20 saddest moments in Washington Commanders history

Sean Taylor
Sean Taylor / James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
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Commanders saddest plays

The games in which these three plays occurred could have been included in the section above. But the plays themselves stand out as much as, or maybe even more than the game itself.

Commanders field goal that wasn't – 1939

Washington played the New York Giants in front of a sellout crowd at the Polo Grounds in the final regular season game of 1939. The winner would go on to play for the championship.

The two teams had tied earlier in the season, and everyone figured this all-important game would go down to the wire. Indeed, it did.

The Giants led 9-7 when Washington lined up for a potential game-winning field goal with under a minute to play. Bo Russell had converted almost 95 percent of his extra-point kicks, and at 15 yards, this was essentially another extra point. It went over the upright.

Accounts from the day differ as to whether the kick was good or not, but on the field, most players from both teams thought Russell had made it. Referee Bill Halloran thought otherwise.

Washington fans stormed the field, but it didn’t help. They had missed the playoffs.

Commanders' rocket screen – 1984

I was at Super Bowl XVIII. It was clear from the outset that Washington was not going to beat the Raiders that day. But that doesn’t make the rocket screen any less painful.

The Raiders led 14-3 just before halftime. Washington had the ball deep in their own territory and, in hindsight, should have simply knelt down and gone to the locker room to regroup. But they also had a dynamic receiving back in Joe Washington, and figured maybe, if they got him in the open field, he could make a miracle happen.

Joe Theismann tried floating a little screen pass out to him. He didn’t see the 6-foot-4 Jack Squirek in between the quarterback and receiver. The Raiders linebacker plucked the ball out of the air and stepped into the end zone for a 21-3 lead. The rout was officially on.

I actually remember Marcus Allen’s reverse-field 74-yard run to extend the lead to 35-9 even more clearly, but that one doesn’t have a cool name attached to it. A sad day all around.

Commanders' swinging gate – 2009

Some plays are sad because they end up costing you a shot at a title, like the phantom field goal in ’39. Or because they come in a championship game, like the rocket screen. And some are sad because they make your entire franchise into a laughingstock on national television.

That’s what happened when Jim Zorn called for the swinging gate fake field goal. It was Monday and Washington was losing 24-0 just before halftime. Backup Todd Collins drove the team into field goal range with a couple of seconds left. But a field goal wasn’t good enough for Zorn.

He wanted a touchdown. So he called the bizarre trick play which sees all the linemen move to the far side of the field, leaving just a couple of other players around the holder. In this case, that holder was punter Hunter Smith, who had a good arm.

The idea is that you catch the defense by surprise and spring a receiver free. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin called a timeout when he saw the motion. That should have ended it. It didn’t.

Inexplicably, Zorn called the play again. With the Giants prepared, Smith was blitzed by three unblocked defenders and flung the ball into the crowd. It was intercepted. The television announcers laughed openly at the incompetence.