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George Solomon

With the Nats and Redskins, There's Always Something to Talk About

By George Solomon
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page E02

Talk about contrasts this week. The Nationals opened the exhibition season Wednesday with a 5-3 victory over the New York Mets in Viera, Fla. -- the first time a major league baseball team has represented the nation's capital in 34 years. The story was front page in all the newspapers and even topped violent crime as the lead story on most local television newscasts.

Meantime, the daily free agent soap opera involving the Washington Redskins continued yesterday with the trade of disgruntled wide receiver Laveranues Coles to the New York Jets for wide receiver Santana Moss. On Thursday the news was that up-and-coming middle linebacker Antonio Pierce would leave the team for the New York Giants to accept a six-year, $26 million contract that included a $6.5 million signing bonus. That left Coach Joe Gibbs to explain that in trying to keep Pierce, the Redskins "went as far as we could go," adding, "I hate it."

The Nationals stand at attention during the seventh-inning singing of "God Bless America" in their 5-3 exhibition win over the Mets on Wednesday. It was the team's first game. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

Joe, you aren't the only guy in town who hated to see Pierce, who was signed as a free agent four years ago and developed on the practice squad, leave for the hated Giants. His maturation was so impressive even I would have accepted a price increase to keep this kid here, except this week the Redskins pulled nearly all the 279 tickets owned by The Washington Post since the 1950s, when you couldn't give the tickets away. But that's another story altogether -- to be told in Feinstein's next book, "The Redskins: We're Mad as Hell and We're Not Going to Take It Anymore."

Pierce's departure came on the same day as the arrival of free agent wide receiver David "Maybe Patrick Ramsey is as good as Tom Brady" Patten, who for $13 million will wear the burgundy and gold after winning three Super Bowl rings in the last four years with the New England Patriots and can view "our" three Lombardi trophies.

Still, "our" favorite NFL team did extend and re-work the contract of left tackle Chris Samuels with a seven-year agreement worth $47 million (that's about $32 million more than the late Jack Kent Cooke paid the estate of George Preston Marshall for the whole team in 1969). In addition, the Redskins signed center Casey Rabach from the Baltimore Ravens, pending approval from Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

While it looked last week as though the Redskins were reluctant to deal Coles, the restructuring of Samuels's contract and Gibbs not wanting anyone on the Redskins who didn't want to be here apparently resulted in yesterday's trade. The Redskins still have to pay Coles some of his money, which sadly, may turn into their best investment of the offseason.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have everyone excited this week, their home white uniforms with the lettering "Nationals" across the front in red coming through loud and clear on ESPN on Wednesday with Jose Guillen homering, veteran Tony Armas Jr. pitching two strong innings, Manager Frank Robinson looking very managerial and fans here taking a lunch hour at a sports bar to watch their home team play a baseball game. How was that? "Really great," said David Cope, a Nats vice president, "to see ball players in Washington uniforms."

All this in a week that had three architectural firms chosen as finalists to design Washington's new baseball stadium (Free suggestion: Make it look like old Griffith Stadium) to be built in three years in Southeast; Bonneville VP Joel Oxley's promise that between nine different outlets, fans here can hear all Nats games, as well as XM executive George Perry reporting that all Nats games (along with "Frank's Place") will be on satellite radio, with the other 29 teams, including some exhibition games. WTEM has the O's. In addition, Cope said single game tickets for the Nats, excluding the home opener (April 14), go on sale this Saturday. Opening night tickets will go on sale March 26.

Also, no TV deal yet, until Baltimore's Godfather of Ball approves his compensation package from MLB. And the neighborhood associations say no to fireworks at RFK Stadium -- a ban that should extend to FedEx and MCI.


• George Washington had everything going its way Tuesday night: a near full house of 5,252 enthusiastic fans at Smith Center, senior night and a chance to all but ensure its first NCAA tournament appearance in six years. But Saint Joseph's, despite dealing with the Temple controversy, prevailed to win its fifth straight Atlantic 10 East title.

Phil Martelli's Hawks never missed a beat, outclassing the Colonials the entire game. Still, Karl Hobbs's team, despite apparently needing to win the conference tournament this week to get into the NCAA tournament, can relish the success of a number of key victories and growing fan support on campus and in town.

Organizers of the BB&T Classic are still trying to finalize the field for next season's tournament at MCI Center. Georgetown, which considered playing for the first time in the event's 11-year history, apparently didn't move quickly enough in weighing the merits of playing one of five possible opponents.

"We've been trying to include them for 11 years," tournament chairman Pete Teeley said. "We have to move on without them."

Georgetown's interim AD, Adam Brick, said this past week, "we're attempting to reach back out to them." Stay tuned.

• Big-time feel at MCI for Wizards games against Sacramento, Houston and Golden State. The loss of a late rebound by Brendan Haywood and some close calls led to the Kings winning by two, but Larry Hughes scored 31 points in his first game after missing six weeks with a broken thumb to key a 101-98 victory over Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and the Rockets. Gilbert Arenas scoring 43 and 33 points in successive games, in between the shrimp at Tony Cheng's and burgers at Five Guys, makes the cold winter nights in Chinatown easier to take, leaving one senior to wonder, "Who needs Boca?"

• Cannot help but admire all the good things John Chaney, 73, has done in 24 years at Temple. While Chaney announced he would not coach in the conference tournament this week, he's smart enough to see the big picture and his stepping down as coach wouldn't surprise me.

• Don't bother wearing a suit if you're going to today's City Title games at Coolidge between the Good Counsel girls against Theodore Roosevelt at 2 and revived DeMatha against the Cardozo Clerks at 4 for the boys' championship. You've got to love a team called the Clerks.

Have a question, or comment, reach me at Talkback@washpost.com

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