Cinderella stories are great. Tales of an individual or, in the case of the 2007 Washington Redskins, a team overcoming adversity and long odds are uplifting and inspiring. The Skins' run to the playoffs is one that will resound forever in team lore.
That's all well and good, but there's one problem here. In the NFL, you don't want to be the girl at home mopping the floors while the evil stepsisters are off at the ball. You want to be the stepsisters in the story, the ones who are taking what they want. Or, better yet, you want to be the handsome prince in the palace, in a position of power and dictating what others are to do.
Instead, the Redskins have had to rely on their Fairy Godmother in two of the last three years in order to make their way into the NFL playoffs. The '05 and '07 seasons were remarkably similar in how they flowed. Both featured a hot start and a midseason swoon that featured some heartbreaking losses (Tampa Bay and San Diego two years ago, Philly and Dallas this year). In both cases, Joe Gibbs and company were able to turn pumpkins into coaches and rats into horses and were able to make it to the ball.
If Cinderella was around today, we might have a social worker examining the life choices that had her performing such menial tasks to eke out a bare existence. Evidently, she had some things going for her. Once she was cleaned up she was quite a looker and she had the charm to captivate a prince. So why was she mopping the floors to begin with? What paths taken or not taken led her to making a living with a mop and bucket?
The Redskins have a lot going for them. The business end of the team is a cash generating machine. That gives the team resources to spend on coaches, scouting, facilities, and signing bonuses. They have a good core of talent and, as we saw this year, some decent depth. The biggest stadium in the NFL should give them a huge home field advantage and would if the team would consistently give the 90,000+ who fill he place something to cheer about.
Despite all of this, for the past four years—actually for most of the last 16 years—the Redskins have found themselves in late November with the mop in their hands, wishing wistfully that they could be mingling with royalty. Two of the past three years they have made it to the palace only to find themselves ejected and sent back to working the mop well before midnight.
Like the social worker who might look at Cinderella's life choices, what the Redskins need to do to be in charge of the palace is study the choices they have made that have left them with a losing record in late November every year. What led them to think that committing large chunks of cap money to Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd was a good idea? Were the issues that led to blowing numerous halftime leads more related to play calling or to execution? When the issues are identified, how do they go about fixing them? Can the offense be truly effective with all of its receivers standing under six feet or do they need a big body in the mix? What needs to be done to ensure better choices regarding in-game management such as using timeouts? Has the choice not to employ a general manager served the team well? And, even if the answer to that last question is "yes", considering that Gibbs likely has a maximum of three years left as coach, will the present structure be effective going into the future?
If the Redskins are to live up to the expectations that followed the hiring of Joe Gibbs, expectations that are reasonable for a team with the Skins' resources and tradition, they can't continue to be Cinderella. They need to make the choices that will lead to someone else trying on the slipper while they hold the keys to the palace and watch from on high.