My extended break from blogging here was not intentional. My break from getting outside with a fly rod wasn’t either. Life, work and an amazing new puppy, among other things, just got in the way and before I knew it, a whole summer had gone by and I hadn’t done either. Meanwhile, my buddy Matt has been busy doing the important work of raising twin girls, working hard and recently dealing with an extended mandatory evacuation from their Georgia island home courtesy of Hurricane Matthew. So it was a good time for both of us to get away to eat and drink and laugh, to try to remember how to fly fish, and most importantly to just truly relax for a couple days.
We began the relaxation right away, with a stop at Black Walnut Brewery, where we enjoyed a couple delicious beers while watching a big Redskins win from the dog-friendly porch. Then, because we’re smart, instead of going through and organizing our fishing gear, we decided to drink more back at the house and talk about how unorganized our fishing gear is.
Matt is holding Winslow, by the way, the aforementioned amazing puppy that I will have much more to talk about soon. A truly special dog.
The next day, fueled by Anita’s breakfast burritos, we headed down to Rose River Farm on an absolutely beautiful morning. It of course took us far too long to get geared up, but we had all day and were in no hurry. Conditions were fantastic on the Rose River, great water level and flow, and the river was crystal clear. Stepping into moving water with a fly rod felt like reuniting with the second dear old friend in as many days.
Matt hooked up first and outfished me the whole time. He took advantage of the gin clear water, dead drifting small, sinking flies without a strike indicator and just watching for the take and setting the hook.
But I caught my fair share too, including this beauty that Matt captured with his iPhone if you can believe it. This is one of the coolest iPhone fish photos I’ve ever seen.
I had to include this portrait of Buster Brown, a red heeler mix who helps out around the farm. We enjoyed hanging out for a bit with Buster and Earl, the farm manager. I’ve watched this dog grow up from a pup (he’s 3-years-old now), and he has become just the coolest little dog.
A day of fishing is best followed by more food and drink, preferably with a fire. We stayed at one of Rose River Farm’s luxury yurts, where we grilled burgers, enjoyed various seasonal beers, went through a generous supply of firewood and listened to some great music. The fishing was even better the next day, and Matt closed out his trip with a stellar morning of fishing. He’s back home now and I’ll be back at work in the morning. But time spent with friends always produces indelible memories. Plus, in addition to reheated Anitas breakfast burritos and the technique of tumbling flies indicatorless along the riverbed, Matt introduced me to something else I will now enjoy forever: the music of Mandolin Orange. I can’t stop listening to their new album, Blindfaller. It is an astounding, near flawless collection of lyrics, strings and voices. Just beautiful from start to finish.
It has been a great few days. I hope it’s the beginning of a fall with more time spent outdoors in the company of old friends, cool dogs and Mother Nature.
In January of 1983, the Washington Redskins met their rival Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium for the NFC Championship game. At stake was a trip to Super Bowl XVII and the biggest notch in the rivalry belt to date. Before kickoff, fans shook the stadium with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” Washington won the game, and went on to win the Super Bowl. The next decade saw quite a bit of success for both teams, as they sustained a generally high level of play. Skins fans my age refer to that ten year span starting with the 1982 season, the Glory Days.
Since then, Washington has seen a steady and sustained decline, winning the NFC East title just once since 1991 (1999). And while the rivalry with the Cowboys lived on, it surely lost its luster after years and years of seasons ranging from mediocre to flat out failures. But through it all, through countless personnel debacles, through dozens of quarterbacks, a revolving door of coaches and no real kicker since Mark Mosely, I remained a Redskins fan. And like all Redskins fans, there is hope in the off season. Whether we would mortgage the future to pay cash for a has-been, or let Vinnie Cerrato choose draft picks like he’s playing in a low stakes fantasy football league, there was always hope. The games, after all, had not yet been played. Who’s to say what can happen? Maybe Jim Zorn will be a great coach! Maybe Albert Haynesworth will work hard! Maybe picking two tight ends with your first two draft picks will sound smart come September!
This past off season brought more than the usual dose of optimism though, with the decision to secure the 2nd pick in the draft and use it to get Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. By all accounts he was the real deal, and our future was looking bright. This, everyone was saying, is a young man you can build a team around. An unexpected surprise later round draft pick running back Alfred Morris, and the addition of rookie kicker Kai Forbath had fans thinking the future was not only bright, but that maybe the future was actually here.
When this season’s schedule came out, before RG3 ever took his first snap in practice, I saw that last game of the year — a December 30th matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at home — and thought, how great would it be if that game actually meant something. And now, thanks to a gritty team effort that has put together six straight wins, our wish is coming true. It has all come down to this: When the Skins meet the Cowboys in Washington this Sunday, the winner will come away with the NFC East crown and a trip to the playoffs.
My wife Sandy commented earlier this season as some friends and I suffered over a particularly unjust and painful Redskins loss, “I don’t know how you do it. Why do you torture yourself like that?” It’s a fine question and not an easy one to answer. But for me it comes down to Moments. High highs are not attainable without the risk of low lows. You can spend decades not caring all that much about your team, and if they come through with a big moment at the right time you will cheer and be happy. Or you can sweat and curse and pull your hair out, you can ruin your mood from Monday to Wednesday most weeks in the fall and winter. But then when the Moment comes, you own a piece of it. You’re a part of it. There are moments like this one that I will never forget. John Riggins, my favorite player of all time, rumbling 43 yards on 4th and 1 to secure the Super Bowl win and his place in history as Super Bowl MVP. That was thirty years ago and I can’t think of a Redskins Moment since then that I enjoy as much.
I love RG3, he is my favorite player since Riggo. And he will produce breathtaking moments for this team hopefully for years to come. But for there to be a truly huge moment, there needs first to be a huge stage. Well now the stage is set. The NFL saw the enormity of it all and moved the game from 1:00 pm to prime time, 8:20 pm. I will be in the stands with tens of thousands of people who will all be hoarse on Monday. The stadium will rock with the chant, “We Want Dallas!” And if we come away with a win, it will be a moment that everyone there in that stadium, with frozen toes and fading voices, will be a part of. It will be a moment we will never forget.
I heard a story of a kicker, I actually think it was a Cowboys kicker, who was struggling and had missed a couple short ones in a game. The special teams coach said on a subsequent drive, “how do you feel?” He told the coach, to be honest, he didn’t feel very confident. The kicker was fired on the spot. A player has to want the ball when the pressure’s on. And as a Skins fan, you have to want to play the Cowboys in the last game for the NFC East title. Securing a wildcard spot two weeks ago would have been nice, yeah. But sometimes you have to push all your chips to the center of the table, embrace that feeling in the pit of your stomach and ignore the pounding in your chest. Someone will go home heartbroken Sunday night. I hope it’s the Cowboys. But if it’s us, I will remember that the Moments will happen for us, that things are turning around for us and we’ll have more and more chances like this, and that maybe the Glory Days aren’t just something old guys talk about at barbecues. Maybe, just maybe, these are our new Glory Days.
We Want DALLAS!!
I have been to some remarkable sporting events in my life. Every May for more than twenty years, chills run down my spine as the best racehorses in the world roar past me down the stretch at the Preakness, the middle jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. I have twice seen the best golfers in the world compete for the U.S. Open title. I sat courtside, first row, and watched Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. I have screamed myself hoarse at NHL and NBA playoff games. I sat in the upper, upper deck of RFK Stadium and watched the great Walter Payton almost single handedly knock my Redskins out of the playoffs in 1984, and more than two decades later with thousands of other fans I ran onto that very field after the very last Redskins game there, an epic trouncing of our rival Cowboys. And, just a few days ago, I went to the first postseason baseball game in Washington since 1933, shown above. But I’ll get back to that.
I freely admit that baseball is not my sport. I’m an NFL guy. But I’ve been to a few Nationals games here in DC and many Orioles games in Baltimore, first long ago at Memorial Stadium and then later at Camden Yards. There is a home run marker at Camden Yards, a Mickey Tettleton blast that landed right in front of me as I walked along Eutaw Street. Full beer in one hand, sausage in the other, I was powerless to think or move quickly enough to scramble for the ball, but I look for that plaque every time I’m there and smile. A connection forever to that place, to the game. But live baseball has always just been about the day, spending time with friends, being out at the park, drinking too much, eating too much and spending too much on souvenirs I don’t need. The game itself never really clicked with me. Part of that is because even though Baltimore is almost exactly equidistant to where we live than Washington is, I grew up just outside of DC, it’s my city to the extent that I have one. I am home in Washington, I am a visitor in Baltimore.
Even the Nationals games I’ve gone to, though, have lacked something. At Camden Yards I felt like I was in someone else’s city. And at Nationals Park I still felt like I was visiting someone else’s sport. But when Brian, my brother-in-law, called me the other night to see if I wanted to go with him to the game the next afternoon, I immediately told my boss I would not be making it to work.
The Nationals were never in that game, and lost 8-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals. But it was historic. And despite early signs the game would not go well, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Brian and his friends are huge Nats fans, and spending the day there with them I learned a lot about the game and this team. And the next day when I watched the players I had gotten to know and had grown fond of the previous day, I realized how vested I was in their success. I was nervous as the 1-1 tie went late in the game. Jayson Werth stood at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, quickly down two strikes after two pitches, but battled back to a full count. Then, on the 13th pitch, jacked a home run to left field to tie the series. I celebrated in my living room like I was in the bleachers.
The deciding game of that series was last night. The momentum of the previous game carried the Nationals to an early 6-0 lead. But St. Louis has been here before, St. Louis knows how to win the Big Games. And with a late, heartbreaking rally the Cardinals crushed the spirits of Nats fans and ended their magical season. Twice the home team was within a strike of advancing to play the Giants for a shot at the World Series, but it was not to be. I felt like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. And it wasn’t until I found myself wishing I didn’t care so much, that I realized I cared so much. Something about being at that game a few days earlier, surrounded by true baseball fans in that historic, electric atmosphere, sealed the deal for me. I think this postseason series has done more than make me really love the Nationals, it made me finally see what so many have always seen in the game of baseball.
Which, and I apologize for rambling on, brings me to one final point. I have two brothers-in-law. The other is named Fred and he is married to my sister. He, too, is responsible for shaping my life as it relates to sport. On a Sunday in April of 1986, the family was gathered at my Mother’s house. Fred, a golf professional at the time, was in the den watching golf, a sport I never played or thought anything about. He came into the kitchen, grabbed us a couple of beers and said, “Hey. Come watch this with me. Something really special is happening.” And there in the house I grew up in on Buchanan Street, I sat with my brother-in-law as he patiently explained the game, how tournaments worked, what ‘majors’ were and what it meant for Jack Nicklaus, at age 46 to shoot a 65 – including a back nine 30 – to win the Masters. That was the day I became a fan of golf. That was the day, even though I did not yet own golf clubs, I became a golfer.
So as the wind that got knocked out of me last night slowly builds back up in my lungs today, I fondly reflect on the glory and torture that is being a sports fan. Imagine the jubilation the fine folks of St. Louis are feeling today! That intense, uplifting high – and I’ve felt it before and I WILL feel it again – can only exist because of one reason: the lows are equally low. But sport isn’t life, and life goes on. As does the ageless mantra: We’ll get ’em next year.