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Ryan Kerrigan was the only player left at FedExField after the Washington Football Team's playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was not alone. He was surrounded by all the memories he had collected over the past decade.

He looked at one end zone, and he could see himself scoring his first-career touchdown against the New York Giants in his NFL debut. He turned his head toward the other end zone, and he could see Preston Smith scooping up a fumble he had forced against the Dallas Cowboys and running it in for a touchdown.

The stands were quiet and empty that night, but Kerrigan remembers them filled with fans cheering as loud as he had ever heard them.

"I think those emotions kind of compiling together made me a little emotional, but it's good," Kerrigan told reporters during his exit interview. "I'm glad I was able to kind of reflect."

Kerrigan quickly became a favorite among Washington fans with his team-first mentality, consistent production and, of course, his infamous "HBK'' sack celebration. The former first-round pick gave the franchise numerous high points like his playoff berths and record-breaking performances, and in turn the fanbase embraced him year after year.

Anyone would be impressed with the legacy Kerrigan created in Washington; 454 tackles, three interceptions returned for touchdowns, 26 forced fumbles, 25 pass breakups, four Pro Bowls and the official franchise record for career sacks with 95.5 in 141 starts. But those numbers only tell what he did on the field. What they don't show are the emotions and irreplaceable moments they created.

Washington fans will cherish the memories he created for years to come.

"I always thank RK for doing that, and I always thank him for the type of man that he is and just [taking] me with open arms and teaching me the game," Chase Young said the Monday after Washington's playoff game. "RK knows it's all love, and we're going to have this relationship forever."

Immediate returns on an investment



Draft picks are always something of a gamble, even if they are first-round selections with proven track records.

But when Washington drafted Kerrigan -- the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year -- 16th overall out of Purdue in 2011, draft experts viewed the move as a safe and worthwhile investment.

"Every time the ball is snapped, you know what you're getting with this kid," said ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. "He's been disruptive. To me, he can shed. He can stop the run effectively and gives you that pass rush because he never quits on a play."

Washington was getting was a unanimous All-American with a proven resume as one of the best defensive linemen in the country. His senior season alone was what players hope to achieve for their entire careers; he broke the Big Ten's all-time record for forced fumbles, won the Bill Willis Trophy for being the best collegiate defensive lineman in the country and was a semifinalist for the Lombardi Award. And fortunately, it did not take long for Kerrigan to put his skills to good use in Washington.

Washington was playing the Giants in Week 1, and the defense had quarterback Eli Manning backed up with a 3rd-and-11 at the Giants' own 19-yard line. Manning could tell Washington was bringing a blitz, so he switched to a screen pass intended for Hakeem Nicks.

Kerrigan knew Manning had changed the play to a quick pass because of the way Kareem McKenzie had tried to cut block him. He was able to quickly shed the block and perfectly time his jump to bat the ball in the air. He then caught it and ran nine yards into the end zone to give Washington a 21-14 lead.

"That wasn't too much coverage right there," Kerrigan said after the game. "That was just playing the cut block and getting my hands up, and fortunately the ball found my hands twice and I got into the end zone."

The score proved to be exactly what Washington needed, because it walked away from FedExField that afternoon with a 28-14 victory. It was a great start to Kerrigan's career, but the game itself was not the most memorable moment. Rather, it was the mob of players congratulating him and cheers from the crowd.

"I just remember not really being able to see anything as I was getting mauled by my teammates," Kerrigan said. "[I'll remember] just a great feeling that was. A moment I will always remember."

Flexing his way to franchise records



Kerrigan was entering his fourth season when linebacker Will Compton approached him to discuss an important topic: it was time for the 26-year-old outside linebacker to come up with a sack celebration.

Certainly Kerrigan was deserving of an opportunity to show off. He had finished with at least 7.5 sacks the past three seasons and been to the Pro Bowl. Outside of Brian Orakpo, Kerrigan was Washington's best pass-rusher, so it made sense to Compton that Kerrigan should occasionally let people know how dominant he can be.

Compton even had a particular celebration in mind: WWE wrestler Shawn Michaels' "HBK" pose. It took some convincing, but eventually Kerrigan agreed. Now, all he needed was an opportunity to do it. Two weeks into the 2014 season, that chance finally arrived against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

With Washington already ahead, 21-0, in the second quarter, quarterback Chad Henne tried to fool the defense with a play action rollout, but Kerrigan read the fake with ease and tracked Henne down. Henne tried to avoid the sack, but Kerrigan used his long arms to bring him to the ground.

Kerrigan got up, took two steps forward and flexed his muscles in front of the 80,000 fans at FedExField.

"After that, it just caught on like wildfire," Kerrigan said on The Rundown podcast in 2019. "My mentions were blowing up like crazy online, and my friends were texting me saying, 'I don't know what the hell that was, but it was awesome man!' I was a Shawn Michaels fan before, and it was crazy how quickly it became a thing."

Kerrigan and the rest of Washington's defense ended up hounding Henne all afternoon. He brought Henne down again in the third quarter on a 2nd-and-10, then again on the following play. With fewer than two minutes left to play, Kerrigan sacked Henne one final time for a five-yard loss.

By the end of the game, Washington had sacked Henne 10 times, four of which came from Kerrigan, who tied a single-game franchise record.

"We were joking on the sideline like, 'Who's going to be next [to get a sack]?'" Kerrigan said after the game. "It was such a great feeling, unlike anything I've been a part of, getting that many sacks and playing the type of defense we played."

Washington won the game handedly, 41-10, but more importantly, it was the birth of a celebration fans would come to adore.

"That was definitely one of the most fun days I've had playing defense, and it was a great day for all of us," Kerrigan said. "We only had one [turnover], but when you're holding them to that few yardage and getting great pressure on the quarterback, you can't complain too much."

The right play at the right time



Washington was in need of something big to turn the momentum in its favor during the first NFC East matchup of the 2018 season. It was clinging to a 13-10 lead over the Cowboys with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and a big play would go a long way to securing first place in the division.

Kerrigan was having a relatively quiet start to the season after making his third Pro Bowl the previous year. He only had four tackles and one sack in five games. As it turned out, the matchup against the Cowboys was exactly what he needed to jumpstart his campaign.

The Cowboys were backed up at their own 10-yard line facing a 3rd-and-14 when quarterback Dak Prescott, who had already thrown a 49-yard touchdown pass to Michael Gallup, took the snap and surveyed his options. As he prepared to make his throw, Kerrigan, who was initially held up by tight end Jason Witten, came barreling up the middle with his sole focus being to take Prescott down.

"When I'm getting chipped like that by a tight end, I'm trying to just...play off the defensive tackles," Kerrigan said. "[Daron] Payne did a good job not getting upfield and kind of clearing a lane for me. The [defensive backs] did a great job, made him hold onto the ball."

It looked as if Prescott was about to be sacked for a safety, but then the ball popped out of his grasp just before he hit the grass. Smith scooped it up and had no trouble practically walking into the end zone. Kerrigan had his second sack of the game, and Washington had the game-changing play it needed.

"Whenever we're trying to tackle a quarterback, or any ball carrier, we're aiming to come around with an arm and try to...get that ball out," Kerrigan said. "Fortunately, that's what happened, and even more fortunately, Preston was there and didn't have a long jog to a touchdown."

The game proved to be a turning point in yet another Pro Bowl season for Kerrigan. From that point on, he racked up 10.0 sacks and 16 quarterback hits. It also ended up being Kerrigan's best tackling performance of his career with Pro Football Focus giving him a grade of 85.0.

"It is gratifying to get to them, that's for sure," Kerrigan said of racking up sacks. "That's just the game. You've got to keep playing and keep working."

Leaving as an all-time franchise great



By 2020, Kerrigan had already accomplished about as much as one could hope for in their professional careers. He had as many Pro Bowl appearances (four) as games missed and averaged about 10 sacks per season. One of the only things missing was breaking the franchise's all-time official sack record, and he was only 1.5 sacks away from surpassing Dexter Manley for that title. Luckily, he did not have to wait long.

It was the season opener, and Kerrigan was in a role unlike any other he had experienced in his career. The perennial starter was set to back up fellow first-round picks Chase Young and Montez Sweat, but he understood the reasoning behind it. That just meant he would have to make the most of his opportunities, starting against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kerrigan's first sack came nearly nine minutes into the first quarter, as he breezed untouched through the offensive line and was there to bring down Carson Wentz, who had just avoided Sweat, for a 10-yard loss. His historic sack occurred in the fourth quarter, resulting in another 10-yard loss and an eventual three-and-out. The stands were empty at FedExField that day, but there were no doubt scores of fans across the country cheering Kerrigan on for becoming the franchise's best statistical pass-rusher.

"It meant a lot. It's pretty crazy," Kerrigan said after the game. "This organization has been around for a really long time, seen a lot of really productive players come through. To be at the top of that list is pretty special for me."

Kerrigan did not lead Washington in sacks in what would be his final season, but his teammates did not need to see any big numbers to know what he meant to the franchise. He was a guiding force for his fellow defensive linemen, with Young calling him "a dude" and Payne saying "he is a guy that you can just sit back and watch and emulate."

"Everything he does is the right way to do things, and you can learn so much from him if you just sit back and watch him," Payne said. "I appreciate him, I love him to death and I'm just happy that I got a chance to play with him."

Kerrigan knew there was some uncertainty regarding his future with the team since he was not under contract for 2021. But no matter what, he could say he left the organization as the top pass-rusher. That, he said during his exit interview, was "pretty damn cool."

"I never would have thought that coming into the league," he said. "You don't know what to expect coming into the league. You think everything's going to go well, but you're not certain that it is. So to become the all-time sack leader here for a franchise that's been around for a long time, it's pretty cool. It's not something I take for granted, not something I take lightly, and I'm really blessed and fortunate to have that."

As Kerrigan sat at FedExField for what would be the last time wearing burgundy and gold, his mind was filled with everything he had experienced over the past 10 years. Sure, he thought about his first touchdown, making the playoffs three times and becoming the all-time official sack leader, but he also reflected on giving everything he had for the team he had come to love and the fans who loved him in return.

Kerrigan eventually got to his feet and headed for the home locker room for the final time, but the memories of his success, the ones that made fans cheer and shout his name, will never leave FedExField. They are the imprints of his time in Washington that people will never forget.

"To think I've been in one place for 10 years and have had the fond memories that I've had, especially at FedExField, I just kind of wanted to go back and relive some of those moments," Kerrigan said. "I was glad I did that, because I'll think about that moment and reflect on it in the years to come."

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