Was this it, finally? Was this the utter embarrassment needed for Dan Snyder, who has owned an NFL team for 20 years and watched it descend over that time from the ranks of the league’s proud/storied/whatever franchises into a permanent laughingstock—over which time the one constant has been Snyder himself, making decisions, hiring people, in both cases usually the wrong ones—to realize that the problem may be him? Was it enough of a wake-up call to be humiliated in a near-national game, a chance to spoil a division rival’s playoff hopes, and instead get shut out before a crowd that appeared to be about three-fifths for the visiting team and an addition one-fifth empty seats?
No. That would require Snyder to be capable of feeling shame. And everything we’ve seen in the last 20 years indicates he absolutely is not.
So then what could he have been thinking on Sunday, as he watched the Skins get blown out and cheered out of their own building, losing 24-0 to the Eagles to finish a 7-9 year that started 6-3, as lifeless and feckless a game and a season as we’ve yet seen from this franchise. Skins attendance declined 24 percent this season, a brutal figure given that the team was in playoff contention right up through Week 16. Their local TV ratings are down roughly a third since the last time they were any good. Snyder’s reaction to this was to fire everyone in the business operations office that he hired this summer. But why would fans, no matter how diehard, want to watch this?
Some scenes from a beautiful afternoon in Landover:
There was a football game played, ostensibly, but for the Skins, mostly observers throughout, it was more metaphorical. “We took an L today,” said Josh Norman, talking about what happened on the field but certainly not ignorant of the larger circumstances. “We really did. Took it on the chin. Yeah, so I think that pretty much sums up the year.”
And what a year it was. A cheerleader escort scandal. The death of the fake season-ticket waiting list. So many empty seats. Cheaping out on beer vendors. Cheaping out on quarterbacks. The Mark Sanchez debacle. Milking a dead man. Looking for domestic-abuse bargains. Running battles between fans and players. And players and coaches. Mutinies.
This is a lot for a team that wasn’t actually bad—just mediocre and injury-plagued. 7-9 teams tend not to be so dysfunctional in every phase of operations. But again, the common thread through all of this, every year, is Snyder himself (and for a decade now, team president Bruce Allen). But Snyder just doesn’t get it.
Some close to Snyder say privately that he doesn’t fully grasp the extent of fans’ enmity. Like a quarterback who can’t read the whole field or spot open receivers, he fails to connect his squad’s poor performance, both on the field and at the turnstile, to the frequently tone-deaf moves of his unpopular front office.
Nor does he necessarily see his own hand in the mess, opting to find and fire scapegoats, as he did again this past week, ousting his handpicked chief operating officer, Brian Lafemina, less than eight months into the job. Snyder was said to be stunned by backlash among fans who railed on social media and besieged Redskins Park with angry phone calls.
It has to get better than this, I’m tempted to say, because: how could it get worse? Or even stay the same? Some hopeful Skins fans surely asked themselves the same question five or ten years ago, and were brutalized by its lack of rhetoricalness. This is the permanent state of things in Landover, where nothing ever really changes, but rather the dysfunction finds new ways to express itself. So, no, it doesn’t have to get better, and all the evidence suggests it will not. Because the man in charge of this mess is the one man who can’t be fired. And Dan Snyder is still only 54 years old. He’s not going anywhere, because he doesn’t seem to understand that there’s even a real problem, let alone that it’s him. All Skins fans can do is to shout this in ways he might eventually actually hear. On Sunday they did just that.