This week”s cover of Sports Illustrated features the Washington Redskins, who have made an impressive turnaround after an 0-5 start. As all pro football fans know by now, the Redskins have reeled off five consecutive wins to elevate themselves into contention into the NFC (L)East.

As an ardent Redskins fan, I greeted this news with a twinge of pride. I”ve watched the “Skins put together this impressive winning streak and I”ve thought to myself, “Wow, this team might have a shot at the playoffs.”

But, just when I start to get enthusiastic, my common sense nails me with a James Butler-quality sucker punch (you should see what this guy did to his opponent on Friday). I suddenly realize, “Wait, these are the Redskins. They”ll clearly find a way to mess this up.”

I”ve been rooting for Washington since 1987. I saw a Redskins game in the middle of the season, was hooked by the design on their helmets and by the color scheme (hey, I was seven years old at the time) and started cheering for them. I got pretty lucky that year Washington went on to win the Super Bowl by blowing out Denver, 42-10, thanks to four Doug Williams touchdown passes.

I didn”t know enough about football to realize what a big deal the Super Bowl was, but I thought it was pretty neat that the Redskins won. When they won another Super Bowl four years later, I was convinced that Joe Gibbs was a God and that Washington would be an NFL power for years to come.

How silly of me. For the past 10 years, I”ve watched that team approach levels of mediocrity previously reserved for the Lions (although the Lions appear to have gotten tired of mediocrity and downgraded).

When Mark Rypien held out of training camp the year after the Redskins won the 1991 Super Bowl, I should”ve known that the good times were over. He came back a week before the season started, played like ass, and Washington ended up treading water around .500.

Then, Gibbs retired. For the next half-dozen seasons, Washington had bad coaching (Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner) and worse drafting (Desmond Howard, Heath Shuler, Andre Johnson, Michael Westbrook, etc., etc.). Throw in a pitiful defense and a bunch of below-average stop-gap quarterbacks like Jeff Hostetler, John Friesz and Gus Frerotte, and you had one sorry franchise.

Oh, the Redskins tried to be good on occasion. They signed defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson a few years back and tried to convince fans that the horrific defense was saved. Not exactly the horrific defense just got a lot more expensive. If anything, the defense might actually have gotten worse. Don”t ask how, it just did.

I really wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Screw it. This team will never figure this out.” But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Redskins won the NFC East in 1999. I couldn”t believe it Washington”s free-agent quarterback Brad Johnson was playing great, draft choice tailback Stephen Davis was having a Pro Bowl season, and the defense started making strides. Heck, even Westbrook had a decent year.

Although Washington lost to Tampa Bay in the divisional playoffs, I had high hopes for the 2000 season. “Maybe the Redskins are on the right track,” I naively thought.

Once again, how foolish of me. Led by perhaps the NFL”s worst owner, Daniel Snyder, the Redskins went out and signed the finest the 1993 Pro Bowl team had to offer guys like Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier and Irving Fryar. Turner as usual appeared to have no clue what was going on, and Brad Johnson decided to do his best Heath Shuler impersonation. A team many picked for the Super Bowl ended up 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

So, that brings us to the present. I checked out Washington”s next few games, and they appear to be pretty winnable: Home games against Dallas and Philadelphia sandwiched around a trip to Arizona.

Once I saw that slate, I started to become optimistic. Maybe Marty Schottenheimer isn”t nearly as washed-up as I thought he was. Maybe Ki-Jana Carter will continue showing flashes of the talent he had at Penn State. Maybe LaVar Arrington will emerge as one of the best defenders in the NFL.

But, here comes my common sense again. These are, after all, the Redskins.

Arun Gopal is hoping the Redskins win another Super Bowl before he turns 50. He can be reached at agopal@umich.edu.

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