“It’s bizarre,” Justin Harvey said Thursday night, and I can think of no better word.
Everything about this saga — Scot McCloughan’s arrival in Washington as a perceived savior, the Redskins’ two seasons of apparent organizational competence that overlapped with his time here, his strange departure, his continued adoration by fans, his decision to sell some of his local keepsakes as a sort of goof, the passion those sales sparked, the $2,000 his keepsakes raised for charity, and the way he welcomed a disillusioned die-hard fan such as Harvey into his home this week for 90 minutes of talk about the Redskins and football and optimism — seems a bit, well, …
“It’s bizarre,” Harvey said again, referring to his decision to pay $1,000 for two autographed McCloughan hats, and the night he had just spent with the former general manager, and the way that ex-GM had unexpectedly flipped his feelings toward his favorite team. “But it was worth it, man. That’s all I can say. It was definitely worth it.”
Harvey, a 29-year-old lifelong fan, reached his breaking point somewhere during this spring’s McCloughan denouement, which seemed to signal something amiss in the team’s front office. The scales fell from Harvey’s eyes, and he realized he was ready to give up on the Redskins. Not on the players, maybe, but on the team, and its public image, and its way of doing business. So if he would no longer be buying tickets, and would no longer be buying merchandise, he figured he could go out with a bang: by bidding on the autographed hats Redskins hats McCloughan and his wife had put on eBay.
The hats, as you no doubt recall, wound up on eBay because McCloughan’s wife, Jessica, had seen how much fans loved some of her husband’s signature items. She thought they could be his parting gifts to some of his D.C. die-hards, a way “to leave a little something behind for the loyal fans.”
“The fans were incredible, they were,” McCloughan said on 106.7 The Fan, when he broke his weeks of silence to promote this strangest of auctions. “And I respect that, and I’ll never forget it.
Scot thought someone might pay $2 for one of his signed hats. Jessica dreamed of a $100 closing price. It soon became clear they had far underestimated the market for the signed headgear of a former front-office man. Enter Harvey, who was involved in the bidding on both hats, at the same time that he had decided to retreat from his fandom.
“Essentially I had to take a step back and no longer follow the Redskins based on blind faith,” he told me. “I just felt like it was in my best interest to take a step back from that organization and really just support Scot McCloughan. So I essentially disowned the Redskins and became a Scot McCloughan fan.”
That’s why he stuck with the auctions even as the price tags skyrocketed. If he wasn’t going to need the latest jersey and he wasn’t going to shell out hundreds of bucks for future tickets, he could pay top dollar for some hats, put them in a fancy display case, and help a charitable cause along the way.
“This was a last chance, really, to purchase a piece of Redskins lore that I care about,” he said. “I guess I just got caught up in it, and next thing I knew I got two hats for a thousand bucks.”
Meanwhile, with the hat market popping, the McCloughans went further: They auctioned off McCloughan’s trademark light-colored suit jacket, the one he often wore to big games, the one Mike Nolan had gotten him from a Nordstrom in the Bay Area back in his 49ers days. The proceeds from the autographed camo hat would go to the Redskins Charitable Foundation, and the proceeds from the tan suit jacket would go to Northern Virginia Family Services, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable families and individuals move toward stability and self-sufficiency. The jacket was, well, let’s call it distinctive.
“My wife would give me crud, the players would give me crud — you can’t wear that [jacket], it’s like mustard,” McCloughan told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, during that radio interview. “And I’m like no, it’s tan.”
Chris Matters, a 40-year-old lifelong Redskins fan and active duty Navy reservist living in Norfolk, was listening to that interview. He heard how the money was going to charity. He heard the way McCloughan praised the fan base. He’s experienced some of the same emotions Harvey has been feeling: how the last 20 or 25 years have been mostly chaos, and how jealous he’s felt toward friends who root for normal teams, and how this era seemed different, and how then it seemed the same again.
“We had a couple good years where there seemed to be stability, and it all just fell apart,” Matters said. “We’re the Redskins on the field, but we’re the Cleveland Browns off the field.”
Matters owns a nice collection of Skins memorabilia: signed jerseys, signed footballs, a hat his brother found in a Goodwill that was autographed by Mark Moseley and Ken Harvey. Now here was a one-of-a-kind item for sale, one that would possibly never be replicated, unless the team hired another beloved out-of-town GM who stayed here for a brief time and then left while auctioning off part of his wardrobe. Not very likely, right? Matters is a strapping 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, so he won’t fit into McCloughan’s mustard jacket, but that’s not important.
“Again, I’m a fan — just like [Daniel] Snyder, where he’s got his little watch or whatever. He’s a guy who grew up and did very well for himself and he can afford to buy the damn team,” Matters said. “So I’ll keep [the jacket] and it’ll be a piece of the Redskins I have. And maybe 20 years from now something great will happen with our franchise and I can say, oh, there was this time. … ”
(He also plans on lending the jacket to 106.7 The Fan, so that producer Tom Daly can wear it during the summer.)
Now here’s the thing about this crazy episode. Famous people come to the Redskins and leave with their legacies in tatters: Steve Spurrier and Mike Shanahan, Robert Griffin III and Donovan McNabb, Jim Zorn and Marvin Lewis. McCloughan is an exception. This whole strange incident has come and gone, and fans here seem to love him as much as they did when he arrived.
His two years are just a hiccup in this franchise’s history, and who knows what happens next. Maybe everything really will continue on in the same positive direction, or maybe the team will regress. Maybe his legacy will actually improve after he leaves, or maybe he’ll be seen as extraneous. Either way, we all experienced these two years of hope together, along with all the other Redskins nuttiness of the past two decades. A suit jacket and two hats are just a few tangible specks left behind from those years, and those memories have now been entrusted to Justin Harvey and Chris Matters.
The McCloughans are moving to Colorado at the end of this month. So before they leave, they invited Harvey and Matters to come over and collect their stuff. Matters — whose wife “thinks I’m a complete idiot” — is driving up from Norfolk on Saturday, and he can’t wait.
“He’s a great football mind,” he said of McCloughan. “I may ask him some advice, some good rookies to look at for fantasy football, some rookies who might do well this year, player movement around the league, stuff like that.”
Harvey already made his visit. Before he hung out with McCloughan on Thursday night, he was ready to give up on his favorite team. But the 90 minutes changed him. McCloughan praised the franchise. He praised the owner. (“It’s obvious that he wants to win,” Harvey said after the session.) McCloughan convinced Harvey that it’s okay for him to still cheer for the Redskins, and that there are reasons for hope. They took photos together, and their wives hit it off, and Harvey thinks the couples will see each other again.
“It was a dream come true,” Harvey said. “And just talking ball with him, it was just surreal. That was worth every frickin’ penny, are you kidding me? Worth every penny.”
So, bizarre is one way to describe all this. Matters offered another.
“I mean, we’re such a show,” he said of the Redskins — all of it, all of us. “And it has nothing to do with the football.”