On Feb. 5, Joe Gibbs was a featured guest at the National Prayer Breakfast MC’d by President Bush. Then, for this year’s Daytona 500, Gibbs allowed his stock car to be used as a billboard for The Passion of the Christ, the new Mel Gibson film that shows the crucifixion in nails-through-skin detail. And now Gibbs is running himself ragged to bring in the aging Mark Brunell as the future quarterback for the Redskins.

It doesn’t take Matlock to process these clues. The Redskins have gone God Squad.

Gibbs wasn’t shy about his religious leanings during his first stint as coach. But in the area of building a team in His image, recent behavior suggests Gibbs II has, in jock parlance, turned it up a notch.

The coach has long liked his quarterbacks devout. Mark Rypien, Jay Schroeder, and Jeff Rutledge are among Gibbs’ former QBs who went public with their faith. But the guy now hailed as the Redskins’ likely signal caller can out-God all of ’em. Brunell brought so much spirituality to the workplace in Jacksonville that it got him in trouble.

Jaguars management had to ask Brunell to stop slipping announcements for the Wednesday-night Bible study he organized at the local Marriott into teammates’ lockers.

“I’m for separation of church and state, and I’m for separation of church and football,” Jaguars tackle John Jurkovic said after the flier episode. Brunell apologized and agreed to stop his locker-room proselytizing.

But the controversies didn’t end there. Brunell’s marketing representative, Greg Feste, had ties to a Texas-based Christian group, Champions for Christ (CFC), and Feste used his connections to the Jacksonville quarterback and CFC to convince dozens of NFL players to hire him as their agent. When Chicago Bears running back Curtis Enis dumped agent Vann McElroy and signed with Feste, other NFL player reps decried Feste’s tactics and accused him of using the Lord to bring players into his flock.

Brunell’s pastor, Greg Ball, was the founder of CFC. A New York Times report in 1998 said that two teams—Jacksonville and the Bears—had asked the NFL to investigate Ball, Feste, and CFC’s tactics. Nothing public came of the NFL’s investigation, though Enis dropped Feste as an agent and severed ties with CFC, attributing those decisions to the controversy surrounding the group. Feste now owns the Austin Wranglers, an Arena Football League team.

The Redskins roster probably could use a dose of godliness. Look at the bad actors brought in last midseason, when Dan Snyder was in charge of personnel: Kenyatta Jones is now facing charges related to allegedly pouring boiling water on a man described as his “personal assistant.” Darrell Russell was cut by the Oakland Raiders after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and allegedly videotaping his friends having sex with an incapacitated woman.

There are faithful players available for Gibbs to go after. The Skins need a whole new defensive line. Reggie “Minister of Defense” White is a little long in the tooth, though he might want to come back if God tells him to get his sacks record back from Bruce Smith.

Gibbs could also go for the New York Giants’ Mike Barrow without losing much faith. The linebacker, an active member of the Christian group Athletes in Action, backed out of participation in a charity basketball game at a New Jersey high school last year when officials from the school district said Barrow’s plan to deliver a religious speech at halftime violated a law prohibiting the use of school facilities for such purposes.

Shaun Alexander, a Seahawk who ran over the Redskins last season, is active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and could fill Gibbs’ need for a big back to run 30 Gut about 30 times a game. Alexander likes to tell the story of finding religion in college, while searching through the Bible for “something with 37 because that was my football number.” And Psalm 37 includes the verse “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

The Skins aren’t looking for a wideout, but nobody wears his faith on his sleeve more than journeyman Todd Doxzon. When he played for the Los Angeles Extreme of the XFL, he wore “Col. 3:17” on the back of his jersey in the “He Hate Me” slot. Doxzon explained that it referenced a Bible passage that reads: “Whatever you do in word or deed you do unto the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father.” Doxzon is now with the Carolina Cobras of the Arena Football League.

Gibbs can also make nonroster moves to show his devotion. If, for example, Gibbs wants to move training camp away from Ashburn, Va., there are godly sites that could house the reborn Skins—Frostburg, Md., for example, where the team trained under Norv Turner. The town is also home to a group calling itself God’s Ark of Safety Ministries, which has been rebuilding Noah’s Ark since April 1976. Every visitor to the town has to pass billboards announcing that project, which, to be honest, hasn’t shown a whole lot of progress in the last several years. Gibbs might need some help from above to get Frostburg to take the team back, however. Snyder broke the Redskins contract with the city four years ago so he could charge $10 admission and $10 parking to practice sessions at Redskin Park. And townsfolk in Frostburg may not be ready to turn the other cheek just yet.

But that leaves the original Redskin Park in Herndon, Va., as an option. George Allen opened that site by Dulles airport in 1971, making the Redskins the first NFL team to have its own regular-season practice facility. The Redskins moved from Herndon to their current Ashburn address in the summer of 1992, just after a final ceremony in which players and coaches were given their third and last Super Bowl rings under Gibbs. The team has been in decline ever since. And maybe the grounds are hallowed: D.C. United took over Redskin Park after the football team left and quickly won two MLS championships. D.C. United hasn’t won anything since abandoning Herndon and using the auxiliary fields at RFK Stadium for workouts. If he wants to move back, Gibbs will have no problem negotiating with the property’s new owner and tenant: Word of Grace Fellowship. That’s a church. CP