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Friday, January 9, 2004
 



THE NFL ISN'T GETTING OLDER, IT'S GETTING BETTER.


Joe Gibbs is back in town, and the Writers' Bloc is all atwitter. Everything that was old is new, hope is in the air and Redskins' uber-fan Tom Friend is smiling for the first time in years.

But there's a dark cloud on the horizon for Patrick Hruby, who wonders if Gibbs can pull his hometown 'Skins up before the athletic black hole that is Washington D.C. can pull him down.

Best story of the year | From Tom Friend

I'm going to tell you why this Joe Gibbs hire is the best sports story of the year (OK, it's only Jan. 9, but seriously &).

Because it's corny.

We've never been able to count on our players, count on our coaches. Because they've never really been ours, have they? Lombardi didn't finish his career coaching the Packers, Stengel didn't finish with the Yankees. Parcells is a football whore: He leaves the Giants, coaches the other New York team, then coaches the rival Cowboys. Shame on his ass. If I'm a Giants fan, I disown him. With players, it's understandable -- your career is short, get your money while you can. But with coaches, especially the great ones, you'd hope they'd stay true to you; you'd hope they'd bridge a couple of generations.

Well, that's what Joe Gibbs did this week. He could've coached Atlanta, where he was a minority owner, and he could've coached Carolina years before that. But he was too loyal to the Redskins fans, too loyal to D.C. Said so yesterday.

Like I said, it's corny as hell, but I don't think this has happened before, outside of Earl Weaver. Did Vermeil go back to coach in Philly? Did Sparky Anderson finish up in Cincinnati? Did Bill Walsh ever get the itch to go back and coach at Candlestick? Where's Shula when the Dolphins need him?

I put my 2-year-old son in front of the TV set yesterday and said, "Here's your new coach, same as daddy's old coach."

Made my year.


Ralph Wiley
To: Tom Friend
Subject: Joe Gibbs

And not only that, Tom (My) Friend; the guy showing this kind of brand loyalty is, just maybe, the best NFL coach in the last 25 years. I know Gibbs was a better coach than Parcells, at least a more productive coach -- if that raises hackles, hey, have a Coke and a smile and get over it. Not only are we talking three Super Bowl wins in nine years with three different Cubes who were not named Joe Montana or John Elway, we are talking Counter-Freaking-Trey, the Hogs, When Madden was Madden.

We are also talking the most symbiotic, earth-shaking moment of the last 15 years, when Joe Gibbs benched blonde Jay Schroeder, who couldn't QB his way out of a wet paper bag. That hadn't stopped conveniently blind coaches from playing conveniently blonde guys like Schroeder before, while guys like Marlin the Magician Briscoe, who was Vick before Vick, were moved to wideout. Gibbs benched Schroeder because he knew and was also loyal to his players, his team, and to football, the game itself.

He knew he might be able to win a Super Bowl with black-ass, unblonde Douggie W. So Douggie started every game in the playoffs, including against the then-mighty Bears in the polar cold of Soldier Field. In the the '88 Super Bowl, Doug pulled a groin on a sack. Jay Schroeder came in. Previous NFL coaches would've left him in. Gibbs sent Doug back out there. 357 yards and four TDs in one quarter, on one leg -- history. It was a performance so beyond, the color of a QB wasn't even a question anymore.

Now look around.

The guy responsible for this social engineering happens to be a good ol' boy with no lips who tends toward NASCAR. Now that's a good story. History likes a story like that. I don't care if every coach Joe Gibbs hires from now on is as white as alabaster. And not only that, but ... oh forget it. I'll put the rest in today's R-Dub Page 2 column.


Dan Shanoff
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Joe Gibbs

I appreciate Tom's sentiment, but apparently he feels like pro coaches OWE him something.

We'll see how "loyal" Tom's two-year old (and the rest of swooning Gibbs Nation) is to Gibbs in five years when Tom Jr. is seven and asking, "Daddy, why does our team stink? I want a Ray Lewis jersey for my birthday."

Can't ever take those three rings away from Gibbs -- and I have no doubt that if he doesn't win like he used to, fans will rationalize it as everyone's fault BUT the coach's.

But there's an old saying that sums up the good reason why those old super-coaches don't mess with their sterling reputations by going back to save their struggling, once-great franchises: Don't s--- where you eat.


Steve Wulf
To: Tom Friend
Subject: Joe Gibbs

Tom, You must have been disappointed when the Orioles hired Lee Mazzilli instead of Joe Altobelli.


Robert Lipsyte
To: Writers' Bloc
Subject: Joe Gibbs

It's a lot easier loving Joe Gibbs than loving Pete Rose, and I think you guys are swooning to make up for yesterday's bilious bashing of Charlie Hustle. I love Joe Gibbs, too, at least the friendly, giggly, born-again, glad-hander I spent time with on the NASCAR circuit. And two guys I really like -- John Riggins and Tony Stewart -- offered me very positive testimonials about a man they respect.

That said, I'm not letting you guys go to the weekend feeling all warm and safe. Gibbs may be the weakest example because he has more rings than Frodo, but he is still an example of the recycled old white coach who will continue to be the easy reach for a franchise in trouble. Do I have a problem with this? 'Course not, as the white male elder in this literary gang. But it brings up the same question that has dogged me for years -- with all their me-bad, smash-mouth, terrible-tat posturing, why can't physically courageous African-American athletes get solid enough to put real pressure on franchises to hire more black head coaches? Are they scared, too selfish, conditioned to respond to authority and avoid real responsibility? Or have they been conditioned, like their contract-holders, to think old white coaches are better? Beats me, 'Cats. Any answers appreciated. Maybe Gibbs would know, he's Gandalf back on the white horse. Pete Rose is happy, he probably won a lot of money betting Gibbs. .


Patrick Hruby
To: Robert Lipsyte
Subject: Joe Gibbs

Gibbs doesn't know what he's getting into. Oh, sure, he's a football whiz and an organizational genius. (At least, that's what I gather from his NASCAR reviews. Can't say I watch the League of Extraordinary Left-Turning Gentlemen.) But Washington's pro sports landscape has changed since his previous tenure as the 'Skins grand poobah. And not for the better.

Simply put, my 'burg is the End Zone -- the place where athletic saviors come to die.

You think the frigid, desolate, suffocating surface of Mars is inhospitable? The Red Planet has nothing on MCI Center. Michael Jordan was supposed to do everything except save our troubled school system (and some optimistic local columnists even hinted at that).

His Airness left town with little more than the Bentley he rode in on, knees as reliable as a '61 Corvair, suckered and discarded by old man Abe Pollin. Now, Jordan can't even get a job in the L. And the Wiz are still lousy, even without Juwan Howard's albatross contract. Or take Jaromir Jagr. Best player in hockey? Not after drinking the Kryptonite-laden Capitol Kool Aid. Even the Rangers refuse to swallow his megabuck contract. Meanwhile, AOL gazillionaire and Caps owner Ted Leonsis -- the man who promised to revolutionize hockey with the Internet -- is bleeding cash like an Enron fund manager.

I could mention Dan Snyder's inability to spend his way to a title (or even a .500 record), Steve Spurrier's perpetual sideline grimace, draft picks like Heath Shuler, Michael Westbrook and The Kwame, DC United's slide into the cellar, Chamique Holdsclaw's struggle to match (or come close to) her college success ... but instead, consider this: Mia Hamm led the Washington Freedom to the city's only pro title last year. Her reward? The entire WUSA folded!

Of course, if Gibbs can overcome the dark pull of a city that acts like an athletic black hole -- perhaps, like Luke Skywalker, he sees a faint glimmer of remaining good -- then more power to him. He'll have bolstered his legend tenfold. But I'm not counting on it. In fact, I fear it's more likely that 14-year-old soccer phenom and soon-to-be United draft pick Freddy Adu will end up on an "E! True Hollywood Story." Provided he doesn't hold up a liquor store first.