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Thomas Boswell

Smash-Mouth Football Makes Gibbs Smile

By Thomas Boswell
Monday, September 13, 2004; Page D01

As the Redskins poured back into their locker room after a bruising, grinding 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay in the kind of bludgeoning tests of wills that the team won so frequently in the long-ago era of Joe Gibbs, they were greeted at the door by their new head coach. And, lo and behold, the jubilant old guy, grabbing them each in turn, was the 63-year-old Gibbs himself.

"He was full of smiles, met every guy at the door with hugs," said Fred Smoot, grinning at the thought. "He makes you want to go out there and sell out for him."

Redskins running back Clinton Portis earned kudos from Joe Bugel. "He showed me he has a Riggo mentality," Bugel said. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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Gibbs didn't just give out grins and grabs, but issued a game ball to every player, something he did only a couple of times in his first two seasons when his early Redskins teams won games of enormous symbolic value to him.

"It's been a long time since Joe did that," said Joe Bugel, his longtime assistant. "We needed a win just like this after [all the hitting] we've put them through. We're a pad football team. All the hard work won this ballgame. A soft football team can't beat those guys in the fourth quarter. They'll own you. We were tested. And we passed the test."

Everybody tries to doll up football because it's a multibillion dollar business and flash entertainment. But it's still the same old violent, brutal turf war it's always been, at least if you live in the world of Gibbs and his coaches. For them, strategy and game plans are great, but emotion, discipline and commitment to team usually carry the day when the game is late and close.

That's where the Redskins found themselves at the end of the third quarter yesterday at FedEx Field after a careless fumble near their own goal line gave the Bucs a gift touchdown and a 10-10 tie in a game Washington had dominated. Gibbs, who seldom gives in-game pep talks, met with his offense and made the situation simple.

"There is going to be some adversity in every game," Gibbs told the players, according to an account provided by Bugel. "And we're in it now."

Bugel, picking up the theme, jumped into the mix, barking at his linemen. "We're going to run 40-gut and 50-gut until they surrender."

The sideline fire spread. Running back Clinton Portis, who had already broken a 64-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball, got up in Gibbs's face, begging the coach to let him jam his 205-pound body into the center of the Tampa Bay defense. Giving away 50 pounds to the average Bucs defender, Portis pleaded for the job of human battering ram.

"Let's run downhill. Let's put a body on a body," Portis said, meaning plow straight ahead. "Let's make a statement."

Who was Gibbs to disagree?

"Clinton is bright-eyed, jumping in your face, saying, "Runthis,' " Gibbs said after the game. "So, I say, 'Okay, we'll run it.' "

And they did.

From that juncture, the Bucs never crossed midfield in the face of a blitzing Washington defense that was exceptional all day. Meantime, the Redskins' offense managed two time-consuming drives to set up field goals, one of them after a momentum-turning interception by leaping linebacker Antonio Pierce. After the various circle-the-wagons pep talks at the end of that miserable third quarter, the Redskins outgained the Bucs with 63 yards in their last 15 plays to a meager six yards in 10 Bucs plays.

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