In the end, Joe Gibbs couldn’t compete with himself.
Not that Gibbs had a real chance at beating the mythical character with the same name who used to coach around these parts. Had everything gone Gibbs’ way when he came back for an encore and tens of millions of dollars, that still would’ve only earned him a draw with the legend.
Most things didn’t go the Skins’ way, alas. The 6-10 mark isn’t only the worst in Gibbs’ 13 years as a head coach, it’s the same record that in 1980 was bad enough to get then–Redskins coach Jack Pardee fired, leading to Gibbs’ hiring the first time around.
The new Gibbs didn’t deal well with losing at a pace the old Gibbs had never encountered. A short review of the evidence:
•After losing at home to Dallas in a game during which a failed challenge of a referee’s calls cost his team a timeout, Gibbs insinuated that but for two pass-interference calls, the Skins would’ve won. At his Monday press conference, the Hall of Fame coach announced that he was issuing a complaint to National Football League (NFL) offices about the calls. The old Gibbs famously acted as if his team deserved whatever they got. With the new Gibbs, losses weren’t really losses.
•Gibbs sniveled again just a week after the Dallas debacle. As if losing to Cleveland, likely the worst team in the NFL this season, wasn’t sad enough, Gibbs issued cringe-inducing alibis. This time, Gibbs said his team’s effort was hampered by poor headset communications between him and quarterback Mark Brunell.
“They get to talk to their quarterback, and we can’t?” Gibbs asked at his Monday press conference. He then announced that he was issuing a complaint about the headset malfunction with the NFL offices.
•Gibbs cited referee Tom White’s motion call against Chris Samuels as a deciding factor in the loss to the Giants, the second-worst team in the NFL.
•Gibbs saved his loudest whines for the aftermath of a two-touchdown loss to Green Bay. Gibbs let the world know that an illegal motion call against James Thrash—again made by White—did more than merely negate a Clinton Portis touchdown. It took another game away from his team.
“We really and truly made the play to win the game,” Gibbs said of the flagged play in his Monday press conference. He then announced that he had sent films of the play to NFL offices and was issuing a complaint about the call on Thrash. (For the record, the NFL rule book, which states that “[a]fter a shift or huddle all players on offensive team must come to an absolute stop for at least one second with no movement of hands, feet, head, or swaying of body,” backed up White’s call.)
The few things that did go the Redskins’ way this year—well, upon further review, they’re largely irrelevant.
Take, for example, the much-ballyhooed ranking of the Redskins defense, which as of the final weekend of the season was giving up 264 yards per game, best in the National Football Conference (NFC). Turns out you’d have to review Ohio exit polls to find a less meaningful number.
The 2004 Redskins helped prove that, contrary to cliché, defense not only doesn’t win championships, it doesn’t even make the playoffs: As of the last weekend of the season, only one of the NFC’s five top-ranked defenses (Philadelphia’s third-ranked unit) was from a playoff team.
The others—Washington, New York, Tampa Bay, and Arizona—belonged to this year’s bottom-feeder squads.
Offense, however, is another story. By the numbers, Gibbs, the architect of some of the greatest offensive schemes in NFL history during his first go-round, put together the second-worst offense in the conference this season.
Meanwhile, all of the NFC’s top five offenses (in order: Minnesota, Green Bay, St. Louis, Seattle, and, again, Philly) qualified for the playoffs.
Ever since Gibbs went on his stock-car sabbatical in 1992, postseason has provided the Redskins faithful with plenty of opportunities to dwell on the past. I plan on using this year’s downtime to re-watch a videocassette of the Super Bowl XXII broadcast, the Redskins vs. the Broncos. I paid 50 cents for the tape at a yard sale this fall, and it’s been in heavy rotation in my VCR ever since.
There are all sorts of quaint period-piece qualities to the recording, which was taken, commercials and all, from the local ABC affiliate. Budweiser trying to get kids interested in beer through Spuds MacKenzie spots. A tease from WJLA about an upcoming news report on “Radon results” after the testing of Redskins players’ homes. And perhaps a dozen ads for or announcer references to the network’s new series: Hooperman, a flop comedy starring John Ritter, and The Wonder Years, a sentimental drama that debuted the night of the Super Bowl and would go on to be one of the most beloved shows of its era.
Then there’s the game itself. Guest commentator Marty Schottenheimer, sporting huge eyeglasses straight out of the Carol Channing Collection, predicts a Broncos win during the pregame telecast. And Denver looks good early, as the team scores on a John Elway bomb to Rickey Nattiel on the first play from scrimmage and takes a 10-0 lead just minutes into the game.
Here’s a stat about the 2005 Skins that really does matter: Gibbs’ current team didn’t come from behind once all season to win a game. Get a lead on the late-model Redskins and they’re done.
But that guy didn’t coach the Redskins in Super Bowl XXII. This was the game in which Gibbs earned the reputation as somebody whose game-time adjustments were second to none. The Redskins, relying on United States Football League castoffs Gary Clark, Doug Williams, and Ricky Sanders, scored 35 points in the second quarter alone and never gave up another point. By the second half, the game was so out of reach that announcers were left with nothing to do but shill for the new shows.
“Kathie was crying by the end of it,” says ABC play-by-play man Frank Gifford late in the broadcast, about his wife’s response to watching a preview of The Wonder Years.
Redskins fans of a certain age, watching this tape, can relate to that reaction. —Dave McKenna