Posts Tagged ‘Washington Redskins’


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on December 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm
   As the Washington Redskins stagger to the finish line of another dreadful season, there is little reason to believe their fortunes will improve much unless all manner of circumstances change for the better.
   Firing the coach, by the way, is not one of them. Though Mike Shanahan has made his share of blunders over the course of his first two seasons, owner Daniel Snyder would be wise not to once again bring in a whole new staff, a whole new system, a whole different philosophy. We’ve seen that result before—goodbye Marty Schottenheimer, hello Steve Spurrier—and a repeat performance would be nothing less than a disaster.
   Shanahan, once known as “The Mastermind” when he had John Elway on his side for two Super Bowl championship teams, has been nothing of the sort since moving east to Washington.
   One could make the case that his first major mistake was giving up immediately on Jason Campbell two years ago, only to watch him start to come into his own with the Oakland Raiders earlier this season before he busted up his shoulder and became inactive.
   The decision to go with Donovan McNabb was another huge error in football judgment. Does anyone really think Eagles head coach Andy Reid would have given up on one of his all-time favorite players if he thought he had anything left?
    This year, the Vikings made the same mistake Shanahan did a year ago, but at least it looks as if Minnesota may have a quarterback of the future in Christian Ponder. The Redskins future looks mighty bleak if Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son, Kyle, still believe that Rex Grossman or John Beck is the long-term answer to a position that remains The Major Weakness on this football team.
    The best case scenario team would be to lose out and possibly get in the mix for a first rate college quarterback in the draft. Wouldn’t Andrew Luck of Stanford, who’s father Oliver once had a cup of coffee with the Redskins back in the 1970s, look wonderful in burgundy and gold? That seems like an unlikely prospect, but we can dream, can’t we?
    Quarterback may be the biggest weakness on this team, but there are other obvious problems as well, and please don’t play the injury card, quite yet. Yes the Redskins have been decimated by the loss of key personnel, particularly on offense, but the talent level—starters or backups–wasn’t anything close to a team that had enough high quality players to make a serious run at the playoffs, even if they had all been healthy.
     The offensive line has been a disaster for most of the year, though in recent weeks it seems to have figured out a way to spring rookie running back Roy Helu for three straight 100-yard rushing games. But now, with knucklehead offensive tackle Trent Williams out for the rest of the season after failing his third drug test of the year, that unit will be hard-pressed to have many more repeat performances, let alone keep a quarterback upright.
   Helu has been a breath of fresh air recently, perhaps even a running back of the future. But the fact that he saw such limited action earlier in the year simply gives us another reason to wonder what took so long for Shanahan to realize what he had all along.
   As for the receiving corps, there was good news/bad news in the fact that tight end Fred Davis finally began to blossom in his fourth season with the team, a legitimate threat to catch a lot of footballs. He’s also a legitimate threat to himself after he, too, failed a third drug test this season, forcing him to be suspended for the final four games.
    Davis will be a free agent following the 2011 season, and Shanahan said very publicly this week that Davis’s drug problem will weigh heavily in any decision on re-signing him to a new contract. The guess here is that Davis is enough of a talent to take that chance, and he’ll be back in 2012 on a very short leash.
    It will also help to get Chris Cooley healthy and back in uniform, but the popular tight end has been injury prone the last two seasons and clearly seems heading toward the downhill portion of his career. The same goes for wide receiver Santana Moss, who’s production has been way off this year and may not improve until the Redskins find themselves enough offensive linemen to give anyone who plays the quarterback position time to throw.
   The defense has held up remarkably well considering how much time it has to spend on the field. But there are looming problems, as well. As much as you have to admire 36-year-old middle linebacker London Fletcher, there’s not much tread left on those tires. How long he can play at such a high level remains to be seen.
   Safety Laron Landry has also suffered through an injury plagued season and hardly seems the same player we saw two years ago. But for the most part, this unit has performed fairly well for most of the season.
   It’s been a very long season since that 3-1 start, and the only other good news seems to be that Snyder seems to be holding true to his word to Shanahan that he will not meddle in football affairs. But when is The Danny going to start getting fed up with what he’s seeing on the field, just like the rest of us?
   I suspect there are already rumblings coming out of his Redskins Park office and jJudging from the owner’s past performances, it’s only a question of when.


In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on November 2, 2011 at 7:31 am

Washington Redskins fans wonder why a coach fitted for two Super Bowl rings and a $5M salary can lose three straight games – twice to teams with just one win and another by way of shutout for the first time in his 267 games as a head coach or offensive coordinator.

During the Buffalo game, Thom Brennaman and Troy Aikman snickered, watching the Redskins’ offense fall apart and later criticized their offense for not calling two plays in a huddle while down by 20 in the fourth quarter.

At one point, Aikman said, “It’s beyond the head coach.” But this was a stretch. Before Dan Snyder hired Mike Shanahan, he fired deputy Vinny Cerrato and since, has stayed out of Shanahan’s way. There have been no more “sexy” player signings or meetings with the coach in the bowels of FedEx Field after games.

Point is, Aikman still is bitter toward Snyder for firing Norv Turner – Aikman’s offensive coordinator in Dallas during that dynasty’s trio of Super Bowls.

Back in the spring of 2010, how could Shanahan have been wrong on quarterback Donovan McNabb? He’d coached for 25 years and McNabb had played for 11. What didn’t he know about the Philly veteran? He was supposedly the expert on quarterbacks. Then, months after signing McNabb, son, Kyle tried to change McNabb’s drop-back style. Seems odd, a then 29-year-old assistant toying with the mechanics of a player who’d been to five NFC Championship games. It’s hard to fault McNabb, wondering why his footwork was – all of a sudden – being scrutinized, especially by an assistant coach five years his junior.

The next Shanahan gaffe was Rex Grossman, who “roomed” with Kyle while the two were with the Houston Texans in 2009. Rex was benched as the Redskins starter after a 4-interception game vs. Philly, less than a third the way through the season. The fact he roomed with a player he coached points to Kyle’s naivete. Knowing this, think John Beck was surprised when he wasn’t named the starter seven weeks ago?

In the Buffalo game, Leron Landry and DeAngelo Hall’s names were hardly heard until a blown coverage in the Skins secondary helped give the Bills a touchdown. London Fletcher played with a pulled hamstring but made 12 solo tackles and had an interception in the end zone. How many stops did the Skins safeties make? How many INT’s? How many times did the duo reach the quarterback on a safety blitz? Besides six combined solo tackles, “nada” are your answers.

We’ve been force-fed the “3-4” as if it’s a magic potion concocted by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Basically, the Skins have a four-man front, only Ryan Kerrigan isn’t bent over in a 3-point stance. Former defensive coordinator Greg Williams had a much better defense here but was bypassed for the head coaching job that went to Jim Zorn. A year later, Williams took over the defense in New Orleans and won a Super Bowl.

Barry Cofield is an upgrade over Haynesworth at nose guard but he doesn’t remind anyone of Bob Lily, Randy White or Merlin Olsen. How many times have we seen him break through the muck to reach the quarterback? Again, nada is your answer. When Bills running back Fred Jackson took a hand off , he usually ran untouched until he reached the second level on his way to 120 yards.

We know the Skins’ replacements are lean on the right side of the offensive line. So why weren’t there roll-outs designed to take Beck to the left? Why wasn’t an H-back planted in the backfield? Why didn’t the team have a tight end on the right side the entire game? Where were Beck’s hot reads? It’s up to the Shanahans to provide answers but there weren’t any versus Buffalo.

Snyder should be fuming. As one writer put it, he could have kept Jim Zorn around for these results at a much cheaper rate. The owner didn’t balk when Mike wanted to deputize his son to run the offense. But how much experience did Kyle have? A couple seasons with the Texans? He was the coordinator there because Texans Coach Gary Kubiak was an assistant on Mike’s staff in Denver for years. Snyder should have balked and said, “OK Mike, bring your son on board but as an ‘offensive assistant’ under a seasoned coordinator like Mike Martz or Kevin Gilbride”

Buffalo is 5-2 with Fitzpatrick running the offense. He’s the same age as Beck with equal experience. Yet against the Redskins, his passes were uncontested, like practice where receivers are “allowed” to catch the ball. Buffalo is Fitzpatrick’s third team. Before this year, he’d never played on a winner but now his team is tied with the Patriots for first place in the AFC East. Fitzpatrick was a seventh round pick, Beck a second-rounder. And Beck played at BYU, whose pro-style offense threw the ball a bit more than did “Fitz” at Harvard.

For years as a landscape designer, my customers ask, “Is it the soil? Do we need to take out the old and bring in all new for the plants?” To that, I always say, “That’s unnecessary.” But when I apply the axiom to the Skins, I’m unsure.

Why is Marty Shottenheimer fired after going 8-8 and the very next year goes 14-2 with San Diego? Why does Steve Spurrier “lose” his coaching acumen with the Skins but regains it in Columbia, S.C., transforming an anemic Gamecock program into a national contender? How does Turner go from being fired in D.C. to taking his Charger team to the playoffs every year? How does Marty’s son, Brian go from being clueless with the Redskin offense, to advancing to two straight AFC Championship games as the New York Jets coordinator? What about Hue Jackson, who was fired here as a Zorn assistant, yet has his Raider team tied for first place? And while I’m at it, Bills’ defensive coordinator George Edwards (who coordinated the Skins defense in 2003) designed a defense last week that held the Skins to 26 yards rushing and 4-of-14 on third-down conversions.

It’s yet another coaching regime at work in Washington, producing the same, lame results. No one has answers, not even those at the top.







In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 31, 2011 at 5:55 pm

The Redskins picked an appropriate weekend to turn in their most frightening performance of the season (so far). A Halloween eve loss to the Buffalo Bills on a neutral field in Canada where the Bills had never won before.

23-0 Buffalo!!!  And, it could have been worse. Had it not been for a London Fletcher INT in the endzone, some clutch punting by Sav Rocca, and botched field goal attempt by Rian Lindell it would have been an even bigger blowout.

And, it was a historic defeat, too.  Mike Shanahan’s first ever shutout loss in 267 games as a head coach. The Skins have now dropped three straight to sit at 3 – 4 in the NFC East.  They’re tied with the Eagles and Dallas behind the 5-2 Giants, but clearly not a team on par with anyone in their division.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At this juncture of his Redskins career, Mike Shanahan is 9 -14.  Both Jim Zorn and Steve Spurrier were 10 -13 through 23 games in DC, and both were riding 3 game losing streaks just like Shanny.  And, even more frightening is the fact that Zorn and Spurrier would only win two more games from this point;  ending their Redskins coaching careers at 12 and 20.  And, don’t think that history can’t repeat itself.  It’s not impossible for Shanahan to match that level of futility before the 2011 season ends. In fact, it’s frighteningly easy.

A quick glance at the remaining 9 games shows a schedule full of potential and virtually guaranteed losses.  I can’t picture John Beck (or Rex Grossman, for that matter) beating the Eagles, Patriots, Jets, Giants, or even the Niners next Sunday.  They can probably beat the winless Dolphins on November 13th at Miami, but the Skins have a recent track record of giving the hapless hope (please see:  2010 losses to the Rams, Vikings, and Lions).  Shanahan could also have a decent shot against Dallas at FedEx Field in 3 weeks depending on which Tony Romo shows up.  And, maybe they can beat the Vikings at home in December, but Christian Ponder is still an unknown quantity as an NFL quarterback,  and the Skins did lose at home last November to a Brett Favre-led Vikings team that was in turmoil having literally just fired Brad Childress. Thanksgiving weekend at Seattle is a toss-up which could simply hinge on jet lag.

Soooooooo… I wouldn’t bank on more than 4 wins the rest of the way and that’s gonna require some serious improvement in both the passing and running games just to eeeeekkk-out a 7-9 season.  Hardly an improvement over 2010.

The problem is NOT that the Skins lost to Buffalo.  It’s that they were never even in the game.  The play-by-play recap is a mindnumbing series of Beck-Incomplete followed by Beck-Sacked, with a Torain run for little or no gain sprinkled in for good measure.

It’s not all the fault of John Beck either.  Nine sacks indicate that he was left a sitting duck by his offensive line.  A line that wasn’t much help for a running game that saw Ryan Torain carry 8 times for an anemic 14 yards.  An injured Tim Hightower could have delivered those same results.

The fault here lies with Shanahan who tried to sell us on the idea that John Beck and Rex Grossman are frontline NFL QB’s.  Even Shanahan himself is no longer sold on Rex, so the eggs are in Beck’s basket now.  Shanahan has called Beck a “streaky passer” and right now it’s all a bad streak.  There was no deep passing game to speak of against the Bills.  Just a series of overthrown balls into tight single- or double-coverage.  Sure, the one interception on the long pass intended for Donte’ Stallworth was a case of bad luck, but the Bills had that play well covered and likely would have broken it up anyway.  Even the shorter passing game evolved into the Beck to Davis show, and Buffalo figured that early enough to keep a lid on things and even rack-up an INT to open the fourth quarter.  (And, adding salt to the wound, Fred Davis sprained his ankle and could miss some action.)

Speaking of the fourth quarter, Fox Sports’ analyst Troy Aikman made an excellent point on the Skins lack of urgency.  Down 20 points and rapidly running out of time, they eschewed the no-huddle until the final 3:19 when the odds of coming up with 3 TD’s and a pair of two-point conversions was improbable, at best.  Shanahan told the assembled news media at his Monday availability at Redskins Park, “I thought we ran it [the 2-minute offense] almost the whole second half if you take a look at our play calls.”  Frankly, the Skins did operate from the shotgun much of the second half, but the “no-huddle” was a no-show until it was a non-factor in the outcome.

I wrote prior to the season on how Shanahan and his ‘system’ were eerily reminiscent of Spurrier and his ‘system’.

Here’s my final thoughts from ArmchairQuarterBlog back in early August:

So, how does Shanahan avoid becoming Spurrier II (or Zorn)?

First, he hopes that either Beck or Grossman emerges as a leader and does it quickly. Then he hopes that a running attack and a line with less “name” talent than nine years ago gels into a unit that can control the ball and actually find the end zone four or five times a game. But, it might come down to Shanahan simply proving that he, in fact, is a better coach than Spurrier was at the NFL-level. He’ll certainly prove it if he wins with his current crop of players, an unproven lot to say the least.

The most realistic goal for Shanahan in 2011 is to show that the Redskins are evolving from the team that always “wins the off-season” into the team that “wins when it really matters.”

So far, neither Beck nor Grossman nor the line nor the running backs are getting it done (injuries to guys like Trent Williams are certainly playing a part here).  And, thanks to a guy named John Elway, Mike Shanahan has a pair of Super Bowl rings and they might have to suffice as proof of being a better pro coach than Spurrier (at least until 2012).  

2012 assumes, of course, that rumors of Miami’s interest in Bill Cowher don’t pique Dan Snyder’s interest and lead to a change in coaching regimes here instead of South Florida.  Danny might not even blink at the suggestion of Cowher returning to coaching.  There’s been no rumor mill on this topic.  But, then again, Snyder has managed to keep his coaching searches well under wraps.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, can honestly say they saw the return of Gibbs or the decision to hire Zorn coming. So, I’m just saying that a 2-7 finish and the fear of losing one of Dan’s favorites to another club could… ya know where I’m leaning… but, I don’t want to trigger a coaching controversy here.

As of October 31, this is what Shanahan has to say about the 2011 Skins: “We’ve got some young players that are playing [that] I think have a big upside at a number of positions. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. I’ve got a lot of belief in these guys that they’ll play well [and] hopefully much better than we played yesterday.”

Trouble is, Mike… The clock is running… There’s only a little more than half a season left… And December’s schedule is a vacuum that could suck the hope out of anything.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on August 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm

On Brett Haber…

A few random thoughts on the departure of Channel 9 sportscaster Brett Haber, who announced a few weeks ago he was leaving the station to pursue other opportunities, particularly in the field of sports play-by-play.

For one, Haber was never one of my favorites. I thought there were times he came across on the air as smug and slightly condescending toward his audience, perhaps one reason he was never able to gain widespread popularity in the market.

Don’t get me wrong. He was prepared, he usually asked good questions and he tried to do the best he could despite his constantly shrinking minutes on the air, especially at 11 pm. Maybe it was just me, but I never felt he added very much to the discussion, maybe because he hardly ever had the time.

Haber cited the diminishing importance of sports coverage in local newscasts as one of the reasons for his decision to look at greener pastures. It’s been a national trend for most of the last 10 years, given the rise of local and regional sports networks that can give viewers 30 minutes of sports news and highlights every night, compared to Haber’s two or three minutes.

But other people in the industry I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks also had another theory as to why he’s leaving Channel 9. One highly connected source speculated that Haber’s contract was probably up, and the powers that be at the station were not prepared to match or exceed the financial terms of his expiring deal, if only because sports coverage will not be a major priority at the station in the years to come.

Rather than take a substantial pay cut, the source said, Haber may well have decided he could do better elsewhere, while also pursuing his passion for play-by-play announcing on a larger stage, like the Tennis Channel.

That being said, Haber should also be saluted for taking on petulant Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder a few months ago, strongly criticizing Snyder’s frivolous lawsuit against an unflattering City Paper story over the air. Maybe Haber knew he would be leaving the station anyway, but going head-to-head with the owner of a team that could make it very difficult for Haber to do future business was a gutty decision on the sportscaster’s part.

On Rupert Murdoch…

Here’s another reason to take a heavy shot at media mogul Rupert Murdoch, in addition to the mostly unfair and unbalanced Fox News Network and current English phone-hacking scandal that involved one of his trashy tabloid newspapers.

Last week Fox Sports, another Murdoch property, announced it has reached an agreement on a seven-year deal to air mixed martial arts on the Fox network and FX cable. They’ll have four shows on Fox and 32 on FX, including an Ultimate Fighter reality television show.

MMA followers would like to think the so-called sport has come a long way from its brawling, bloodbath days of old. But whenever I happen to surf in to a match, why does it always seem as if one guy has the other guy in a headlock and keeps pounding away at his face? It’s still a street fight, and really unfit for national television, especially when you recall the words of Fox Sports chairman David Hill to USA Today in 2008.

In explaining why his network would not air MMA at the time, Hill told the paper “what’s totally abhorrent about it—and I’ve said this to people running it—is that one guy will be down and the other one can keep hitting him.”

Now however, Fox will pay the Ultimate Fighting Champion ship organization $100 million annually to air the carnage, and Hill has clearly changed his tune.

The importance of this deal is the 18 to 34 year old make demographic that wavers and moves on” to other televised choices, Hill told USA Today. “There’s no yesterday in TV. (It’s) all about the next big thing.”

This is the next revolting thing. Shame on Fox, which apparently has none.



In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on July 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Were there any winners in the end of the 18-week lockout of NFL players? When will we know the winners? In 10 years when the new collective bargaining agreement is replaced by yet a newer CBA?

We know this for sure… there are losers in this deal. BIG LOSERS!

And, the Redskins are among those losers, although they might not completely grasp that, yet.

The Skins have lost valuable time that could have been used to market both Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth to other clubs. Instead of having months to beg a team to swap a second or third round draft pick for the overpaid, unproductive defensive lineman, the Skins now literally have days to make a decision that could weigh heavily on their bottom line and on their sanity.

It might be a hard pill to swallow, but the Redskins’ best option here might be to cut and run; and do it now before potential Haynesworth suitors make other plans. From what I understand of the NFL salary cap and the Skins’ off-season maneuvers, it would be a win-win situation to simply give Albert away. It’s an obvious immediate savings of $5.4 million in 2011 salary, and reportedly, will not negatively impact the cap over the remaining five years of the contract term. Haynesworth is major damaged goods right now, and every other team in the league knows this. He spent the last four games of the ’10 season on suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team.” And, he hasn’t exactly been a sparkling member of society off-the-field either (when you have a moment GOOGLE: Haynesworth legal troubles). Sure, there’s always some foolish team out there willing to take a risk on a guy like Albert, but even they will be just smart enough to wait for the Skins to pull the trigger and end one of the most dysfunctional relationships in the history of the NFL. The question is how long will it take for Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen, and/or Dan Snyder to make that move. Sure, they could pay him to basically sit on the bench in hopes a great deal might magically appear before the trade deadline in mid-October, but why waste the cash just to show who’s boss. Remember: Haynesworth’s salary would be guaranteed for the entire ’11 season, if he’s still a Redskin come Week One of the regular season.

As for the McNabb situation, this could still play out more easily than Haynesworth for the Skins. Donovan still has value to a number of teams seeking a talented, experienced back-up. But, again this is a deal that must be done quickly to prevent a “quarterback controversy” in the midst of what figures to be a wild and wooly pre-season with free agency, contract signings, and training camp all jammed into about 40 days and 40 nights. From a financial standpoint, the Skins won’t feel the pressure to move McNabb until the first week of the regular season when he’s due a monster roster bonus of $10 million.  Of course, the longer the Redskins wait on moving Donovan the less value he’ll have as teams make other quarterback decisions. If they wait into September, the Skins only hope of really cashing in for Donovan (or Haynesworth for that matter) is if some club suffers a catastrophic loss of a player requiring an immediate and experienced replacement.  (Assuming, of course, that Brett Favre stays retired.) A secondary problem in parting company with Donovan McNabb is the possibility of seeing him again this season in another uniform. Two teams where Donovan could wind up, Minnesota and Miami, are both on the Skins schedule this fall. And, don’t think for a moment that Donovan won’t take that opportunity to show Shanahan the McNabb who led the Eagles to five NFC Championship games.

Ironically, the other big loser on the Redskins might be John Beck, the heir-apparent to McNabb as starting QB. Although, he has a full season of holding the clipboard and observing the Shanahan system under his belt, he missed out on the critical off-season education program. For Beck, there were NO mini-camps, NO organized team activities (OTA’s), NO one-on-one time with Shanahan (Mike or Kyle), NO chance to workout at Redskins Park, NOTHING. And, you can forget those little practice sessions that the players organized during the lockout.  They were little more than a show for the media and the fans. The illusion that work was getting done.

John Beck will have to absorb the starting quarterback role and a thick playbook in a whirlwind of a training camp along with bits and pieces of four pre-season games.  Normally, the first teamers make only token appearances in the exhibitions with maybe a full half of action in Game 3. I can’t imagine that alone will provide a de facto rookie quarterback enough prep time to get in synch with the play calling, the receivers, and the offense in general. Maybe Shanahan re-thinks how much time Beck will get in the pre-season games, but then again, does he want to risk injuring Beck or Rex Grossman or whoever winds up in the starting role (undrafted rookie Ben Chappell? – just kidding).

And, none of the above takes into account that, thanks to a delayed free agency period, the Redskins, as of this writing, are unsettled at wide receiver, at running back, and on the offensive line. Good luck, John, you’re really, really gonna need it.

Naturally, the other big losers on the Redskins, and around the NFL as a whole, will be the rookies; drafted and especially undrafted. They’ve also lost valuable prep time at team facilities during the lockout, and, more critically, they’ve lost the chance to showcase themselves for the coaches at the mini-camps and OTA’s. With so little time to get ready for the season, coaches will likely stick with who they know rather than take a chance on some unknown, undrafted kid who has a hot night or two in the pre-season. The first major roster cut won’t come until late August after the third pre-season game, but a lot of the kids will be gone or all-but-gone by then. Of course, somebody could get lucky if some veteran clown reports to camp totally out of shape (other than Haynesworth), or if the lightning round-style of free agency backfires and leaves some rookie as the only option. And don’t think this can’t happen. The Skins’ recent track record with free agents is not a thing of pride.

For the Redskins, it could be the most intriguing August in quite a while. One thing’s for sure, the September 11th home opener with the Giants will be here all too quickly for Shanahan and company. So too will the Monday Night game in Dallas two weeks later. Let’s just agree that if the Skins haven’t taken care of business in a timely fashion, found the talent they need, and eliminated the “distractions,” the season could be in jeopardy by Week Three.

NOTE: The Redskins have announced that 11 training camp practices will be open to the public between July 30th and August 15th. Fans looking to attend a practice must fill out an “INVITATION” at and bring it with them to Redskins Park.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on May 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

As I watched the “60 Minutes” report on Lance Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs last Sunday, I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation on the subject of performing enhancing drugs I had many years ago with a lineman on the Washington Redskins teams I covered back in the 1970s.

Back then, the pharmaceutical of choice in pro football was amphetamines, black beauties some called them, even if they often were purloined from the medicine cabinets of wives and girlfriends using the diet pills to help them lose weight. There was no drug testing at the time, and plenty of players were looking for any advantage they could get.

In any case, when I asked the player why some guys would feel the need to use such stimulants, he looked at me and smiled. I don’t have the notes from that conversation, and will paraphrase here. He said something to the effect that when he looked across the line at the man he had to block and saw him wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, clearly high on something beside adrenaline, he had little choice than to match him pill for pill, the better to stay in the starting lineup, the better to keep his job.

He didn’t like doing it, knew it was against the rules and probably hazardous to his health, but that was the price he was willing to pay to play at the highest level of the game, no pun intended.

I suspect that Armstrong, if given a healthy dose of truth serum, might also say the same, particularly in a sport where doping has been part of the Tour de France and long-distance culture seemingly forever. Think about it. Would you try to ride a bicycle over the Alps if you didn’t have a little extra help in a bottle or from a needle?

Armstrong has become a true American hero, if only because he conquered the cancer that very nearly killed him and then built himself into a human diesel engine capable of beating everyone in his sport in the world’s most famous bike race. Does the fact that he was probably fueled with substances just about everyone else he was racing against also was taking diminish his accomplishment?

You could argue the point either way. Of course it was wrong for any of them to be using drugs now obviously banned. Then again, wasn’t it also a level playing field? After all, as my friend and former Washington Post colleague Mike Wise wrote last week, “in the seven years Armstrong won the Tour de France, just one cyclist on the podium beside him from 1999 through 2005 was never connected to performance enhancers. That means every rider — save one, who placed second or third – was dirty.

So, in a cycling culture that employed synthetic chemists like masseuses, the only other rider who didn’t use was the guy who won all the time?”

The most troubling aspect of all of this is Armstrong’s repeated denials in the face of a wave of evidence, circumstantial as it might be, against him. I’m tired about hearing how he never failed a drug test as evidence that he was clean, when we all know how easy it became for the athletes to almost always stay a step or three ahead of the testers, in every sport.

His publicists keep insisting his accusers have ulterior motives, book and movie deals, publicity for themselves. But really, they’re now coming clean because they don’t want to lie under oath and risk perjury charges followed by jail time. It’s time Armstrong did some of the same.

Ebersol Out: I always used to joke that I had a program key on my laptop that automatically wrote in “the smartest man in sports television” whenever I typed in the name Dick Ebersol, the long-time and powerful major domo of NBC Sports

Now that needs to be amended, because Ebersol is no longer in sports television, at least for NBC. He resigned last week when he could not come to terms on a new contract with his new bosses at Comcast, the cable giant now large and in charge of an operation that includes The Golf Channel, Versus and a dozen regional sports networks¸ including a Washington division.

The timing of a move that sent shock waves throughout the industry seems a bit odd, considering that bidding on the television rights for the 2014 Winter and 2016 Summer Olympic Games is set to begin on June 6. Ebersol would have led the NBC team, as usual, and almost certainly would have been favored to secure the Games for his new employers, if only because of his longtime profitable relationship with the International Olympic Committee.

Now, clearly all bets are off, and don’t be surprised if the ESPN/ABC juggernaut comes out the winner in all of this, even if the revolting prospect of having Chris Berman fill the Jim McKay/Bob Costas host role will definitely come into play.

Ebersol did not look all that smart in overbidding for the last two games in Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012. The package cost $2.3 billion and Vancouver lost $223 million, with London likely to do the same. Still, over the years, Ebersol made his company many more millions than he lost, particularly with groundbreaking deals with the NFL, the U.S. Golf Association, the PGA of America, Notre Dame football and all those other Olympics that turned a tidy profit on his watch.

What’s next for Ebersol? Wouldn’t it be something if the IOC hired him as a consultant in the bidding process, or later put him in charge of producing the international feed for the Games? Stranger things have happened, don’t you know, for still the smartest man in sports television.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at or at badgerlen on Twitter. His new book, Golf List Mania, is now available at local bookstores and on Amazon and Kindle.


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on April 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm

There’s an unwritten rule regarding public disputes and use of the news media. It’s very simple. The first one to run to the media to defend his position is losing the battle.

Redskins owner, Dan Snyder might not want to admit this, but he IS losing his battle with the City Paper; at least in the court of public opinion, and maybe in court, too.

Snyder took to the Opinion page of the Washington Post and to re-state his intentions in his ongoing legal tussle with the City Paper, which he claims defamed him in a November 2010 article written by Dave McKenna. (I won’t even get into the question of why the Post climbed into the middle of this mess. I guess they really need to sell papers these days.) The piece entitled, “Why I am suing Washington City Paper,” is a plea for understanding from Redskins fans. The point that Dan completely misses, however, is that Redskins fans don’t care about his personal conflict with a tiny media outlet that most had probably never heard of until he decided to sue. They only care about winning and whether there will be a 2011 NFL season.

The only thing really new in the Snyder essay is the decision to re-file the suit in Washington instead of New York for “legal reasons.” As expected, it’s a little short on facts, and long on… well… long on Dan’s hurt feelings.

But, what’s really interesting here is what’s NOT mentioned anymore. There’s no more blather about the unwarranted mocking of Dan’s wife, Tanya, for saying in a TV interview that Dan had “grown and evolved.” And, there’s no more uproar over the so-called “anti-Semitic” photo illustration (Snyder with scribbled devil’s horns) that accompanied the original City Paper story. Why? Probably, because those complaints failed to garner the public sympathy that Dan was seeking when he opted to take on the City Paper in the first place. Those arguments quite simply lacked substance.

In fact, out of the roughly 60 “failings” of Dan Snyder listed in the McKenna article only one remains at the heart of this dispute.

And that is… Drum roll please… Snyder’s continuing focus on his portrayal in decade-old allegations that his communications marketing company “forged” names in a telephone “slamming” scheme in Florida. “Slamming” means that people’s long distance providers were changed without their authorization. According to the Attorney General of Florida, Snyder Communications’ employees carried out this activity on behalf of GTE/Verizon. A substantial fine was paid to end this matter “without admitting any wrongdoing.”

Of course, proof of malice by Dave McKenna will be the burden of Snyder in his case against the City Paper; an extremely heavy legal burden for a public figure. In the Post Op-Ed piece, Snyder targets the following line from the McKenna article for the bulk of his ire, “That’s the [same] Dan Snyder who got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications.” Snyder calls that accusation “false.” But, the Florida Attorney General’s April 2001 news release on the “slamming” case specifically refers to “thousands of instances” where Snyder Communications’ representatives “forged” customer signatures. Snyder obviously contends he was not one of the “representatives” in question. But, Snyder Communications was Dan Snyder’s company at the time. And, the buck stops where?

Snyder also continues to insist this is not about the money. Anything he might win is earmarked for charity. And, he doesn’t want McKenna fired. In fact, he says the whole matter would be dropped if the City Paper would just apologize and retract the “false charges.”

Dan, don’t hold your breath waiting for that apology. In an interview with WTOP, the publisher of the City Paper called the suit “frivolous.” The City Paper still stands by its story.

And to borrow from your own opinion piece, Dan, your University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate father would have understood the City Paper’s position, and that your foray onto the Op-Ed page of the Post is a clear signal that your battle is not being won.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on February 18, 2011 at 7:28 am

Tony Kornheiser of WTEM ESPN Radio 980 in Washington, DC likes Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Former Washington Post colleague and well-known author, John Feinstein says so in his blog, Feinstein on the Brink.  Kornheiser also works for Snyder who owns WTEM.

And at this moment in time, all of this has become a problem and a news item unto itself in DC.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be a problem if Kornheiser didn’t also happen to host a daily radio show that focuses on sports and the media. It wouldn’t be a problem if Tony, who also works for ESPN itself, didn’t have a national reputation for tackling tough topics on the popular TV show, Pardon the Interruption.  It wouldn’t be a problem if Kornheiser wasn’t a widely respected journalist and columnist from his long tenure at the Post. It wouldn’t be a problem if Dan Snyder was a saint who never so much as creates a ripple in the sports pond. It wouldn’t be a problem if Dan Snyder wasn’t suing Kornheiser’s fellow DC journalist, Dave McKenna, and the City Paper, into oblivion for an unfavorable article published last November. It wouldn’t be a problem if Tony Kornheiser was willing to discuss Snyder v. City Paper on his radio show.

But, it is a problem, and Tony Kornheiser knows it.  It’s probably killing him inside. It’s certainly doing a tap dance on his credibility.  I mean, I’m not saying he should have McKenna’s back on this. And, nobody is demanding that Kornheiser attack Snyder, or even simply take a position on the somewhat pretzel logic behind the lawsuit. Heck, a good ride on the fence would probably satisfy most folks.  We all understand that it’s tough to bite the hand that pays a good salary. But, to almost pretend this headline-grabbing issue with Snyder doesn’t exist.  To, according to Feinstein, ask his radio guests not to bring up the matter on the air.  Well… the silence is deafening.

Tony Kornheiser has crossed one of those lines that true journalists aren’t supposed to cross. Sure the line is more gray than black these days.  ESPN college football hosts have sneaker contracts and others do commercials. Several DC TV sports reporters have also had ties to the Redskins in the Snyder era; although money may never have changed hands. And, at one time or another, all of the DC TV stations have had lucrative programming ties to the Skins: The Donovan McNabb Show, The Norv Turner/Terry Robiskie/Marty Schottenheimer/Steve Spurrier/Joe Gibbs/Jim Zorn/Mike Shanahan Show, and so on.  All of this can call into question “journalistic independence and journalistic integrity.”

The problem of course, is that Snyder pays Kornheiser. Pure and simple. Honestly, I don’t buy Feinstein’s contention that it’s not about the money.  It’s always about the money.  Money blurs the line that separates journalists from the people they cover.  Money creates a relationship, a friendship, a “liking” of someone that begins to erase the line.  Money makes a man beholden to another.  Money lowers the volume on the microphone, fades the ink of the writer’s pen, changes the subject when the questions start to get too tough to answer.

Money puts saving your job ahead of saving your reputation.

Tony Kornheiser is better than this.  At least, he used to be. He knows it. And, it’s killing him inside.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: