In the summer, the name “Washington Football Team” was a placeholder. An insult. Now, it’s an identity.
There may one day be a 30-for-30 film about this team. The team that won with no name. Amidst ownership drama and quarterback issues and individual struggles, weighed down by 20 years of dysfunction and playoff irrelevance, the Washington Football Team persevered, defied expectations, and won the NFC East title.
The division win is surprising regardless, but one more factor makes it even more surprising. It’s the fact that the Washington Football Team wasn’t supposed to have an identity.
In the past, it’s been assumed that identity comes from a name. And when Washington lost its deep-rooted identity in the summer — an identity as one of the NFL’s most storied franchises — it was almost as if it lost a part of its foundation.
What made matters worse was that the name change compounded an offseason of turmoil and uncertainty. The team was overshadowed by continuous reports of Dan Snyder’s alleged misconduct. There was a haze surrounding the future at the quarterback position. And, of course, there was the imbued skepticism that comes with any new coaching hire, after years and years of empty trial and error.
Through those years, they at least had a name. They could have had one this year, too. Fans clamored for mascots like the Redwolves, Redtails, Warriors, and others. But in the end, Washington chose to keep it simple. The Football Team.
It was a mere placeholder, to allow the team time to go through a proper rebranding process. But at the time, it almost felt like a punchline. A continuation of the franchise’s fundamental erosion. Already reduced to an laughingstock by a 3-13 season in 2019, the Washington Football Team was now an afterthought. An afterthought at first with no owner, no coach, no quarterback, and now no name.
At first, things didn’t change. The Washington Football Team began to claim the reputation bestowed upon it. The team went 1-5 in its first six weeks. Presumed franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins was benched amidst whispers that he’d lost the locker room. And coach Rivera himself, to make matters worse, had been diagnosed with cancer.
Things began to build. Problems stacked onto one another, one by one, each one increasing the pressure like the gravity of an imploding star. On the surface, the team with no name stood no chance against it.
But as it turns out, the Washington Football Team may have found a name — by not searching for one.
The Washington Football Team beat the Cowboys 25-3 in Week 7. They lost two more games and lost quarterback Kyle Allen for the season, but even at 2-7, that didn’t stop them. They beat the Bengals 20-9. They beat the Cowboys 41-16 on Thanksgiving. Ron Rivera beat cancer. Alex Smith came back from a career-ending injury.
They beat the undefeated Steelers under the Monday evening lights. They beat the 49ers 23-15. And in Week 17, to win the NFC East, they completed their sweep of the Philadelphia Eagles, emerging victorious by a score of 20-14.
Even when the season was at its bleakest, Ron Rivera didn’t give up on his team with no name. His persistent midseason speeches — about how the Washington Football Team could still compete for the division — drew ire from onlookers who only saw failure and dysfunction, a continuity of what’s been.
But they were wrong about one thing. This is no continuation. This is a different Washington franchise.
In spite of all the drama and distractions, all the personal trials and tribulations, and all of the losses, explicit and obscure, the Washington Football Team pushed on, and ended up winning the division, distinguishing itself as the best football franchise in the NFC East.
It was wholly and indiscriminately unexpected. An unfathomable result five months ago. But looking back, maybe it shouldn’t have been. This is the Football Team, after all. The only one of its kind.
In the middle of the 2020 offseason, the name “Washington Football Team” was another insult, for a team that lost its identity at the turn of the century. But now, it’s a point of pride. Downtrodden by countless obstacles on and off the field, the Washington Football Team, for once, remained silent — and just played football.
And in doing so, it did so much more.
Five months ago, the “Washington Football Team” was no name at all. But over the course of the 2020 regular season, it’s developed into an identity, and it may just be here to stay. Names are nice. Names are expected. But an identity is the only thing that counts.
And by first finding its identity, the Washington Football Team has now found its name.