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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

OPINION:

The Washington Commanders have so many “Ghosts of Christmas Past” investigating the franchise that they could haunt a house the size of Skipper Dan Snyder’s mansion.

As of press time (note the possibility of a Friday news dump of the results of one of these investigations), there are seven different probes into Skipper Dan the Sailing Man and his football team — the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the Federal Trade Commission, the Virginia attorney general, the D.C. attorney general, the NFL (which has two going on, the Mary Jo White probe into the Tiffani Johnston sexual allegations and the questions surrounding fired head trainer Ryan Vermillion’s drugstore) and the NFLPA, also reportedly looking into possible wrongdoing stemming from the Vermillion scandal. And let me add a possible eighth inquiry by the Maryland attorney general.


That’s nearly enough for a Dick Wolf “Law and Order: Washington Commanders” series.

The ninth investigation starts Sunday at Ghost Town Field — the examination of this team’s ability to compete and win, which at least a segment of the remaining Commanders fan focus group likely cares about the most.

In the ways that the NFL does business, this one — the opening game against the Jacksonville Jaguars — may mean the most. After all, ultimately, it is what happens on the field that runs roughshod over everything else. It is the football that eventually blocks out all the other noise.

Teams don’t usually face the intensity of the kind of noise that surrounds these Commanders. It may take a lot of football to drown out the sometimes-deafening uproar that overwhelms this football team.

The “aura of self-destruction” has never been more damaging.

Coach Ron Rivera, who walks around with a box of Handi Wipes to tell everyone that his hands are clean of the infection (who is this Ryan Vermillion person you speak of?), now has the opportunity to have his team judged by his standards — on the field.

A win over the Jaguars — a train wreck last season under one-and-done coach Urban Meyer — will be the first piece of evidence he can produce to make his case.

“The important thing is, it’s football,” Rivera told reporters at the start of training camp. “I’m here to be judged on that, OK? The judgment starts with winning and losing.”

To date the judgment on the field hasn’t been good in Rivera’s first two seasons in Washington — a two-year record of 14-19 and one accidental NFC East division title.

But that’s forgotten history, teams that we don’t speak of anymore — the Redskins and their nameless offspring, the Washington Football Club.

No, this is the new era of the Commanders. You remember? The new name the team unveiled right here at Ghost Town Field on that infamous Feb. 2, with all the fanfare of opening a new 7-Eleven?

And the Commanders finally have a quarterback.

“We finally have ourselves a quarterback,” Skipper Dan told the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission last month while gaining approval for a sports book at Ghost Town Field.

Rivera echoed the same comments earlier this week while meeting with reporters. “Well, I think we have a quarterback,” he said.

The problem is the quarterback they got — the one who will be representing Rivera on the field — has been disbarred in his two previous stops in Philadelphia and Indianapolis.

They are still using Carson Wentz’s name in vain in Indianapolis without even speaking it.

“His presence settles everybody,” Colts coach Frank Reich said of their new quarterback, former Atlanta Falcons passer Matt Ryan, according to The Athletic. “Listen, every guy is focused, every guy is all business, but Matt is just at another level. He’s out here to work.”

“It’s night and day compared to last year,” one offensive player told The Athletic.

“Last year, we were out there, running the plays, but we were basically just playing football,” wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “I mean, we would just run around and make plays … this year we’re trying to be organized, be at our spots and at our depths, because that’s how Matt likes it and how he commands it and what he expects. So you better be there.”

Ouch.

Presence, command, being organized and next-level focus are what Rivera is hoping for from Wentz. 

“He is very hard on himself,” Rivera said last month, speaking about what he has seen from Wentz so far that has surprised him. “He pushes himself and you can see it. In meetings you can see it. This is a young man who is very serious about his craft. I think he is a guy that is driven.”

Sounds like that would also be surprising to his former coaches and teammates in Indianapolis.

Wentz will have a chance to begin changing the narrative of his career — and perhaps offer a small one-day reprieve from the turmoil swallowing up this organization — with an opening game win Sunday against an opponent he should be very familiar with.

It was the Jaguars who eliminated Wentz and the Colts from the playoffs last year. Wentz was 17-29 for 185 yards, one touchdown, six sacks, one fumble and one interception against a team that had only won two games previously that season.

They are led by a new coach this year, one that Wentz should also be familiar with — Doug Pederson, his former coach in Philadelphia.

A loss would mean the investigation into football — the one Rivera wants to be judged on — is going very badly for the Washington Commanders, almost as badly as having former team president and now bitter enemy Bruce Allen testify for 10 hours Friday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about the business of Skipper Dan the Sailing Man.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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