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STEVE DeSHAZO: Redskins’ veterans get their moment

LANDOVER, Md.—It’s easy to fixate on the precocious youngsters who are largely responsible for the Washington Redskins’ first NFC East championship in a baker’s dozen years.

The anointed one, Robert Griffin III, was 9 years old when the Redskins last ruled their division. So was rookie cornerback Richard Crawford, who added a key interception in Sunday night’s 28–18 victory over Dallas to his pivotal punt return against Baltimore in early December.

Alfred Morris was 11 in 1999, but he looked like a full-grown man Sunday night on his way to 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

So when Griffin opined that “the sky’s the limit for this team, not only this year, but in the future,” it’s hard not to believe him.

But those youngsters, along with second-year pros Ryan Kerrigan, Leonard Hankerson and Evan Royster, can’t possibly appreciate the significance of Washington’s improbable season-closing seven-game run as much as some of the grayer beards in the locker room.

To fully enjoy success, you need to have tasted failure. And the Redskins’ veterans have majored in medocrity.

That’s why defensive tackle Kedric Golston, a seventh-year pro, reveled in a private word with owner Daniel Snyder after Sunday’s night’s cathartic game.

“[Snyder] said. ‘You’ve known how it’s felt around here the last seven years.’ So this is a sweet time,” Golston said. “I’ve been here for the 4–12 [in 2009], the bad times, almost being the joke of the NFL. Some of these guys don’t know what it feels like.”

If Golston has his way, they never will. Sure, Washington still has deficiencies, like every NFL team. But there are dynamic young playmakers like the incandescent Griffin and the hard-running Morris, who has run for more yards in a season (1,613) than any Redskin in history.

They’re the team’s new leaders. But a general is only as good as his troops, and the Redskins wouldn’t be where they are without a cadre of veterans who were willing to swallow their pride to help change a losing culture.

“I just want to dance,” said 12th-year receiver Santana Moss. “I’m just happy. You put so much into this, and to finally get here feels great.”

Moss caught a lot of passes for some bad Redskins teams. And when coach Mike Shanahan signed younger free agents Pierre Garçon and Joshua Morgan, Moss lost the starting spot he’d held since arriving in a 2005 trade.

Rather than pouting, he has thrived as a slot receiver, catching more touchdown passes (eight) in limited action than in any season since ’05 and creating a special bond with Griffin.

“It’s sweet,” Moss said. “This feeling is something I’ve experienced before [with the New York Jets in 2002], but not with this team. It’s been so many years of hard work.”

Even those whose on-field roles are negligible swelled with pride. Chris Cooley nearly broke down in the locker room.

No Redskins tight end has caught more passes than Cooley, but he was cut in August and brought back only after Fred Davis tore an Achilles tendon. He almost certainly won’t be on the 2013 team. He has one reception all year—and one division title cap. And the fans still cheer his every move.

“It feels unbelievable, the way this year has gone for me,” Cooley said. “To come back and be part of the only team I ever wanted to be part of, it’s special. Everyone in here is emotional, and they all deserved what happened.”

Some more than others. Griffin and Morris may well be part of a renaissance in the nation’s capital, restoring both the Redskins’ reputation and their coach’s.

But for many Redskins, this could be their one shot at glory.

“There are six or seven of us who have been here since ’06 or ’07,” Pro Bowl special-teamer Lorenzo Alexander said. “We’ve been through 4–12, 8–8, 5–11, and we really underachieved some years. But now they’ve brought in the talent to turn it around. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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