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Tony Kornheiser

Weak Signals From Quarterbacks

By Tony Kornheiser
Thursday, November 18, 2004; Page D01

Be careful what you wish for, huh? You have to think Joe Gibbs probably came back to the Redskins expecting he'd have the same kind of success that a couple of other recently un-retired geezers had last season -- Dick Vermeil going 13-3 with the Chiefs, and Bill Parcells going 10-6 with the Cowboys. Certainly everybody in Washington used Parcells's glorious turnaround with the Cowboys as the model for what Gibbs would do here this year. But this may not be a great year to be over 60. Now the bunch of them are 3-6 and looking lost, if not old.

What happened with Mark Brunell must be especially painful for Gibbs, considering his greatest success was always with the quarterbacks. Boy, could he coach 'em up. Gibbs is the only coach to win Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks -- and none of them Hall of Famers. Gibbs must be wondering how he could have been so off base in his choice of his quarterback. And Gibbs must be irked that the fans he praises so lavishly whenever he gets the chance are the same fans who turned loudly against Brunell, and made it obvious from their booing that Gibbs had to pull Brunell in favor of Patrick Ramsey or risk a mutiny that might have left the stadium empty for the second half on Sunday.


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Oops, sorry, I got distracted. Nicollette Sheridan dropped her towel and jumped into my arms. Grrrrrrr. It's a Cialis moment. There goes another four hours out of my life. Hold all my calls unless it's my doctor.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. The biggest winner in the Ramsey-for-Brunell policy shift isn't Patrick Ramsey. The biggest winner is the Hasselbeck kid, Tim. Now he can finally see his light at the end of the Joe Gibbs tunnel. (It's Tim, right? It isn't Tom, is it? It's been so long since we've actually heard his name you can't blame me for forgetting.)

Before the second quarter Sunday, Ramsey was buried so deep there was virtually no chance he'd ever get into a game as long as Brunell remained upright. Gibbs had no faith in Ramsey. So as the third quarterback in a one-quarterback system, that left Hasselbeck in West Eckveldt. Hasselbeck could have gone on safari to Kenya and not been missed.

But now Hasselbeck is in play. When Ramsey falters -- or falls -- Gibbs has to turn to Hasselbeck. People want to see if this kid has anything other than a hot TV babe wife. They know Brunell has nothing left to see. How can Gibbs turn back to Brunell? Fans here don't want to see Brunell again. They'd seen enough by the fourth game of the season. Brunell threw for under 100 yards in five of the nine games he started. That's just not NFL quality. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in the last game Brunell started, he threw for under 10 yards! (Yes, he was only out there for little more than one quarter, but, come on, he was on pace for 24 yards.)

The critical factor for Hasselbeck is how long Ramsey can remain upright. Ramsey tends to absorb vicious hits, since he holds on to the ball for what seems like eons. And here are the Redskins' next two games: At Philly. At Pittsburgh. Oy! That's like being invited to a stand in front of a wrecking ball. Jim Johnson, the defensive coordinator at Philadelphia, is a berserker who likes to scramble eight or nine defenders flying at a quarterback like a squadron of planes. Bill Cowher, who is a caveman, reminisces about his days as a linebacker by sending his defenders at the quarterback like he's unleashing a pack of hounds. Remember, we're talking about Patrick Ramsey, who stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine. People praise his courage for hanging in there as long as possible before passing the football. But we're not taking Pork Chop Hill. The job of quarterback is to deliver the ball -- not eat it. Ramsey holds the ball too darn long. I'm not sure Ramsey will make it through both those games.

While Gibbs struggled with his decision -- one he didn't want to make -- another coach in town didn't struggle a moment with his. That was Peter Nowak, coach of the now MLS champion D.C. United. He didn't want to start Freddy Adu. Heck, it often seemed like he didn't even want to play Freddy Adu.

At the time Nowak's intentions became clear, I wrote Nowak should be fired for not starting Adu. I never said he should be fired because he was a bad coach. I assumed he was a good coach. No, I said he should be fired -- and the United general manager (or whatever they call it in soccer) should be fired, and if necessary the MLS commissioner should be fired, too -- because MLS made such a big deal about signing this kid to the most expensive contract in the history of their league, and made such a publicity grab by running this kid around like a pony that I felt MLS and D.C. United owed it to ticket buyers to start Adu. For me it was a simple truth-in-advertising situation.

The ads didn't say, "Come see MLS soccer." The ads said, "Come see Freddy Adu." Not, "Come see Freddy Adu in a mop-up role after halftime!" MLS and D.C. United were part of the conspiracy to create The Freddy Adu Soccer Boom. They hyped the kid as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Fine. Play him.

Don't play him at the 85-minute mark. Put him out there at the beginning of the game and keep him out there. The marketing strategy was directed at bringing in truckloads of new soccer fans to see The Child Prodigy. United's old fans were already there. Hundreds of them. Freddy Adu was supposed to attract new fans who would come exclusively to see him. (And then, if things worked out, everybody could get together at one of LaSooz's "Singles Nights" and win a date with Freddy -- but you have to drive because he's only 15. You know, I might be wasting my time with this soccer part. D.C. United drew a total of 500 people to RFK Tuesday night for a free celebration of their title. Maybe they should have offered dates. Five hundred people. The opening of another dry cleaner on Connecticut Avenue could draw 700. Plus, some of these people had the gall to say they didn't want to share RFK with a baseball team. Are you people from the moon? You're lucky if the baseball teams lets you park in lots 8 and 9 and conduct your soccer games there.)

From the beginning the Pitch-Heads said my stance on Nowak and Adu was completely wrong. Nowak couldn't and shouldn't start Adu because Adu wasn't ready. It wouldn't be good for the team. No, Adu was there to watch and learn. Tony, you know nothing about soccer.

Now, of course, they will say they were right -- and their proof will be that Nowak coached the United to the league championship, and Adu played a relatively minor role. So, yes, Nowak gets the last laugh.

But I still feel most ticket buyers were duped. Freddy Adu was signed by MLS to a whopping deal to cash in on his youth and his charisma. D.C. United was part of the scheme. This isn't "The Prince." The ends don't justify the way the league and the team manipulated the public. I congratulate Nowak on coaching his team to the championship. And if he doesn't start Freddy Adu in the first game next season, I'd fire him.


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