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Performance Anxiety

To quote my late great Aunt Leo…

Bless our little hearts.

Redskins fans worry. We worry a lot. We worry about disastrous drafts. We worry our front office will throw away draft picks on washed up former stars. We worry about injuries to key players. We worry we’ll give away the next Tom Brady or David Akers before we even know we’ve got a future star on the roster. We worry about the 3-4, and the 4-3, special teams, and the offense. We worry about which one of our two average QBs should start. We even worry about whether our owner is a nice guy or not.

But nothing, and I mean nothing sets us to worrying like winning a season opener. We’re so used to worrying, our biggest worry is that we can’t trust our own eyes and ears.

How can we?

Every human sense available to us told us we looked like a decent team out there on the Fed Ex Field turf last Sunday. We moved the ball when we needed to on offense. We made defensive stops and forced turnovers when it was critical. Our special teams took points off the opponent’s board. And we out-hustled, out-adjusted, and simply out-played an opponent who’d been taking our lunch money for years.

'We’re not supposed to be good this year.’
'The Giants are riddled with injuries.’
'It’s just one game.’

Our angst-filled inner voices whispered this and much more.

There’s a certain solace in expecting the worst. NFL fans and the players they cheer on both fall prey to its lure. To dream of great things is to risk everything. To embrace skepticism and 'realistic’ expectations is reassuring and safe – most times, one won’t be disappointed. None of us wants to be Billy Mumfrey, whose cockeyed optimism lead to his downfall.

Still, my eyes and ears urge me to take a risk, to start believing. This is a different team, literally, and more importantly, figuratively. There’s an echoing refrain rising from the 2011 Redskins locker room.

Anthony Armstrong described it this way after the opening day win. “There’s an attitude in this locker room, something is happening with this team that I can’t really explain, but it’s something special and it’s showing up on the field.’ Jabar Gaffney said “I love this team right now. There’s something special in this locker room. Every guy in the locker room believes that we can win and we’re going to try to go out and do that each and every week.” Santana Moss put it this way. “We have a different kind of swagger in here. Everybody is confident in here, everybody in here is about the team. We don’t have any selfish guys and that’s what it’s about. We’re going to help each other win.” “I’ve been saying it since day one that it’s a new team. It’s only game one, but it’s a new team, new characters and win, lose or draw you are going to see a different attitude out there on this team” says Brian Orakpo.

When players take the first tentative steps towards the edge, close their eyes, and leap into the abyss of 'hope’, how can we as fans not follow?

Maybe we need to see more. See that improbable performance against the Giants repeated. Experience the sights and sounds of something resembling success and good football over and over again to rewire our neural paths and synapses. Perhaps only time and consistent experience can replace our Pavlovian expectation of doom at the sound of the bell with something more promising.

The first tiny seeds of belief have been planted. The Redskins looked, not just competent, but good in the pre-season. They vanquished a hated and previously dominant NFC East foe last Sunday, and did it in convincing style. We remain unconvinced. This weekend’s home matchup against the Cardinals provides the next opportunity for Redskins fans to get religion. You’ve heard of Baptism under fire?

Come on in boys, the water is fine.

Just remember – it’s only one game, and we can’t possibly be good this year.
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