An interesting debate I heard last week on sports talk radio 106.7 The Fan – specifically The Mike Wise Show with Holden Kushner, I believe (and I believe it was Liz Drabick filling in, with Mike Wise out of the studio at the time) – centered around the concept of “The Face of a Franchise” – specifically as it relates to the Washington D.C. franchises.

In my opinion, to be the face of a franchise, it’s more than “who do you put your hopes on for the
future” or “who’s your most talented player”, though both are valid reasons to pick a Face of the Franchise. To me, the Face of a Franchise is determined by the way the general public (or sports-fan portion of Gen. Pop.) view the franchise, and who are the individuals who are the most visible contributors to that perception.

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D.C.-based teams? Here’s what we’ve got:

Washington Redskins

They’re the biggest franchise in town despite not having as much recent success, so this is where we start.  While Holden Kushner and others have been saying that Donovan McNabb is the face of the Washington Redskins, I’ll have to politely disagree.  Sure, by season’s end there’s a good chance that he will be, but until he suits up for a regular season game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he can’t have that role as the face of this NFL franchise, no matter how many press conferences or commercials he does.  Being the face of a franchise is more about a team’s current identity is than anything else.  To that end, there’s really only three names who I’d pick to be the actual public faces of the Washington Redskins:  Clinton Portis, Albert Haynesworth and Daniel Snyder.  That’s right, the owner gets a mention, whether or not the public perception of his meddling and over-spending is warranted (which I think it’s not, but that’s a story for a different day).  Why are they my picks?  Not because they’re the best options to represent my favorite NFL football team, but because when people look at the Washington Redskins, they view the team as being over-paid veterans who talk a lot but don’t produce enough to make up for that.  That stuff over-shadows the really good defenses the Redskins have had in past seasons, so Pro Bowl selections like veteran linebacker London Fletcher and 2nd-year phenom Brian Orakpo don’t get the nod despite the fact that I’d love to build the team around both of them.  If Chris Cooley weren’t hurt the majority of last year, he could definitely be named Face of the Franchise for the Redskins, and if he gets back to the Pro Bowl this year with McNabb under center, I think Cooley will rightfully reclaim that spot – even ahead of the aging McNabb.

Though it goes without saying for most people, I’ll still go on the record to say that I think Sean Taylor would be the face of this franchise were he still living.  He had huge play ability and he was a magnetic player and personality.

Washington Capitals

This one’s easy.  Alex Ovechkin, the best (and most well-rounded) player in the NHL is easily the face of the Washington Capitals.  Not only is he the most productive member of the team in all the important categories, but he’s the first one to celebrate with the rest of the team when someone else scores a goal.  Alex wants to bring a Stanley Cup trophy to Washington D.C. more than anyone else on the team and despite the language barriers which once existed, he’s easily accessible to the media and he’s finding his way onto plenty of commercials.  The only people who really comes close to being a Face of the Franchise for the Capitals would be Mike Green or Bruce Boudreau.  The lovable, affable, successful coach of the young squad is certainly appreciated by the fans for his work on the ice and off, but there’s only so far Bruce Boudreau can go in stature while Ovechkin and others (including super-owner Ted Leonsis) are in town, but I’m sure that’s fine with him.  Highly skilled offensive-defenseman Mike Green has gained quite a fan following, but he was a bit of a scapegoat to some this post-season, with some calling for him to be traded, though I wouldn’t predict he’d pass Ovechkin anyway.  I’d like to see more from Nicklas Backstrom, who I believe is almost as talented (and important) as Ovechkin, but with hockey having limited popularity in DC, that probably won’t happen unless Mike Green were to depart.

Washington Wizards

One argument from the radio which I vehemently disagree with is them naming John Wall as the Face of the Washington Wizards.  Sure, there’s a really good chance that the Wizards are going to remain in the # 1 draft spot and take the uber-talent from Kentucky, but right now the face of the franchise is Gil Arenas, like it or not.  Agent 0 is a major cause behind the franchise being blown up and retooled, be it due to the gun-toting incident or his high priced contract, and so right now when you think of the state of the Washington Wizards, you have to associate that to Gil Arenas.  If and when John Wall gets to town, he’s going to have to make a huge impact on the team, changing the culture and leading the Wizards to victory and showing he’s a bigger influence than Gil Arenas before he takes the spot of prominence.  Until then, it’s Gil’s team for better or worse.

Washington Nationals

For the Nationals, it’s a little harder to say who really is the Face of the Franchise. I would give credibility to the argument that a pitcher could be the face of a franchise despite only playing in one of every 5th game.  A few examples come to mind: Randy Johnson a few years ago on the Diamondbacks.  Certainly Zack Greinke for the Kansas City Royals. In past years it was Roy Halladay for the Blue Jays.

While Ryan Zimmerman has been the Face of the Nationals for a couple years, I think he’s going to be (or already is) replaced in that spot by Stephen Strasburg.   I know, I know, I’ve already talked about how the Face of a Franchise has more to do with what a team has done instead of their potential for what they are likely to do, but Strasburg having suited up and taken the mound twice already gives him the ability to be that player.  The perception of the Nationals now is that they’re a great team in the making, and people are associating that with Strasburg. With his first strikeout of former National Lastings Milledge, Strasburg became the face of the franchise because the perception had already changed.  If Zimmerman can get a couple more walk-off homeruns and some key defensive plays and the Nationals win games that Strasburg doesn’t pitch and Zim gets some key RBI’s late in the season, he can help put himself into spot # 1a, but with lots of people saying that Strasburg is one of the top pitching talents in the entire MLB right now, people are going to say that Washington = Potential, and Strasburg is the reason.