards (Nene and Gooden in particular) never made it hard for him. The shot that hung on the rim and dropped in to regain the lead 75-74 was the biggest shot of the game.
1. Retraction. Upon reflection, Indiana IS the better team.
2. Retraction #2. DC IS NOT quite ready for prime-time NBA playoff games. Too many empty seats for what should have been perceived as the most meaningful game in 35 years. Crowd was dead to start and only heated up during the runs in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Game 3 in the Chicago series and Game 4 in this series were the two best crowds of the playoffs. Tonight's do-or-die game should've been the best and it wasn't for some reason.
3. The standing ovation from what was left of the crowd in the final minute was a classy sign of appreciation for a season that ended later than any Wizards' season in 35 years.
4. The Wizards finished up the postseason 5-1 on the road but 1-4 at home. Overall, the Wizards finished 6-5 in the postseason.
5. Indiana indeed got the benefit of a good whistle tonight and for most of the series. The NBA got what they desired....Miami and Indy in the Eastern Conference Finals.
6. The end-of-quarter failures continued. Wall's long 3 at the end of the 3rd after he pounded the ball for 20 seconds was not exactly the high-percentage shot.
What a way to "rebound" from a demoralizing Game 4 loss. The good, bad, and more from the 102-79 Game 5 beatdown of the Pacers in Indy.
1. Wall. After a sloppy start with some bad turnovers in the first quarter, Wall played the best 26-minute stretch of basketball he's played during the playoffs. He was aggressive on both ends from the start. He got a few quick layups in transition early and that probably helped him to see the ball go through the basket. He pushed the ball after missed shots and made shots finding Gortat, Beal, and Ariza for easy looks and buckets. His heat-check 3-pointer in a 2 for 1 situation at the end of the 3rd was confidence-supreme. Everything he didn't have in Game 4, he had x10 in Game 5. Some will say the learning experience was the most important thing. That's nice but the most important thing is he kept them alive and put them right back in this series with a chance to win it. Good for him.
2. Gortat. It was his night to be the scoring big man and he stepped up with a near-perfect game. He set the tone early by going 5-6 in the first qtr with several rebounds. He went for 17 and 11 in the first half, 31 and 16 for the game, and he didn't play in the 4th qtr. Gortat has been a double-double machine all season long and when needed, he's been a higher-end double-double guy. He was 13-15 from the floor with 7 offensive rebounds. He was high-energy on both ends and his hustle on the offensive glass was incredible. They went to him early instead of Nene and he delivered a playoff masterpiece.
3. Rebounding & Defense. The Wizards took the life out of Indiana on the glass with an unheard of rebounding advantage of 62-23. At one point, it was 60-15! The differential has to be some kind of record. Part of the rebounding difference was due to Indiana's poor shooting but additionally, Indiana was intentionally keeping 2-3 players away from the offensive glass to guard against the Wizards' fast break.
4. Coaching. Randy Wittman and staff did a great job of having them ready for the moment of a win-or-go-home game. Wittman was mic'd up and we heard him emphasize "pace" and "defense". The "pace" that works for them is relentless defense and rebounding followed by a quick John Wall push and probe after both misses and makes. Even if they don't get something easy in transition, they run better halfcourt offense when they've made the defense scramble initially. For 2 straight possessions in the late 3rd/early 4th, Wall walked the ball up the court twice. You could hear Wittman screaming to keep up the "pace" despite the big lead. One more thing....after being outplayed in the 3rd quarter for most of the series, the Wizards outscored Indy 31-14 in the 3rd tonight. Great night for Wittman and staff.
1. Early turnovers. If not for their 12 first-half turnovers, the Wizards would've had a 15-20 point lead at halftime instead of a 7-pt lead. Wall was sloppy early but he wasn't the only one. Their early hot shooting coupled with their rebounding offset the early turnovers.
1. This Game 5 win will be memorable regardless of what happens at home in Game 6. Wall's bounce-back game from a rough Game 4 was so encouraging and it prevented what would've been a disappointing 4-game losing streak to end the season.
2. Game 6 on Thursday night is the biggest game for this organization in 35 years. It's the deepest they've been in the playoffs since the '79 Finals.
3. The Wizards have quietly been better from the free-throw line the last two games....30-38.
4. The Wizards have won 6 games in the playoffs and none of the wins have been the same. Nene and Beal early in the Chicago series. Ariza in Game 4 vs. the Bulls. Incredible defense in Game 5 vs Chicago with Booker playing high-energy minutes. Gooden off the bench with 12 and 13 in Game 1 vs Indy. Gortat and Wall tonight. They've had 10 players make meaningful contributions in 11 playoff games.
A devastating loss for the Wizards who led by 18 in the 3rd qtr. The series has turned quickly with Indiana up 3-1 after their 95-92 comeback win. The good, bad, and more from the loss to the Pacers.
1. Wizards bench. Miller, Harrington, Gooden, and Webster outscored Indiana's bench 32-2. They sparked a huge run in the 2nd qtr that led to a 17-point halftime lead. They sparked a run in the 4th qtr that led to a 9-point lead. Of the 4 players that played off the bench, Miller got the least amount of minutes with 16. He should've gotten more. It was more than the scoring. The defense especially against Indiana's pick and roll was outstanding. Harrington, Gooden, and Miller got steals, blocks, and forced turnovers. An excellent game all the way around for those three guys.
2. The crowd. The Verizon Center was into it tonight. It's too bad the series may not come back for a Game 6.
1. John Wall. He really struggled on offense. His 5 turnovers were mostly unforced and he very easily could've had 2-3 more on passes that got deflected to his teammates. He stumbled and fumbled around all night. He had a few moments of brilliance like the length-of-court drive and bucket just before the half but the truth is, the Wizards would've been better off with Miller in the game down the stretch. His defense wasn't that great either and offensively, he fell into a slower pace in the 3rd qtr which is not the pace where he succeeds. He appeared to lack some confidence offensively. I would've preferred to see him take some of the open shots he passed on late in the game including a wide-open 3 to tie it with nobody guarding him with 50 seconds left.
2. Wittman decision on Wall's return for Miller. I don't want to hear about Wall's contract, his confidence, his opportunity to learn....bottom line, down 2-1 in the series, they were in "must-win" mode and Miller gave the team its best chance to win. Wall would've gotten over it and would've had the chance to bounce back in Game 5. I understand the respect and loyalty Wittman wants to show to Wall but it just wasn't his night.
4. Nene's offense. He was just off a bit all night on offense. He couldn't finish on drives to the rim and he missed some open looks he usually makes.
5. Some tough calls that hurt down the stretch. The Wizards appeared to have a steal on a George drive with an 89-88 lead. Instead, George went to the line and made both free throws to give Indiana its first lead since the 1st qtr. Roy Hibbert got away with another travel on a bucket that gave Indiana a 94-91 lead.
6. Execution on final play with 6.2 left. Poor pass by Ariza killed any hope of a game-tying 3.
1. RG3 and DeSean Jackson were at the game. The Verizon Center played "Hail to the Redskins" after showing Jackson. It was an odd moment.
2. Paul George played his best game of the playoffs while John Wall played his worst. George was spectacular.
3. Beal missed a layup on a great pass from Miller that would've given the Wizards an 11-point lead with 6 to go. Beal also missed a chance to tie it on that wild sequence at the end when Stephenson threw away the pass underneath his own basket.
4. Shouldn't George have been called for a travel with 2 seconds left when he had the ball and slid on the floor?
When in doubt, draft the crazy completive kid who was also a team captain. Ryan Kerrigan, RG3, Chris Neild, Phillip Thomas, and Kirk Cousins are among those that reflect one of the themes of the Redskins' drafting philosophy in recent years. That theme continued last night.
The Skins took linebacker Trent Murphy with their first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Murphy's combine measurables were unimpressive. He ran a 4.86 40 and did 19 bench press reps. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay thinks the Skins reached on Murphy in the 2nd-round. McShay had a 4th-round grade on the kid.
Bruce Allen and Scott Campbell saw things differently. They were impressed with two things that weren't measured during the combine or seen on film. Murphy was team captain at Stanford. As far as competitive toughness, Murphy wrestled the family's 400-lb steer for fun.
In the 3rd-round, the Skins took Nebraska guard Spencer Long. Long wasn't good enough out of high school to earn a scholarship to Nebraska so he walked-on. As a walk-on sophomore, he started every game for the Huskers. He finally got his free ride before his junior year and was team captain as a senior.
For a decade, the Redskins treated the draft like it was a bad buffet. They weren't happy to be there but they loaded up their plate with crap anyway because it was cheap. Draft weekends have been different the last 5 years. They have a philosophy now. Maybe consistent winning comes next.
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