It was September 11th, 2011 – the Washington season opener that year and my birthday, a fact not relevant except that I was enjoying myself on a perfect football afternoon as I watched the game from Section 125 at FedEx Field.
The game was tied 14-14 and the New York Giants had the ball to start the third quarter when some rookie grabbed an interception and ran it back for a touchdown to give the Redskins the lead. That’s not a misprint. At that point in time, this team was distinctly still the Redskins.
The rookie? Ryan Kerrigan.
Washington’s first-round pick in 2011 was taken No. 16 overall and while fans were excited about the pass rusher, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of buzz about the kid out of Purdue, either.
In a flash, that all changed.
Kerrigan picked off Giants quarterback Eli Manning and took it to the house. That gave Washington the lead, a game it went on to win.
All of a sudden, Kerrigan was a thing. He mattered.
He logged 7.5 sacks his rookie season and started every game. He would continue to start every game for the next seven years. And along the way he posted double-digit sack totals in four of eight seasons. He forced five fumbles in 2014.
In 2012, when Washington won the NFC East during Robert Griffin III’s brilliant rookie season, Kerrigan logged 8.5 sacks, grabbed another interception, forced two fumbles and recovered another one. Kerrigan reached his first Pro Bowl that year.
From 2016 to 2018, Kerrigan totaled 37 sacks. He made the Pro Bowl every year in that stretch. All the while never missing a start.
For better or worse, the Kerrigan era in Washington could be coming to a close the same way it began - with excitement but not too much buzz.
And in a way that’s the perfect compliment to Kerrigan.
The Washington Football Team – as it is currently known - largely played terrible football over the last decade. Sure, there were two division titles, but not a single playoff win.
There were high points and big names - Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson, Josh Norman - but all of those players also had low points. All moved on to another team with a fanbase that experienced some level of fatigue from their tenure here.
Kerrigan never had a low point. No fan grew tired of watching Kerrigan. Ever.
So here we are - it’s 2020 and Sunday night’s game against Philadelphia could be his last in a Washington uniform.
And 2020 - somewhere between one of the weirdest and the worst years in recent history - is a long way from 2011 when Kerrigan was drafted. All he’s done for the organization since is break the franchise career sack record, raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities throughout the Washington area and, no matter how wacky or awful or mundane Ashburn might have gotten, Kerrigan handled it all with class.
Always with class.
Kerrigan never bad-mouthed a teammate. Plenty of others did.
Kerrigan never bad-mouthed a coach. Plenty of others did.
Looking at his contemporaries, Kerrigan is not the best pass rusher of his era. J.J. Watt or Von Miller can lay that claim.
But if the most important ability is availability, Kerrigan is in a class by himself. He started 139 straight games. In a 10-year NFL career, he’s missed just four games.
The reality now is that the Washington Football Team will move forward with Montez Sweat and Chase Young as its pass rushers. Kerrigan has been strong this season - 5.5 sacks in limited snaps - but the plan for the future is obvious.
That could mean Kerrigan signs elsewhere for 2021. He will absolutely have a market and, with more playing time, still has double-digit sack potential.
Fans might not realize it now - I might not even realize it - but it’s going to be incredibly weird to see Kerrigan somewhere else.
In some ways, he’s the last person that will be identified as a Redskins player.
He played with RG3 and Trent Williams, Mike Shanahan drafted him, he was there for You Like That! and for the removal of Bruce Allen. He saw it all -- all of it -- and stayed above the fray the whole time.
Kerrigan is the best player the organization had for a decade and, in so many ways, he’s the last guy that will be remembered in the old uniform with the old name.
Going forward, Terry McLaurin and Chase Young - those guys will be Washington Football Players or whatever new nickname comes afterward.
But for people that remember how it used to be - the good and the bad - Kerrigan was often the only ray of sunlight poking through that dark cloud that Jay Gruden used to joke hung over Ashburn.
Whatever happens with Ryan Kerrigan - if he signs elsewhere in 2021 or if he returns - he was a star for this franchise and a rock for its fans.
Even in a terrible year like 2020, that deserves to be remembered.