Goodbye, Dear Old Friend


In early summer, 1991, your unworthy servant sat in a crowded classroom, in the 1300 block of H Street, Northwest, Washington.

Everyone undertaking to obtain a District-of-Columbia taxicab driver’s license had to sit through such a class.

Twenty Pakistanis and a handful of Ugandans surrounded me. A black American, a native Washingtonian like myself, was sharing with us his insights from decades of experience as a Washington cabbie.

“You want to talk up your fare a little, to see if they want to chat or not. No politics. Too controversial. Could lead to an argument, then you lose your tip.

“What’s the best subject to bring up? The least controversial?”

An eager Pakistani raised his hand, “The weather?”

“No. That’s too controversial, too. Some like it when it’s hot. Others prefer the winter. No. The one thing you can always bring up, to see if they want to start a conversation is… the Redskins.”

The word Redskins stirs some of my earliest memories.  The sound of my father saying the word rests in the part of my mind where I first learned the distinctive intonations of his voice.

The sound of of him saying words like “Mark,” “bedtime,” “dinner,” “ice cream,” “your little brother,” “mom,” and “Redskins”–all those sounds linger in the dreamy realm of my mind, with all the earliest sensory impressions. My father said those words over and over and over again, while I was learning how to use my ears.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, Washington, D.C., was a city of black and white. Mostly black, some white. We had the Redskins in common.

We all loved both Joe Theismann and Art Monk; we all rooted equally for Doug Williams and Mark Moseley. In case you don’t know: white, black, black, and white, respectively, those players.

We had race problems in our city, serious ones. But the Redskins allayed them, soothed them. We had political problems, big time. The Redskins eclipsed them.

(Not to be overly rosy about this: My parents had marital problems, and the Redskins certainly exacerbated those. They weren’t alone in that, among Washington couples.)

Capitol Cab

In those days, the Redskins managed to win games with some regularity. They went to Superbowls, and even won them.

So this is not an exaggeration: In Washington, D.C., in the 1970’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, the word Redskins was the #1 touchstone for bringing people together in casual communication. Number one. The word Redskins had unrivaled preeminence as the common coin of our little realm, when it came to friendly exchanges and relationship building.

And now we must say goodbye to that precious old heirloom. Why bother pointing out facts like: In its original nineteenth-century usage, Redskin did not have a pejorative connotation. To demean a native American, you used the word Injun. Redskin referred to an enemy, to be sure. But a formidable, brave, and crafty enemy.

Or: To this day, the majority of native Americans polled on this question take no offense at the name.

No point bringing any of that up. I’m not arguing here. The argument, apparently, is over.

This is a eulogy. For one of the oldest, dearest friends my family has had, and many families like ours. A eulogy for a friend that the whole city had, back in far-happier Redskins days. Under the previous owner.

Those of us who remember those days: we have kept hoping for their return. Even through the painful two decades we have recently suffered. We hoped for good Redskins seasons, someday. And we held onto that hope for good reason.

To have known the sweet familiarity of the word Redskins then, exchanged by people of different races, from back seat to front seat, in a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice Classic, serving comfortably as a DC cab; to have known the word as the touchstone of friendliness it was: that has meant never giving up hope that the Redskins could get good again. That the Redskins could cheer us up again. Bring us together again.

It hurts an awful lot to have to give up that hope now. Goodbye, Redskins. Farewell, old friend. We aging Washingtonians will never meet your like again.

6 thoughts on “Goodbye, Dear Old Friend

  1. Doesn’t make any sense to me… but what does in today’s world?
    White-washed, and sanitized is what everyone wants these days… oh wait, is “white-washed” pejorative now?

  2. It is a sad state of affairs. I pray for peace and the lives being lost over these horrid events.
    especially the innocent children.
    I would not want to be raising children at this time with everything closed and brains lost to hopelessness. the Lord needs to be called on more seriously in prayer for unity.

  3. Ah, now I understand my childhood much better. I was born in Dallas, TX, and we moved to the DC Maryland suburbs in 1975. You can never take the Texas outta someone. I guess while I would anger those around me with my Cowboys fanship, I also gave many Redskins fans the opportunity to come together to dogpile me. It was a tough job, but I was up for it! Thanks for beinging back some of the better memories of growing up in the area, and reminding me of the NFL that I haven’t watched in 25 years but still sorely miss…

  4. More fuel to add to the raging dumpster fire that is 2020. It’s been years since I’ve been able to suffer through a full Redskin game, but I also grew up with them in Arlington VA. Their first Super Bowl win in 83 during my freshmen year at Tech is a cherished memory. At least now I won’t feel quite as much a fair weather fan when I cease to care whether they win or lose. I just wonder when I’ll be sent to the re-education facility to get rid of my pronounced “southern” drawl….?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s