“We are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop Shuler — as long as it doesn’t require any money.”
— attack blogger Jason Woodmansee
There are any number of reasons for disliking politicians. In the case of local Democratic congressional candidate Heath Shuler, who hasn’t yet been elected to anything, one might dislike him strictly on the basis of party affiliation or the fact that he’s immeasurably richer (not to mention better looking) than most of us ever hope to be. Or perhaps because this mountain boy, raised in Bryson City, chose to name his children Navy and Island (go figure).
But Jason Woodmansee loathes Shuler for the simple reason that the former University of Tennessee quarterback ruined Woodmansee’s beloved Washington Redskins — and collected $19.5 million for his efforts. Rather than throwing money at Rep. Charles Taylor (whom Shuler is bidding to sack in November), however, the rabid fan has gone digital with an attack weblog called StopShuler.com.
“We read that Shuler was running for Congress, which meant that he would come back to D.C. if he won, and it brought back very painful memories,” said Woodmansee via e-mail from his current home in San Diego. “We figured somebody had to do something, even if that something was a blog filled with smart-ass comments about his career.”
True, Shuler threw more than twice as many interceptions as TDs in his injury-shortened, four-year stint in pro football. But if he does manage to hit his target with a Hail Mary and actually beat Taylor, what’s the worst-case scenario?
“The worst thing that could happen would be Shuler’s stench of failure rubbing off on the team when he comes to Washington, and they start another decade of sucking,” says Woodmansee. “If Taylor gets re-elected, he keeps doing shady business dealings and nobody gets hurt — well, at least the Redskins don’t.”
Shuler’s press secretary, Andrew Whalen, says the campaign is familiar with the blog but brushes it aside good-naturedly. “Fans will be fans,” he says. “It’s humorous. Football fans get very passionate about their teams. They say nothing about Heath’s politics; it’s purely about football.” But Whalen adds: “[Shuler’s] not going back to Washington to play football — he’s going back to fight for working families in Western North Carolina.”
It should be noted that Woodmansee, a 34-year-old father of two who runs the interactive-marketing department for a sports-equipment company, is a Democrat whose blog has poked malevolent fun at all four 11th District congressional candidates.
“Our politics are football,” Woodmansee says of himself and his fellow bloggers. “I, personally, am a registered Democrat, but I am much more loyal to the Redskins than any political party.”
As for the blog itself, Woodmansee says: “First off, we like to think of it as serious, snarky fun. Second, we are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop Shuler — as long as it doesn’t require any money, travel or more than a few hours out of our week. We are that dedicated.”
The feedback garnered by StopShuler.com has varied from support and empathy (from Redskins fans) to confusion (from political types) to outright hostility (from people who want Shuler to win). “We don’t divulge site specs out of embarrassment,” says Woodmansee, “but when we get media coverage, we get good spikes. So hello to all you alternative Western North Carolina folks! Visit our site!”
When Shuler, a Heisman Trophy finalist, was picked third overall in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft, the Redskins’ hopes of a hasty return to the Super Bowl blossomed. But it wasn’t to be.
“Shuler is all about creating hope and crushing it. He was supposed to be the franchise QB, and he couldn’t play his way out of a paper bag,” says Woodmansee. “The Redskins won the Super Bowl in January 1992, and Shuler was drafted in April 1994. It was supposed to be a quick rebuilding effort, and instead it took another 11 years. And we blame Shuler.”
It’s tempting to imagine Shuler hunched over a computer in his Waynesville campaign headquarters going head-to-head with the ungrateful and vitriolic Redskin nation that is StopShuler.com, but so far, that hasn’t happened.
“We have been critical of all of the candidates and have been roundly ignored by all of them,” notes Woodmansee. “Shuler’s people did delete our comment on his [campaign Web-site] blog — which could be considered feedback, in a manner of speaking.”
Meanwhile, amid the teeth-gnashing fear of Shuler’s possible return to D.C., the brains behind StopShuler.com cites a few other high-profile jocks who might also bear watching.
“The only other former Redskins that would get us this motivated would be Jeff George or Deion Sanders,” says Woodmansee. “And, of course, if Norv Turner [Shuler’s former, very unsuccessful head coach] ran for Congress, that would make us REALLY freak out.”