DISCLAIMER: In the spirit of the election season, the following is intended as a light-hearted look at Washington Redskins history in context with Presidential history. By no means is it intended to try and sway your vote in the upcoming Presidential Election – we all get enough phone calls every day that try and accomplish that. Indeed, Fanspeak.com offers no endorsement of either Presidential candidate. If anything, this piece merely serves as a diversion from the incessant barrage of radio and TV ads, news segments and talk show discussions about the Presidential race.
In watching the Presidential debates and following the news coverage this election season, one pressing issue has yet to be addressed by either President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney. While we have heard in great detail their plans for running the country or acting as Commander and Chief, we have yet to hear their plans for fixing the Washington Redskins in the next four years.
Now one might just consider this to be a local issue, and not meant for the national stage, but the NFL is the most profitable United States sport and the success or failure of the Washington Redskins, matters more than just to the fans living in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC. When the Washington Redskins are successful, it negatively impacts the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles.
What impact can the President of the United States possibly have on an NFL franchise (even one in his backyard)? Well the answer might surprise you, because since moving to Washington for the 1937 season (which coincides nicely with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 2ndterm), the overall success and failure of the Washington Redskins has been along party lines.
Before getting into this analysis, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. All of this data is from Pro Football Reference. Records from the franchise’s time in Boston are not included.
Although we think of Presidency’s from the year they were elected, their time in office starts in January of the following year. So for instance, while President Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election, the 1977 season was the first one to be played while he was actually serving as the President. Presidents get credit for just the seasons that they were sitting in the Oval Office while the season takes place. For instance, President Richard Nixon resigned in early August, 1974, meaning Gerald Ford was president during the 1974 season. (Note: President Kennedy gets credit for the entire 1963 season, despite being tragically killed during the year.)
Finally, I counted a tie as .5 a win and .5 a loss as is the standard in the NFL today. It was different up until 1972, when ties were ignored. Instead, I went with the current standard (and widely considered better model) to normalize the data. Now let’s get to the data:
|PRESIDENT:||TERM:||RECORD/WINNING PERCENTAGE:||PLAYOFF RECORD:||CHAMPIONSHIPS/SUPERBOWL RECORD:|
|President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (DEMOCRAT)||1937-1944||59-22-5 / .715||3-2(4 YEARS)||2(PRE SUPERBOWL ERA)|
|President Harry Truman (DEMOCRAT)||1945-1952||40-51-2 / .440||0-1(1 YEAR)||0|
|President Dwight Eisenhower (REPUBLICAN)||1953-1960||36-55-5/ .401||0||0|
|President John F. Kennedy (DEMOCRAT)||1961-1963||9-30-3 / .250||0||0|
|President Lyndon B. Johnson(DEMOCRAT)||1964-1968||29-38-3/ .436||0||0|
|President Richard Nixon (REPUBLICAN)||1969-1973||43-24-3/ .636||2-3(3 YEARS)||0-1|
|President Gerald Ford (REPUBLICAN)||1974-1976||28-14 / .667||0-2(2 YEARS)||0|
|President Jimmy Carter (DEMOCRAT)||1977-1980||33-29 / .532||0||0|
|President Ronald Reagan (REPUBLICAN)||1981-1988||81-39 / .675||11-3(5 YEARS)||2-1|
|President George H.W. Bush (REPUBLICAN)||1989-1992||43-21 / .671||5-2(3 YEARS)||1-0|
|President Bill Clinton (DEMOCRAT)||1993-2000||54-73-1 / .425||1-1(1 YEAR)||0|
|President George W. Bush (REPUBLICAN)||2001-2008||58-70 / .453||1-2(2 YEARS)||0|
|President Barack Obama (DEMOCRAT)||2009-?||18-38 / .321||0-0||0|
|TOTAL YEARS IN OFFICE/GAMES||36 YEARS, 520 GAMES||39.5YEARS, 537 GAMES|
|YEARS MAKING PLAYOFFS:||15||6|
|CHAMPIONSHIPS||3||2 (Pre-Super Bowl Era)|
|SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES||5||0|
Despite a strong start under President Roosevelt, including the highest winning percentage of any President, the Democrats have seen their Redskins record fall to 242-281-14, good for just a .463 winning percentage. Based on a 16 game season, that is just 7.4 wins a year, or more likely a 7-8-1 record. Republicans, despite a disastrous first eight years under President Eisenhower, have found success for the Washington Redskins with a career record of 289-223-8. That comes out to a .563 winning percentage, or just over 9 wins a season or a 9-7 record. Remarkably since 1937 Democrats have held office for 39.5 seasons and Republicans have 36 seasons in office.
Republicans held office during 15 of the Washington Redskins 21 playoff seasons. That means 71% of the Redskins playoff runs have come under Republican administrations. Democrats have managed just 6 playoff appearances, and just one of those has come since 1945 (1999). Of their 39 completed seasons while Democrats were in office, the Redskins have gone to the postseason just 15% of the time, compared to 42% of the Republican seasons. Once in the playoffs the Democrats have a respectable 4-4 record, but that still falls short of the Republican’s 19-14 record (.575 winning percentage).
Though the overall Championships record is just 3-2 in favor of the Republicans, it’s actually a wider margin when you consider the level of the competition each faced. When the Redskins won two Championships under President Roosevelt, there were just 10 teams in the league, broken into two divisions. That of course is significantly fewer than the 13 or 14 teams the Redskins had to navigate just to win the NFC Title in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s (something they did a total of 5 times), to say nothing of also having to endure multiple rounds of playoffs. During the Roosevelt era in the 30’s and 40’s, each Division leader went to the Championship game, meaning there was only an additional playoff game if two teams tied in a particular division. The level of competition was also much different back in the 30’s and 40’s. Top NFL teams were considered good, but essentially just a slight step up from elite college teams. In fact at the time, the NFL Championship winner would play a college All-Star team in an exhibition game prior to the start of the next season. Both times the Washington Redskins won the Championship during Roosevelt’s presidency, they lost to the college All-Star team they faced the next year. That is something that would be unimaginable if such a game was played with the Super Bowl winners of the 80’s and 90’s.
|SEASONS:||WINNING PERCENTAGE:||CHAMPIONSHIPS:||PLAYOFF YEARS:|
While it is important to look at the entire history, there is no doubt that the NFL has dramatically changed since the advent of the Super Bowl and the NFL-AFL merger. This is the time that is considered the start of the “modern era” of the NFL, but I will refer to it as Super Bowl Era. The expansion of teams and talent, makes succeeding in the NFL more challenging during the Super Bowl Era than prior to it. You’d be hard pressed to find a Redskins fan who is willing to consider the Philadelphia Eagles three Championships prior to the Super Bowl Era, anything close to equaling the Redskins three Super Bowl titles (a point that you could actually find consensus with Cowboys and Giants fans).The Super Bowl Era also marks a drastic widening of the Redskins success disparity between Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans in 28 seasons racked up a .600 winning percentage, and went to the playoffs 15 times, including the five Super Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl Titles. A .600 winning percentage for a 16 game season, would come out to 9.6 wins a year. They amassed 19 winning seasons during that time, and saw four of their five Presidents have a winning percentage over .600. Of their seven four year terms, six of them had winning records (first four years under George W. Bush being the lone exception).
The Democrats in 18.5 seasons saw their winning percentage fall to .430 during the Super Bowl Era. That puts them under 7 wins (6.88) based on a 16 game season. Just one of the four Democratic Presidents, Jimmy Carter, managed a winning percentage above .500 during this time (Note: only the final three years of the Lyndon Johnson Presidency fell within the Super Bowl Era, and the seasons total includes the first 3.5 years of President Obama’s term). Of the 18 completed seasons, the Democrats have managed just 5 winning records, and have a lone playoff appearance to show for it.
Not only does President Obama have to convince Redskins fans that he can succeed where other Democrats (with the exception of FDR) have not, but he has to answer for his own record. The Redskins under President Obama currently stand at 18-38, a .321 winning percentage, which is the 2ndworst of any President. That winning percentage is so poor that even if the Redskins won their final 8 games of this season, they would finish with just a .406 winning percentage during these four Obama years. This would be the third worst percentage among the 13 presidents to serve since the Redskins moved to Washington.
If the Redskins lose just one of their remaining games, he falls below the .400 mark. That is unacceptable, and it’s something that he needs to address by showing how he can change the Redskins fortunes if given four more years in office. The President has to present a “New Deal”, to get back to the success the Redskins had under FDR, who still has the highest winning percentage of any president.
For Governor Mitt Romney, he has a strong Republican track record on his side. But he does need to answer questions about how to avoid the struggles the Redskins endured under the previous Republican administration, where the first four years of President George W. Bush laid the groundwork for a sub-.500 record for his entire presidency, despite a strong second term (2 playoff runs).
Governor Romney also needs to answer questions as to why there has been a playoff and Super Bowl success drought for Washington these last two decades. Perhaps he can point to his track record while Governor of Massachusetts, where he” guided” the Patriots to a 50-14 record (.781 winning percentage), and two Super Bowl Titles from 2003-2006. Or perhaps he can point to his family’s history in the NFL, where his father’s first cousin (and his namesake) Milton “Mitt” Romney was a starting quarterback/wing back for George Halas’s Bears in the mid 20’s.
One thing for sure, he doesn’t want to cite the record of his father, George Romney. While George Romney was Governor of Michigan, spanning the 1963 through 1968 seasons, the Detroit Lions only had one winning season and compiled an overall record of 31-41-9. Regardless, Governor Romney needs to present a plan of how the Redskins can get back to their glory years under Republican Administrations.
So, what does this all mean? Essentially, it doesn’t truly mean anything, unless of course, you are one of those rabid political partisans, lacking a sense of humor, who will seize upon an opportunity to try and spin any story to cast your candidate in a favorable light. Certainly in this case, such a Romney supporter could have a field day. But then again, if Obama is your man, you could point to the Washington Redskins overall losing record under the Bush administration that was inherited by Obama and argue that things have begun to turn around under his administration (think Robert Griffin III acquisition!).
Truth be told, given the Redskins record of sustained mediocrity (or worse), serious fans of the Burgundy and Gold would probably vote for a pig wearing lipstick if they thought it would result in another Lombardi Trophy or two. Or, to make it more palatable, let’s just call it a HOG!