Written by Jon Allison
Edited by Colin Sullivan
It was an abnormally cold night, even for FedEx Field in December. And unfortunately for one Daniel Snyder, the offices were no refuge from it. Ticket sales were down. Robert Griffin III jersey sales, once the cash cow of the franchise, had halted years ago. The team name was viewed as a slur, not only to a portion of the Native Americans they were named after, but also to the fans for normal football reasons.
Old Snyder did the only thing he knew how to do as that cursed holiday approached: keep the books right. As he sat in his office, bundled in a Joe Gibbs-era Redskins Starter jacket, Snyder liked the sight of the fog his breath emitted. It meant money saved. Snyder was just finishing his daily troll of the internet for any articles smearing his name or Robert Griffin III’s, had just clicked “post comment” on his last obscure Redskins blog while muttering “unacceptable” repeatedly, when a pile of coats emerged into view on one of Snyder’s many office camera feeds next to his desk.
The hulk of coats seemed to be moving ever so slowly until it approached a thermostat affixed to the wall. Snyder jumped when out of the morass popped a human head like a game of whack-a-mole. Snyder chuckled when he realized it was just his bumbling office assistant. This assistant knew better than to try and press the “up” button on the thermostat in an attempt to raise the temperature, but he approached nonetheless, hoping it could maybe work this time. Old Snyder had rigged the thermostat to drop the temperature of the assistant’s office by a degree no matter which directional button was pressed. It was meant to teach a lesson to the assistant, but it amused Snyder to watch the man continually try the thermostat anyway, like a dog lapping up its own vomit, or like an Redskins fan entering FedEx Field on game day.
”Cousins!” Snyder barked from his office next door.
Kirk Cousins’ head swiveled blisteringly fast on the video feed before it disappeared into the cavernous coats again. Mole successfully whacked.
One must think it quite odd that a man so gainfully employed as Kirk Cousins would also be working as the team owner’s office assistant, and one would be right. After all, wasn’t he the Redskins’ starting quarterback going back three seasons, ranked in the top-5 among quarterbacks in most important statistical categories during that three-year span, and currently being paid $24 million for the 2017 season alone? Alas, it was the same Kirk Cousins, but so it had been since one game in the 2014 season when had Cousins had thrown yet another multitude of interceptions and was subsequently bench. Snyder had walked by this unfortunate soul sitting on the bench, head in his hands, after everyone else was long-gone from the stadium, whimpering like a veritable baby, his shaking fists wiping tears from his bleary eyes. Snyder had taken pity on the man’s little teary whimpers. Classic fourth-round pick, Snyder had thought to himself. And in a blip of charity in an otherwise dark soul’s existence, like spotting a corn kernel in a pile of shit, Snyder reached a hand out to Cousins. Cousins raised his head and saw a glimmer of hope, which was actually the Fedex Field lights glancing off of a set of car keys Snyder was extending and dangling.
“Drive me home,” Snyder had mustered. He had wanted to finish with “boy” but he had choked himself up and couldn’t utter another word.
And so the two teary men left together. On their way out of the stadium, a man in a top hat and a black suit opened the door for them.
“You’re fired, Colt,” Snyder barked, and Colt Mccoy took his top hat off and looked into it like it was the last mirror he’d ever see, as the two other men strode out to Snyder’s limousine.
Over the months and years, the team president and Snyder’s current bosom-buddy, Bruce Allen, would blather on about and hurl insults at someone named, “Kurt,” who had taken over as starting quarterback the following year and was perpetually asking for more money. Snyder’s office assistant was even often present for these rants. Snyder never realized that this pesky Kurt and his bumbling assistant, Kirk Cousins, were inhabiting the same body. On top of that, it was out of the realm of possibility that the quarterback Mike Shanahan had drafted against Snyder’s wishes in the fourth round the same year Snyder had forced the drafting of RGIII in the first round, could be as good as the player he was watching on Sundays for the past three seasons, this greedy “Kurt” character. Being wrong was already out of the question for Old Snyder, but a fourth-round pick becoming great was downright impossible, like gravity taking the day off. Same last name, same jersey number, identical face… none of that could break through Snyder’s warped view of the world. If one asked Snyder point-blank, he would insist that Tom Brady and Russell Wilson were first-round picks, obviously. Just look at them play! he would plead.
You see, Kirk Cousins was a nice man, and some would say he was too nice, the kind of invasive niceness that would spread viciously and turn a backbone into jelly. He didn’t have the heart or the gall to break the truth to Snyder, just like he didn’t have the pluck to ask Snyder to turn up the heat in the office.
That the 2014-variety of Kirk Cousins was prone to make more mistakes after he had made one annoyed Snyder (one interception would turn into four). And so he had rigged the thermostat to teach a lesson.
“Get in here, Cousins!”
Snyder’s door opened slowly as if pushed by a snail.
“You called, sir?” Cousins mustered with his head poked around the door. He saw the z-key thermostat on the other side of Snyder’s desk, as well as the raging gas fireplace under it, and licked his lips. He considered diving into the fire for a moment’s warmth.
“Are you finished with the free agent quarterback evaluations yet?” said Snyder.
“Just did, sir.”
“Are they all over 30, Cousins,” said Snyder, “like I asked?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Former first-round picks?”
“Why would anyone want one picked later, sir?” said Cousins, drooping his head, thinking of himself.
“Why would they, indeed,” said Snyder with the sound of one appeased. “Can you believe this ‘Kurt’ is asking for another $34 million next year? That’s the thanks we get for publicly calling him our franchise player two years in a row. Bah, humbug!”
“Well, it’s not that he’s asking so much as that’s what it costs—”
Snyder moved on: ”I suppose you’ll want tomorrow off like the rest of them?”
“You mean, Christmas, sir?”
“Don’t mention it’s name, Cousins. Don’t mention its name.”
“Oh, Mr. Snyder, I wish you wouldn’t be such a curmudgeon when it comes to the holidays. It’s a time for being with loved ones. Colt is at home with a bird in the oven for us, as we speak.”
“Christmas,” said Snyder, almost to himself, enunciating as if he hated every syllable as much as the thing itself. “Loved ones. Colt Mick-Coy. Bah! Humbug!”
“And it’s not just any bird, sir. It’s an eagle! As we all dream to defeat the Eagles so! I don’t want to miss the moment when we ram the stuffing right up the eagle’s…”
Cousins needed no fire to warm himself other than the flames in his eyes in that moment, as he exhibited the maneuver by repeatedly ramming a closed fist through a cupped hand.
“Cousins!” Snyder barked at the tail end of a yawn, waving his hand at the conversation. “You’re boring me with your putrid holiday minutiae.”
“Well, that’s what we’re telling ourselves anyway,” Cousins continued. “It’s actually just a small chicken. All we could afford on Colt’s salary. My money all goes to charity and—”
The two were frozen in silence for a good minute as Snyder’s eyes danced in bitterness.
“And I suppose you want a… a… Christmas… bonus, like the rest of them? To support that boy in your charge with the bum leg? What’s his name again?”
“Robert Griff— uh Tiny Tim, sir.”
“Well, if I give you tomorrow off, I expect you all the earlier the next morn.”
“Oh, Mr. Snyder!” Cousins exclaimed.
“Your bonus is on your desk. Off with you, and I’ll not hear another word of that cursed holiday! Bah! Humbug!”
Cousins opened his mouth to thank him, but thought better of ruining his gift with another word. He put one foot behind the other and sneaked his way backwards out of Snyder’s office, and then sprinted away. He grabbed his Christmas gift off his desk as he jaunted, a used Metrocard with $1.76 remaining on the back.
Vinny Cerrato was fired. There was no mistaking that. The media had covered it with glee. They didn’t much like Snyder, finding his roster moves laughable, and they had considered his former Vice President of Football Operations as a combination of a puppet and a court jester. Seeing him “resign” after roster moves like the signings of Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Irving Fryar, Mark Carrier, and Danny Wuerffel, gave them all at least a morning of chuckles the day it was released. This is an important fact for the reader to acknowledge because there would be no explanation for what befell Snyder that Christmas Eve night, which had now led to Snyder trembling in his bed underneath the sheets. He attempted to talk himself out of it.
That was not old Vinny’s face I saw in my front door knocker, he thought to himself. Couldn’t have been. When I fired him, I literally had someone tell him to never show his face again.
He relit the candelabra that rested on his bedside and wondered how the wind had blown it out. Hadn’t he told Cousins to fix that draft before he left? Will have to dock his pay. He carried it out of his bedroom and cautiously checked all the rooms on this wing of his manor. He jumped and nearly caught his white nightgown and nightcap on fire. He had caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and the feelings of horror returned. He continued to walk as if the vision shed off of him with every step.
And I certainly did not just have a conversation with old Vinny in front of my fireplace, Snyder thought. I barely actually talked to the man when he worked for me. Don’t know what his voice even sounds like.
During his reverie, Snyder had checked dozens of doors throughout his mansion and he realized he wasn’t sure where he was anymore. Which wing was this?
“Danny Jr., is that you?” a female voice questioned in the dark hallway, seemingly from one of the closed doors.
“No, mommy, it’s Danny Jr.,” Snyder said in his best high-pitched, little boy imitation.
“Mommy?” responded the female voice with incredulity. “Can’t sleep because of that AP exam tomorrow, honey? And what’s with the voice?”
Snyder balled his fist in frustration. He had forgotten his son wasn’t nine years old anymore.
And then in the deepest octave his vocal cords could muster: “Oh I was just reminiscing what it’s like to be a young boy again, and to not have to take exams. Now I’m done, though!”
He hadn’t spent much time on his wife’s wing of the house in recent years and didn’t like the odd feeling it gave him. He didn’t like that he was actually curious about what class Danny Jr.’s exam was in. Snyder quietly snuck away from the uncomfortable warmth his cold heart had begun to feel.
Three ghosts, was it? Vinny rambled, for sure, but that part was clear… And what was that mess with the sash wrapped around Vinny’s head, under his chin. Something about losing his dental insurance after he was fire… resigned?
“Bah!” Snyder shouted. “Humbug!”
Snyder reentered his bedroom, fully convinced it was his mind playing tricks, and quite exhausted from the tom foolery, fell onto the bed and into a deep sleep. His dreams were happy because they were blank. There was not the typical recurring dream of Jerry Jones embracing him and whispering, “I’m proud of you, son.” There was no trace of the horror he had experienced that night.
“Hail!” a voice screamed absurdly close to Snyder, breaking him of his blissful, emotionless sleep. He jumped up in bed to find his bedroom brightly lit and music playing from another room. As he arose and adjusted his nightcap, a multitude of hearty voices joined the music in raucous song. They were muffled, but he could make out some of the words, as he entered the hallway to track the source.
Hail to the…
Braves on the…
…for old DC!
The song sounded eerily familiar to Snyder, but he couldn’t quite place it. Perhaps he’d heard it after a touchdown once, years ago. As he approached the dining room door, the song grew louder yet and there was a sliver of even brighter light outlining the edges of the door. Snyder frighteningly reached out and turned the door knob. He opened it to find a feast spread on his table and easily over a dozen men laughing and passing around food to each other. They were all wearing Christmas sweaters, and their cheeks shined as if buffed with wax. One by one, they noticed his presence, and in true domino effect, their faces all fell. They stared at him silently.
“I was just…” Snyder tried saying something, but was cut off by mirthful cheering, clapping, and the collective raising of glasses. One of them stood up.
“Mr. Snyder, we are indebted to you,” John Beck said with a smile across his face, as he looked around at the other guests. “None of these men would have had the chance to start in the NFL, let alone play on most teams if it weren’t for your graciousness and mercy.”
“Hail!” the rest of them shouted in unison. Another stood up.
“Mr. Snyder,” began Donovan McNabb, “I thought my career was over after the Eagles let me go, but then I got that call from you with an offer for a five year, 78 million dollar contract, and I just…”
McNabb stopped, unable to continue, and covered his mouth with a fist, as his shoulders began to heave up and down. Mark Brunell stood up next to him and placed his arms around him.
“I think what Donovan was trying to say, Mr. Snyder,” said Brunell, “is thank you. All I had to do was throw check downs for a few years to get your checks down into my bank account!”
Brunell led the men in raucous laughter. After it dissipated, someone giddily echoed: “checks down.”
“And I didn’t even have to play the other four years to get the $40 million guaranteed!” McNabb found a break in his crying to shout: “Because of this man!”
“Hail!” everyone exclaimed again with a synchronized jolt of their glasses forward, followed by a trail of clinking.
“It was nothing,” Snyder struggled to say with a grin, wanting to believe the men were genuinely indebted to him, as he believed everyone was. But he couldn’t feel somehow insulted, so he hazarded a rebuttal: “All of you had success before coming to the Redskins, so it was obviously more an issue with the coaching.”
“Oh, don’t be modest. Surely, you knew no other team wanted us!” shouted someone from the area of Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman.
“But you knew what it would mean for our families if we would be unemployed!” came another joyful yell, which seemed to originate from either Tony Banks or Danny Wuerffel, Snyder couldn’t tell. There were just so many of them!
Another arose with an overflowing glass of beer. He stumbled a little as his chair fell over behind him. He glanced back at it with indifference just a little too late.
“Mr. Shhnyder,” Patrick Ramsey, one of Snyder’s actual first-round picks despite how he ended up playing, attempted to say, “I can’t… I can’t… even begin to think you. You gave me stabiliilility for yearsh.”
His hand waved in a circle to visually explain that he meant more than just a couple years.
“I wash on eight teamsh,” Ramsey said, raising up his fingers to show the number seven, “after I played for you.”
As he said, “you,” Ramsey attempted to point, and it was this motion that sent him to the floor as he threw too much weight into it. Jeff George, mullet and all, bent down to help him up, and did so with only one arm as if Ramsey was a small child.
“Wow, what an arm,” said Snyder in astonishment, daydreaming for a moment that he fire this “Kurt” fellow and bring in George. Just one more try!
All of a sudden, Snyder shook his head at himself. Now, he was sure something was off about this. These men were genuinely thankful, but he hadn’t acquired them as an act of charity. They were brought in to win, despite the reports.
“Sorry, he’s been over served,” said Jason Campbell, who then stood up. “But I echo his sentiments. Being another first-rounder of yours, I truly thank you for my time of stability in Washington. Everyone else treated me as a backup, but you let me start 52 games. I hope now you understand why we’re all here.”
“Not really,” said Snyder skeptically, wondering if he was the brunt of some cosmic joke. “I don’t really understand how you got in here, actually.”
“We’re ghosts,” said Todd Collins from across the table, smelling his beer.
Snyder’s face fell serious.
“Ghosts? Cerrato said it would be three.”
“Well, most owners only have a few of our types,” said Shane Matthews, “You must be luckier is all. We are your ghosts of Quarterbacks Past.”
“And some of us are here to thank you for letting us go,” said Brad Johnson with a grin, who raised his glass, subtly tapping it with the Super Bowl ring on his ring finger. The dreamy gleam from the ring made the Buccaneers logo barely visible.
“How could we not take advantage of this opportunity to thank you,” said Kirk Cousins.
Snyder screamed, grabbing his nightcap, his building sense of terror releasing like a tea kettle’s whistle. What was his bloody assistant doing in the Snyder mansion? Cousins was wearing a suit and tie, and he meagerly raised his glass.
“Oh, Cousins, old boy, you gave me a start,” Snyder said holding his heaving chest. “I had forgotten you used to play quarterback years back. It makes sense you are one of these ghosts of quarterbacks past.”
Cousins’ head hung low, ashamed. “Actually, I have something to show you, sir.”
Cousins gently removed his suit jacket, thanking Tony Banks for helping take it off, and then carefully pulled his tie knot down and removed it over his head, thanking Danny Wuerffel for taking it away. Tim Hasselbeck had stepped up to help, bless his heart, and was waiting for the next article. As he began to unbutton his shirt, Cousins thanked Hasselbeck for helping and then apologized to him making him wait.
Snyder raised his hands as toward a blinding light. “No, Cousins,” he said awkwardly chuckling, “you don’t need to do that for me. Driving my car and picking up the leftover food around the stadium to be re-cooked for the following week will be quite enough. I already have people that strip for me.”
After entirely unbuttoning his shirt, Cousins tore it off in a fit of boldness, causing a flash of burgundy light that made Snyder, and every ghost, guard his eyes once again. There stood Cousins in his burgundy and gold jersey, #8 and all.
When Snyder lowered his defenses, he screamed again. “Kurt! What have you done with Cousins?” Snyder begged, looking around for Cousins.
“Sir, I am Kirk Cousins. Kurt and Kirk Cousins are both me. We are one person. I am him and they are me. Can’t you see this now?”
“That’s impossible; Kurt is a first-round pick! You’re just a lowly… oh, bother, from one of those useless other rounds!”
“I am your ghost of quarterbacks present.”
“Hail!” all the men shouted in unison. They began to clap and yip, save for Ramsey who was snoring into his mug on the table.
“Well, I don’t believe you, and please release me before this business continues. If you’re the second ghost, I’m sure there is some third ghost of the future waiting to come in. I don’t want to meet him!”
Snyder heard the door creek open behind him. He spun around to attend to it in angry haste.
Sam Bradford’s head popped through the cracked doorway sideways, donning a grin.
“Hellooo!” Bradford exclaimed.
Snyder barged into the door and slammed it shut, muffling something Bradford was saying about being a ghost of something or other. Snyder did feel a smidgen of remorse when he also heard Bradford scream about his leg being hurt again. After all, he was a first-round pick, and Snyder was sweet on him for that. But the moment passed.
“Actually, sir,” Cousins said taking a deep breath, “I think that is entirely up to you.”
“What are you talking about, Cousins -er, whoever you are?”
“Who do you want to be your ghost of quarterbacks future, sir? It’s entirely in your hands.”
“Hail!” shouted the other ghosts again.
“Gentleman, we celebrate later,” a new voice bellowed, “For now we mourn.”
Colt McCoy, the current backup to Cousins, moped into view, holding up a small cane that Snyder assumed was for a small boy. “Poor ol’ Griffin has passed. He didn’t get the medical attention he needed, didn’t get the rest he needed. He was too young.”
This sentiment was met with moaning and tears among the other ghosts. Snyder looked at Cousins, his once-trusted lackey.
“Surely, he doesn’t mean Robert Griffin III, does he, Cousins? Maybe it’s some other Griffin, or RG-one or RG-two; not the third, please.”
Cousins took out his smartphone. “Robert’s only dying wish was that we post on social media about it.”
All of the other ghosts gathered around Cousins and McCoy, who bracketed Snyder. As Cousins held out his phone, Snyder saw his own reflection in the screen of this tragic selfie, among all the ghosts of quarterbacks past and present, whose tears were streaming.
“Enough! Please, spirits, I’ll do anything!” Snyder yelled.”Vinny, save me! Please, I’ll sell the team if I have to! Enough!”
Snyder was kicking and swiping with his arms at nothing in particular, except for reality itself. He knew to do nothing other than writhe in this horror he was witnessing. All of a sudden, in the middle of his tantrum, he felt the cold air he was accustomed to to save money. He continued kicking until he found himself tangled in the blankets of his own bed. He jumped up and ran to the dining room. It was cold and dark as he was used to it being, and utterly devoid of celebrating or mourning quarterbacks.
“Haha! It’s not real!” Snyder shrieked. He ran back to his bedroom and threw back the curtains. Light instantly drove out the darkness like a 4th-quarter lead. It was Christmas morning.
“I can avoid it,” he said to himself, “Sam Bradford is still a Viking. And Kurt… or Kirk, is still a Redskin. The cycle need not continue!”
He ran down the halls as his white nightgown flailed in the wind created by his speed. His night cap fell to the floor, unable to maintain its grip.
“Tanya!” Snyder screamed, as he threw open his wife’s doorway. “Ah!”
Snyder screamed at how old his wife looked. He hadn’t seen her in years.
“No matter!” said Snyder.
“No matter what?” said Tanya.
“Give me your phone, Tanya.”
His wife unplugged her phone from its charger and Snyder snatched it out of her hands. He swiped and dialed frantically.
“Merry Christmas to you too, John Kent Cooke Jr.,” said Snyder quickly. “Do you still want the team? Uh huh. Uh huh. Yes, the Redskins! Yes, you can have it for the price I bought it for in 1999. You deserve it. I’m sorry I snatched it from you. It was your father’s and I just really mucked it all up. Uh huh. Uh huh. No! No, this is not a joke. I’ll have Cousins send you the details tomorrow. Goodbye! And Merry Christmas!”
Snyder began a drastic wind-up like a baseball pitcher and appeared to the throw the phone out of the window, but stopped himself, bobbling the phone. He dialed another number frantically.
“Cousins! Yes, yes, it’s me, Mr. Snyder. Merry Christmas! Look, I need you to do something. I need you to shoot down an actual eagle. You might have to take my jet to Canada to do so. Can you do that? It’s a surprise for a friend. Uh huh. Uh huh. Oh, of course! You are Cousins! I mean Kurt! Whoopsie Daisy, Kurt! …Oh, you prefer Cousins. Kurt has always been offensive to you? Alright… well, can you do shoot the eagle down anyhow, Cousins? And please tell that Tiny Tim —er, Robert Griffin of yours, Merry Christmas! I’m sending a doctor over tomorrow.”
This time Snyder really did throw his phone out the window. He ran threw his own home, shouting for his family to come downstairs, exclaiming that it was Christmas morning. He hugged his groggy children and his aged wife with vigor, pleading with them to forgive him and could not be stopped in repeating how much he loved them.
“No more of this humbug business,” he told them, “I’m sorry I used to say it in response to everything good in this world, or any opinion that was even slightly different than mine. I was broken, I tell you. Tell you what, I’ll never say it again. I say ‘humbug’ to humbug! Starting today!”
And on that day, the Snyders, the Redskins, and all their fans had a very Merry Christmas, indeed.