No Ordinary Joe
The Washington Redskins go back to the future.


–I hate the Washington Redskins. I’m not the only one, either, as most anyone who moves to this area and is a pro-football fan automatically hates the team. The reasons for playa hatin’ are numerous: the incessant and idiotic Redskins coverage, the incredibly obnoxious Hogettes, the fact that transplants may already have a favorite team, and, of course, the young, meddlesome, football-neophyte owner Dan Snyder. About the only thing to like about the local professional football team is that they refuse to bow to the pressures of political correctness and change the name “Redskins” to something less insensitive, as when the local NBA squad changed its name from the allegedly violent “Bullets” to the nerdy “Wizards.”

Redskin haters take a perverse pleasure in watching the Redskins fail, especially when expectations for the team are high. For the past decade or so, the pleasure has been intense. The team has made only one playoff appearance in the last eleven years. This past season just ended in a five-win debacle, with false messiah Steve Spurrier leaving town in disgrace. Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted on over-the-hill free agents (Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, etc.), on high draft picks turning into high-priced busts (Heath Shuler, Michael Westbrook, etc.), or seeing underachieving players leaving the Redskins to become bona fide stars on other teams (Super Bowl quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Rich Gannon, etc.), and four utterly confused head coaches in the last four years (Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, etc.).

But in what has to be the most stunning news in the sports world since Michael Jordan announced his first retirement, the Boy Blunder showed former Redskin coaching great Joe Gibbs the money and lured him out of an eleven-year retirement with a five-year, $25 million contract. The last time someone so famous came back to our nation’s capital to resume such a prominent position of leadership was when Grover Cleveland returned to the White House after a four-year absence in the late 19th century. Even the most steadfast Redskin hater, if he is a true football fan, has to be impressed with the rehiring of the legendary Coach Gibbs.

From a football perspective, you can’t do much better than Gibbs. When he ran the Redskins in the Eighties and early Nineties, the team made it to four Super Bowls, winning three. Along the way, Gibbs won 67 percent of his regular-season games; during the postseason, the winning occurred at a 79 percent clip. And as if three Super Bowl victories in twelve years wasn’t impressive enough, Gibbs’s Redskins accomplished this feat with three different starting quarterbacks and three different starting running backs. It remains to be seen whether Gibbs can cope with a new generation of pampered and thuggish athletes, with a megalomaniac for an owner, and a free-agent system which guarantees that a team cannot keep a core set of players for any length of time. But anything’s possible, especially in today’s NFL. Two of Gibbs’s Eighties contemporaries recently returned to the pro coaching ranks and have met with resounding successes. Bill Parcells came back and brought the moribund Dallas Cowboys back to the playoffs, and Dick Vermeil, who coached against Gibbs’s Redskins in the early Eighties, recently came back after a 16-year coaching hiatus, winning the 1999 Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams and having the Kansas City Chiefs primed for a championship run this season. There is no reason to believe that Gibbs, who is renowned for his football acumen and his tireless work ethic, cannot at least match the efforts of his Old School colleagues and bring the Deadskins back to respectability.

Gibbs’s arrival is even bigger news than when Vince Lombardi walked across the Potomac to coach the Redskins in 1969. And like St. Vince, Gibbs also has a reputation for being socially conservative. His first stint in Washington almost perfectly coincided with the twelve years of the Reagan-Bush 41 era, and it was hard to tell who was more conservative during those heady days. Among other things, Gibbs lent his considerable prestige to an effort to pass a school-prayer amendment, joined a demonstration against abortion at a local hospital, made an anti-abortion video with several NFL players, and campaigned against pornography and illegal-drug use. He was always active in the local community and encouraged his players to make positive contributions to society. In 1983, he even joined President Reagan onstage at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Gibbs is an unabashed born-again Christian, so much so that a rumor circulated that Christians had an easier time making the team than hard-drinking, card-playing athletes. Of course, since some of his best players included carousers such as John Riggins, Dexter Manley, and Joe Theismann, in retrospect the accusation seems to ring hollow. President George W. Bush may find a kindred spirit in Coach Gibbs, and don’t be surprised if the Redskins new coach ends up befriending the president, much like Lombardi and (yet another) former Redskin coaching great George Allen were chummy with former President Richard Nixon. It’s too bad that Gibbs is only coming back to D.C. as a coach, and not as an elected official.

It’s a conundrum for a Redskin hater such as myself. The reasons to hate the Redskins are still there, only now there will be even more nonstop Redskins coverage in the papers and on the TV and radio, the Hogettes will probably be more visible and annoying than ever, and Dan Snyder will still be insufferable. Worst of all, now the Redskins will probably start to beat my favorite team, which had won 16 of 22 meetings since Gibbs’s departure. Still, I won’t be able to stop rooting for a coach who is one of the greatest of all time, and for a man who could once again provide a shining example of conservatism here in Washington.

Hail to the Redskins, indeed.

David Hickey lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and is a long-time professional football and Dallas Cowboys fan.