On Friday the Washington Redskins hosted their annual lunch welcoming past players to meet and interact with the current team and fans.
The event feels like a pep rally, and it’s fun. A current player sits at every table, and I was lucky enough to sit and talk with Adam Carriker for the better part of an hour. Carriker is a hulk of a dude, but down to earth and smart. I enjoyed our conversation.
Little news emerges from events like this; it’s more goodwill and a chance for the players to receive honors from the previous season. It’s telling just how much the Redskins struggled in 2011 that the Offensive Player of the Year just happened to be a player who was suspended the last four games of the year for a failed drug test.
Yes, Fred Davis was the best offensive player the Skins had last season. Even with the pot suspension (and the legal messes). Davis spoke upon receiving the award and seemed to express genuine regret. We all make mistakes, and for Davis, this year is his chance to respond.
Certainly the most interesting nugget I picked up during the festivities came from a conversation with Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff. As most know, Huff is part of the radio broadcast for all Redskins games and is a longtime fan favorite.
Over the past few years, many have said Huff’s work has slipped in the radio booth. At times he has been incorrect on player names, penalty calls, and a host of other gaffes. Under the harsh scrutiny of anonymous Internet social network sites, backlash against Huff has at times been severe.
ESPN980—the flagship Redskins radio station owned by team owner Dan Snyder—announced it will cut back Huff’s work on the games this year. Instead of announcing all 16 regular season games like he’s has done for more than 20 years, he won’t make most road trips and will only call 10 games. When the news broke of Huff's reduced workload in July, ESPN980 said via its Facebook page that the change was "due to the rigors of travel."*
Huff is not happy about it.
He spoke candidly about his demotion. He said he doesn’t understand why his work is being reduced and questioned if his honest critiques no longer play well on the radio. He even gestured toward Snyder, who sat just a few seats down from Huff on the dais, as the man with the answers for his demotion.
True to form, Sam joked that perhaps the other teams no longer want him in their stadiums because he used to “knock the stuff out of their players.” Only he didn’t say stuff.
What Huff said wasn’t new, and it seems fairly obvious that an accomplished football player like him wouldn’t take kindly to a demotion. The nod to Snyder surprised me, and a bit later I noticed something even odder.
Huff presented current Redskin linebacker London Fletcher with the award for 2011 Defensive Player of the Year. Before he presented the award to the very-deserving Fletcher, he said a few words about what a great player Fletcher is and talked briefly about some other former players.
Throughout his comments, Snyder noticeably did not look at Huff as he addressed the crowd. It may have been nothing; maybe the team owner had something in his eye or simply was looking for a familiar face in the crowd. But for every other speaker, Snyder watched and looked to be listening intently. As Huff spoke, that did not seem to be the case. It struck me as weird.
The team also honored Lorenzo Alexander for his tremendous work on special teams and Darrel Young for his volunteer work with the military. All the players who spoke seemed humble and excited for the coming season.
As part of the 80th anniversary of the team, ten more people joined the Redskins list of all-time greats, including recently retired Clinton Portis, 106.7 WJFK radio personality (and former ’Skins player) LaVar Arrington, and former defensive coordinator and player Richie Petitbon. I didn’t realize Petitbon participated in every Super Bowl the Redskins team has ever been a part of; one as a player and four as a coach. The room went silent when highlights ran for the late Sean Taylor. It is still sad years later to be reminded of Taylor’s potential that was senselessly taken away.
The lunch was good too; a salad followed by a plate of tender pot roast and salmon. I doubt highly publicized rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III got to eat a bite, though. Practically as soon as RG3 entered the room a line for autographs formed, and though he may have left hungry, it seemed like he happily obliged the fans.
All in all, it was a good day to be a Redskin fan. Unless you’re Sam Huff.
*This post has been updated from a previous version to include a link to ESPN980's July statement.
JP Finlay is a lifelong fan of Washington sports. Some of his fondest memories are of RFK Stadium and Redskins Super Bowl parades. Likes: hot dogs, Arrested Development, the beach. Dislikes: Duke, onions, The Big Bang Theory. Find him on Twitter @jpfinlay.