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The Porkbarrel Bowl

1:28 PM, Sep 15, 2011 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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We may be witnessing a perfect Washington moment. For most of the workweek, attention has been focused on the collapse of a solar energy company that had received economically dubious–and politically motivated–subsidies of some $500 million. On Sunday, the city’s football franchise, the Redskins, will play a game the organization is calling the “Solar Bowl.” This, it seems, is being done to celebrate the installation of some 8,000 solar panels at FedEx Field, the facility where the team plays its home games. The stadium is in Maryland, but never mind. We all know that the behemoth does not recognize the old federal/state limits. 

Anyway … the stadium is going solar. Well, 20 percent, on game days. The rest of the time, when nobody is playing, the new solar system will handle all the stadium’s needs. No mention of the cost in the press release I read but, as we all know from the Solyndra story, nobody in Washington cares about that stuff. The real concern is green jobs, investing in the future, stimulating the economy, and big think stuff like that. 

The Redskins are the perfect franchise for such a promotion. No other NFL operation has demonstrated this organization’s flair for spending lavishly on highly touted properties that never delivered. The Redskins have thrown money at over-the-hill stars like Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders whose best days were behind them. At players, like Albert Haynesworth, who still had talent but were disgruntled and basically refused to play.  And at players, like Jeff George, who had undeniable potential but lacked that essential, unquantifiable thing that it takes to win. George replaced a quarterback, Brad Johnson, who had led the team to its only division championship in the last 20 years and went on to win a Super Bowl with another team. George, meanwhile, never won anything. But, man, did he have potential.

The Skins have shown the same kind of touch with coaches. They could take a Steve Spurrier who was then the most successful coach at the college level and turn him into a loser. They could also take a coaching legend, Joe Gibbs, who had won big (to include three Super Bowls) in a previous run with the Redskins and turn him into a mediocrity.  And, they could pluck someone like Jim Zorn from obscurity and turn him into a laughingstock. Redskins owner Dan Snyder became so frustrated with Zorn, at one point, that he relieved him of play calling duties and gave that part of the job to someone who was out of football and calling bingo numbers at a senior center. Snyder hoped, plainly, to embarrass Zorn into quitting, thus leaving contract money on the table. So, of course, Zorn didn’t quit, and the team lost both money and face.

The Redskins, to be fair, won last week, beating the Giants with a second year coach and a retread quarterback. Their coach, Mike Shanahan, won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos but, then, John Elway was his quarterback. The Redskins started Rex Grossman last week and he had a very good day. Grossman was quarterback for the Chicago Bears the last time they went to the Super Bowl. But he is no John Elway. 

Still, the season is young and anything is possible. The Redskins could make the playoffs. They could go to the Super Bowl. They could even win it. But their track record doesn’t inspire confidence any more than the government’s history of subsidizing politically connected enterprises leads one to believe that it will deliver us to a land where the jobs are green the energy is clean. And Washington picks only winners.

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