Thursday, January 24, 2008

Joe Gibbs

Sunday afternoons just got that much more stressful. The Washington Redskins will be coached by Joe Gibbs no more and with a new coach prowling the sidelines, that familiar feeling of comfort is now gone. After all, Coach Gibbs was the most powerful representative of what it means to be a Redskin. With Joe Gibbs at the helm, there was a feeling that things were just going to be OK. Deep down, there was a sense thathe could not rest easy until they were. Sure, he may have lost some ability to make cutting edge half-time adjustments, his offenses did not trailblaze like the first go-around, and he made his share of dubious calls during the four-year run, but ultimately Joe Gibbs was a winner. And he was going to infuse the spirit of the Redskins with his leadership. The lasting legacy of Gibbs will not be that he had a losing record, or that he made the playoffs in two out of four years, or not even that he sheperded his men through the tragic loss of Sean Taylor as heroic as that was. The legacy that Gibbs leaves behind is that he has again defined what it means to put on that Redskins jersey; you're expected to play with pride, toughness, and an absolute unwillingness to let your team down. You're expected to play Redskins football.

Now, it all looks so very gloomy. A man who had Redskins pulsing through his veins will be replaced by just another coach. Sure, X's and O's are important and there's no argument to be made that superior strategy cannot win football games. But this sport, and partly why it's so fascinating, is about teamwork. It's about getting a group of guys to go to battle every week: us against the world. So, how are you ever going to find a leader of men like Joe Gibbs? Forget the superior technical ability, which Gibbs no doubt had. But, how do you even begin to replace that unique ability to lead and motivate and feel the pulse of the team? And to top that off, how are you ever going to find a man that was so truly devoted to the Redskins?

It is easy to wonder, in times like these, if the franchise is truly cursed. Maybe there's something to that ancient Indian burial ground "myth" after all. This time, it seems as if the Redskins are closer to winning the Super Bowl than they have been in over 15 years. All we needed was Gibbs back for one more season, a couple of free agents, a couple of rookies, the same coaching staff, and with the solidarity that the team showed this season, the Skins had a teriffic chance to contend next season. Just not "contend" for the playoffs and the Super Bowl like fans think they will every season. I mean, really contend.

So, understandably, the very first reaction to Gibbs' resignation had to be betrayal and dismay. However, a subsequent reaction may be a thought that it would be selfish to ask Gibbs to stay for one more year when he has more pressing family issues at hand. After all, he *gave* 16 years of his life to the Redskins. Not just in the 9-5, 40 hours a week sense. During those 16 years, Gibbs thought about the welfare of the Redskins for most of his waking moments. To be sure, an ardous task for anyone. Yes, it seems like he's earned a vacation.

But, the feelings of dismay are stronger because of trepidation of what the future
holds in store. After all, the Redskins pre-Gibbs 2.0 have been mediocre and especially worse under Daniel Snyder. Nothing in Snyder's track record inspires any confidence whatsoever. Of course, this may be too harsh a criticism since from all accounts, he's matured a lot from a front row seat to watch Gibbs weave his magic. Now, it's his turn to apply those very lessons and here's to hoping he learned them well. Hiring a GM would be a great start. But, don't hold your breath.

Alas, fans of this team will continue to follow their latest conquests and travails with the same amount of gusto that they did in the past four years. But, when Gibbs came back those four short years ago, everyone had a sense of what was in store. At the very least, the Redskins were going to be respectable again and in the hunt for greater victories every year. December games were going to meaninful again. Every game was going to be fought to the bitter end (a vast majority, anyhow); no more halftime blowouts where the Skins just go through the motions in the second half. The defense was going to be gritty, the special teams would lead the way,
the offensive line would run over people to make way for the running game, and the Redskins would out-physical their opponents. Back to their smash-mouth roots. Back to Redskins football. Unfortunately to all involved, however, the term Redskins football is to redefined yet again. For better or for worse, only time can tell.

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