As yet another training camp dawns, there is once again an interesting story waiting to unfold.
After back-to-back miserable seasons that saw the Redskins go from NFC East champions to a pair of last-place finishes with a total of only seven wins and the incredible regression of Robert Griffin III, only the most optimistic are hopeful the team will rebound. How far Griffin closes the gap between his performances of the last two seasons and his record-setting rookie year (yeah, believe it or not, RGIII was the most productive rookie quarterback in NFL history) will be the number one story of training camp this year.
Where that story will ultimately fit in with the great stories of training camps past remains to be seen. Here is my list of the top 5 training camp stories of the last 35 years.
5. Albert Haynesworth butts heads with Mike Shanahan – 2010
This was the summer that cemented Haynesworth’s spot as the number one worst free agent signing in NFL history. Haynesworth had already played a year of that $100 million deal Dan Snyder couldn’t wait to give him hours after the opening of free agency in 2009. He’d had his moments, but had created more than his share of headaches for the fired Jim Zorn’s staff. When Shanahan took over in January of 2010 he told Haynesworth he was switching to a 3-4 defense and saw him playing nose tackle. Big Al wanted no part of that and told Shanahan he wanted to be traded and, by the way, wouldn’t be participating in the offseason conditioning program. Shanahan told him a trade would be impossible with his salary, but if he could find a team willing to pick up a $20 million roster bonus he was due, Haynesworth was free to go to that team. He found no takers, but still didn’t show up for offseason workouts. So, when camp opened in late July, Haynesworth was told he had to take a conditioning test. Although he got off to a good start, Haynesworth said he needed a bathroom break. When he returned, time had run out and Shanahan told him he was holding him out of workouts until he passed. A second test was given and he failed that too. He finally passed, but it was an uneasy truce the rest of the way. Haynesworth suited up for only eight games and on December 7th, a day that shall live in infamy, he was put on the reserve list and sat down for good. At the end of the season, he was dealt to the Patriots, who cut him before the end of the season. He finished out the year in Tampa and never played again.
4. Robert Griffin III is “All In for Week One” – 2013
After tearing his ACL in the playoff loss to Seattle at the end of his magical 2012 season, RGIII vowed that he would be on the field for the opening game of the season against Philadelphia. He even produced a film of his rehab that was sponsored by Gatorade and launched the slogan, “All in for week one.” After first saying he agreed with the Redskins decision not to play him in any of the preseason games, he soon let it be known he was itching to get in a game. He also made it clear that Shanahan had “promised” if he passed his physical before the opener, he’d start. RGIII was indeed cleared for the opener, though Shanahan said Dr. James Andrews still had “some concerns.” Contacted a couple of days later, Andrews said there were no concerns. It was a clear sign of trouble brewing. As promised, Griffin started the opener against Philadelphia and clearly wasn’t the same quarterback. He did throw for 329 yards, but that was after the Skins had fallen behind 33-7 and Philly was playing mostly prevent defense. As the season went on, the tension between Shanahan and RGIII ramped up until finally his benching with three games left in the season. Shanahan said he was protecting Griffin so he could be healthy for the offseason, but it wound up looking more like a raised middle finger as the coach knew he was gone with the season ended.
3. Danny World – 2000
In his second year of ownership of the Redskins, Dan Snyder, who’d made his money in marketing, decided to market training camp. Since there were no NFL rules against it, he saw no issues with charging fans to come watch camp at Redskins Park. It figured to be the place to be in the first summer of the 21st century. The defending NFC East champs had added flashy free agents like Bruce Smith, Jeff George and the flashiest of them all – Deion Sanders. Everybody was talking Super Bowl. There was, however, one problem with charging for training camp. It allowed scouts from other teams to pay their way in to watch. And as Mark Carrier, another of the free agents signed that year told me, it made it impossible to practice certain schemes knowing they were being watched by opponents. How much that had to do with the disappointing 8-8 finish and the firing of Coach Norv Turner, is open for debate. They did start out 6-2. The following season Marty Schottenheimer arrived and had the Redskins back in Carlisle for camp. Two years later, they were back in Ashburn again, but never again did the Skins have the chutzpah to charge for camp.
2. The Near Miss on Mark Moseley – 1982
In his second year as head coach, Joe Gibbs was looking for a new kicker to replace Mark Moseley, who was going into his 11th season in the league and was coming off a tough year in 1981. The last of the straight-on kickers had made only 5 of 13 attempts outside of 40 yards. As Alan Beall wrote in his book, “Braves on the Warpath”:
“Figuring Moseley was washed up, the Skins drafted Dan Miller out of the University of Miami and all but handed him the kicking job while General Manager Bobby Beathard tried to trade Moseley for a defensive end. But, in the final preseason game, Miller bungled two field goals, and Moseley was reluctantly retained. Although keeping the 34-year-old Moseley would prove to be the most fortuitous choice in recent club history, the Redskins were so unsure of him at the time that they decided to keep Miller on the taxi squad.”
That didn’t last long. In the season opener at Philadelphia, Moseley kicked a 48-yarder to send the game into overtime and won it with a 26-yarder in OT. Miller was cut and Moseley went on to make 23-straight field goals that season. With half the year knocked out because of a players strike, Moseley was named Most Valuable Player in the entire league! No kicker had ever received that honor before and it’s unlikely another kicker ever will. The Redskins went on to win the Super Bowl.
1. John Riggins – “I’m bored, I’m broke and I’m back” – 1980-81
This is really a two-year story. Following a heart breaking loss at Dallas in the 1979 season finale that knocked the Redskins out of the playoffs, Riggins wasn’t sure his heart was in playing football anymore. He reported to camp in 1980, but soon demanded a new contract. The Redskins called his demands, “unacceptable.” Riggo, who always marched to a different drummer, held a news conference and read a statement saying he was, “resigning” his position as fullback of the Washington Redskins. Without him, the Skins finished 6-10 in 1980, Coach Jack Pardee was fired and Joe Gibbs was hired. One of his first moves was to visit the “retired” Riggins in Kansas, who as the story goes, told Gibbs, “If you bring me back, I’ll make you famous.” Riggins return in 1981 included the now famous, above quote. And while Riggins did ultimately help make Gibbs famous, he was mostly a short yardage back in ’81 and didn’t become the legend he is until his postseason run all the way to Super Bowl XVII MVP the following year.