(Dan Steinberg / The Washington Post)
“One hour down, seven and a half to go,” Grant Paulsen said around 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, 60 minutes into an eight-and-a-half hour sports-radio program.
“No more updates, please,” Chad Dukes said.
But there would be more updates, and more countdowns. About radio — “four and a half more hours, that’s all,” Dukes said later. “Ninety-seconds, and then we’re back, and then we’ll do another three and a half hours,” he said before a commercial break. “Grant and Danny have been here for 7 hours and 51 minutes,” he said, when it was almost over.
And about the awful football season that begat this marathon session.
“What do we have, four games left?” Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss asked later in the afternoon, during an on-site appearance.
Three weeks ago, Paulsen, his 106.7 The Fan partner Danny Rouhier, and afternoon drive host Dukes volunteered to do a joint nine-hour show if the Redskins lost at home to the Buccaneers, so sure were they that the Redskins would not lose. The Redskins lost.
Punch drunk after eight hours of piecing through the wreckage of that loss, the three hosts promised to do a similar marathon after each successive loss, until the team won again. That hasn’t happened yet.
And so Tuesday morning they gathered at Centreville’s Velocity 5 to do eight and a half hours of sports-radio yapping about a football team that has already been yapped into dust.
“The Redskins are getting to the point where there’s almost not much more to talk about,” Eric Bickel had said on that same station Tuesday morning.
Which is why the trio of hosts didn’t just talk about the Redskins during their 510 minutes together. They talked about the Wizards and the Capitals. They talked about the Browns and the Cavaliers. They talked about video games, Star Wars, and taco chili casserole. They swapped lists of their five favorite things in the world and took suggestions from callers; one fellow included meatloaf, YouTube videos and Trent Dilfer among his five favorite things on earth. But the common theme — as morning turned to afternoon, afternoon slid into evening, and another day slipped away — had a burgundy and gold tint.
“Let’s start with the football team,” Paulsen said in the first segment of the day. “Looks like they’re in the HOV lane right now to another 3-13 season, the way things are playing out.”
He then asked his co-hosts, and listeners, to explain why they would still be watching the final four games. Rouhier went first.
“I like to remember the sadness,” Rouhier said. “I like to remember that the pain is happening, while it’s happening, just in case it ever works out….I will sit there and peel my eyeballs open and make sure that I see every bit of the misery and sadness.”
It’s a speech made more evocative by the circumstances: a deserted suburban sports bar on a miserably rainy December morning, with an audience of empty tables and sagging gray clouds, all flouting their indifference to bad football. Dukes offered $20 to the first listener who showed up to the live show; a well-dressed gentleman soon entered the restaurant, claimed the $20 bill, and left.
The scene, of course, changed as the day dragged on. There was a modest lunch crowd, mostly guys, mostly alone, eating their wings and quesadillas to a sports-talk soundtrack. There was a fairly rowdy mid-afternoon crowd, perhaps there to see Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg and punter Tress Way, who did several segments on-air to promote Way’s Pro Bowl candidacy.
“We need you guys to win a football game,” Dukes told the players at one point.
“I’ll try to snap the ball harder, see if that helps,” Sundberg offered.
The players remained at the restaurant long after their segments ended, howling with laughter at one-liners, some of which came at their team’s expense.
“It’s hard for me not to listen to these guys,” said Sundberg, who has become friends with many of the station’s hosts.
“I never did listen to sports radio, but Nick got me into it,” Way explained. “It’s media. You’ve got to deal with it. The best thing you can do is play well so they don’t have anything bad to say about you.”
(Sadly, this openness does not extend to print media. “I don’t ever read the press,” Way confessed. “That’s for my family.”)
By early evening, a large crowd had gathered, lured by happy hour, or an early dinner, or the presence of Moss, who makes a weekly Tuesday appearance with Dukes at Velocity 5. Moss signed autographs and interacted with fans, but he didn’t evince much more happiness than the hosts.
“Honestly, I’ve been pissed, I’ve just been pissed from watching it, because I know how much better we can be as an offense, and how special we can be as a team,” Moss said. “But you go through these [stretches], man. And unfortunately, I’ve been through a lot of them. Ten years, I’ve been through more losing seasons than I have winning seasons here. You just hang in there, and you keep clawing, you keep fighting. Because if you’re able to do that, you should see that sun one day. And it hasn’t been sunny for a while here.”
Not on Tuesday, anyhow. When the guests were gone, there were discussions about this team’s architect (Bruce Allen), its head coach (Jay Gruden), its besieged defensive coordinator (Jim Haslett), and yes, its quarterbacks, Mark Brunell and Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck, Robert Griffin and Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy and probably Norm Snead and Billy Kilmer. Heck, they even talked about Vinny Cerrato.
“It’s monotonous, it gets repetitive, it gets testy, because these guys have been saying the same thing [for hours],” said Robert Bode, who produces Dukes’s show. “I can’t even imagine being back in the studio again. We’ll just be banging our heads against the wall.”
At one point, a listener named Thomas Deriso approached the hosts and asked whether other cities take the same approach to team-building, demonstrating by slamming his palm into his head again and again.
For much of the morning, two Wizards games played on televisions inside the restaurant: a replay of a recent win over the Pelicans on NBA TV, and a replay of a recent win over the Heat on Comcast SportsNet. This is where the critics of local sports-radio stations — and of local newspapers — will chime in and ask why. Why talk about the flailing Redskins when more successful franchises press on in relative silence? Why let the football team maintain its sway over sports media?
But there’s something compelling, in a grisly sort of way, about the end of a bad Redskins season. Sure it’s monotonous: the games, the seasons, the decades blending into each other. But it’s monotonous in the way snow coverage and mid-term elections are monotonous. These things are a part of Washington’s landscape. They arrive on cue, and we all go through them together, waiting to see in what strange way this year’s over-hyped blizzard or 4-12 season will be different.
“If you’re going to be talking about a loss, to do it in the normal way, on a Monday after, we’ve watched that movie,” Paulsen said during a break. “We’ve done that a hundred times. This makes it feel different and kind of fresh.”
“It’s a coping mechanism,” said Rouhier, who has had to secure extra childcare to cover him during the marathon shows. “I have a comedy background, and that’s what comedy is: it’s tragedy and time put together. This is a remix of the same irritated, angry, upset, ticked-off feelings that every fan experiences every Sunday when [the Redskins] do something terrible. This is a different way to cope with it. And this will get old, too, eventually. It may already have.”
But a deal is a deal, and four weeks remain. In a worst-case scenario, that means four more marathon shows, well over 24 hours of stirring around the same stew of questions and regret. I asked whether the hosts were almost hoping for more losses, so the bit could live on.
“Oh no,” Paulsen said. “They need to win immediately.”
“Right now, I’d like for it to be over,” Dukes agreed.
He was talking about the show. He could have been talking about the season.