After 12 miserable years, players are fired up for Sunday
ASHBURN -- This isn't about a rivalry. It's about a revival. When the Redskins host the Cowboys on Sunday night, yes, the players understand what beating that franchise means. But they understand the excitement goes beyond facing a hated team from the division.
This is for the last dozen years. This is for years of boring offensive football. This is for seasons that ended with lots of losses, little hope and -- more often than not -- a coaching change.
Finally, the fans can embrace a winning team, one that has a chance to clinch a division title for the first time since 1999. And the players feel the love.
"When we were 5-11, it was hard for people to say, 'Oh, I love the Redskins,'?" linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "Now it's genuine. It's awesome. ... It's not like I'm Robert [Griffin III], but I can barely go out without people saying, 'Good job. We're so excited.' We were at the Wizards-Lakers game, and everyone's coming up saying, 'Oh, man, you guys are doing such a great job. You're balling.' It's just cool."
The Redskins haven't played for a division title since the next-to-last game of the 1999 season, when they beat San Francisco. Since then, they have entered the final game with a chance to clinch a playoff berth on only two occasions. And in each case they won -- 2005 and 2007. But neither was for a division title.
"This run has been the most exciting part of my career," said Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who played for both those playoff teams. "It makes it so much fun to be here and so much fun to be around the guys. That's all you can ask for."
From 2000 to 2011, the Redskins compiled an 81-111 record. They finished above .500 only twice (the playoff seasons). They ranked 20th or worse offensively in 10 of the 12 years. They're now fourth. They're on their seventh coach.
In the last two playoff seasons, the Redskins were led on late streaks by quarterbacks in their mid- to upper-30s. In 2005, Mark Brunell guided a late five-game winning streak to earn a spot. In 2007, Todd Collins replaced injured Jason Campbell and led a four-game ride in emotional fashion after Sean Taylor's death. While Campbell was only in his third season, doubts persisted about the kind of player he could become.
Now two rookies already have made an impact: Griffin, a Pro Bowl selection, and Alfred Morris, a potential 1,500-yard runner. The top receiver (Pierre Garcon) is 25 years old. There's reason to believe this is not a one-time event but rather the start of a long run.
"We knew we weren't moving 10 years down the road with Todd," said Redskins safety Reed Doughty, a member of the 2007 team. "He did great for us, nothing against him. We weren't thinking we had something here for a while. We didn't have the infusion of youth and talent that we do now, and that gets you excited about the next however many years."
The more Doughty spoke, the more impassioned he became. As he started speaking about Sunday's game, he began pounding his right fist into his left palm.
"People are excited about this week," Doughty said. "Just the whole week, with the Dallas game and the fact this game means something. ... There's a lot on the line for us."
Even those who haven't been around as long understand Doughty's sentiment.
"No matter how long you play," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said, "you will remember this game, this moment."