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Correction to This Article
A Sept. 27 Sports article incorrectly said that Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells has been ineligible for the Football Hall of Fame. Parcells was eligible in 2000 and 2001.

Rivals Once More

Gibbs, Parcells Again Square Off for Smash-Mouth Football

By Nunyo Demasio and Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 27, 2004; Page D01

Joe Gibbs's laughter filled his Redskins Park office after the Washington Redskins coach read the one-sentence fax from Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells:

"Does this mean we can't talk for the next five years?"

Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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The congratulatory message -- and inside joke -- was sent Jan. 7, the day Gibbs announced his return to the NFL after an 11-year absence. Gibbs didn't bother responding to Parcells's missive.

"I thought that was pretty good: He was joking because we never talked before," Gibbs recalled recently at Redskins Park, laughing loudly again. "I didn't answer, but he knew the answer was, 'Yes!' I don't want to talk to him, and he don't want to talk to me."

Gibbs last coached the Redskins from 1981 to 1992. For eight of those years, from 1983 to 1990, Parcells was at the helm in New York. The Redskins went to the Super Bowl three times, winning twice; the Giants went twice and won them both -- putting Gibbs and Parcells on the Mount Rushmore of NFL coaches.

They faced off during epic games at RFK Stadium and Giants Stadium. Parcells was Gibbs's coaching nemesis, winning 11 of 17 times, but Parcells considered Gibbs the best he ever faced. And from a distance -- or the opposing sideline -- the coaches held a mutual admiration.

"It's just like having a lot of respect for the enemy," Parcells, 63, explained last week. "That's what it is for me. He's not my enemy; he's a friend. But he happens to be my enemy on Sundays. And I'm damn sure he feels the same way."

Without being aware of Parcells's remarks, Gibbs, 63, said matter-of-factly, "He's the enemy."

Tonight on national television, the coaches will battle for the first time since 1990 as the Redskins (1-1) play the Cowboys (1-1) at FedEx Field. The intriguing twist to the sideline reincarnation is that Parcells guides Washington's arch rival from Dallas, winners of 12 of the past 13 games against the Redskins. The loser falls to the bottom of the NFC East.

"It's really a made-for-Hollywood Monday night game," said Bobby Beathard, Gibbs's former general manager. "To tell you the truth, I've been waiting for this all summer. First, Bill takes the Dallas job and then Joe came back. I just thought it would be great for them to knock heads."

As part of his preparation, Parcells studied game film of the Redskins during Gibbs's first tenure, including familiar contests against the Giants.

Parcells retired in 1991 for health reasons; he underwent angioplasty, the first of five heart procedures. Gibbs departed the NFL in 1993 partly from exhaustion, and to spend more time with family while overseeing a NASCAR team that found immense success. That year, Parcells returned to the NFL as coach of the New England Patriots and never envisioned facing Gibbs again.

However, Parcells is resisting the nostalgia and playing down the obvious story line. Last week, Parcells talked about the importance of his team's first division game, and emphasized the historical antipathy between the franchises. Washington and Dallas have played each other 12 times on Monday night, with each team winning six.

"It's a different time, different place, different circumstances," said Parcells, who added that even the locale, eight-year-old FedEx Field, is different. "So it's not the same. I really can't view it that way. It's going to be different for both of us."

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