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The Playbook According to Gibbs

Gibbs also was never afraid to employ a trick play, a reverse, a halfback option, if only because he knew his players enjoyed working on them in practice to ease some of the tedium.

"I think it's going to be more of the same this time around," Jacoby said. "It's funny, I went out to watch the offense during one of his mini-camps in the spring. I'm standing out there and I'm listening to the same cadence, the same audibles, a lot of the same plays. It was like I'd never left. The way I look at it, it wasn't broke then, so why change?"


Redskins celebrate one of two touchdowns scored by Tim Smith (36) against Denver in Super Bowl XXII. Adjustments by Joe Gibbs helped Smith run for Super Bowl-record 204 yards. (1988 Photo James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden, whose first year in the league in 1992 as a wide receivers coach in Green Bay was Gibbs's final season during his previous coaching run, said yesterday his team has watched film of the old Redskins during Gibbs's first go-around to prepare for Sunday's game. Doug Williams, the Redskins quarterback in Super Bowl XXII, is a personnel executive with the Bucs, and Gruden and his coaching staff have picked Williams's brain on Gibbs's style and play-calling.

"We had a chance to watch Doug Williams and the Smurfs get after it pretty good," Gruden said of the former Redskins quarterback and his wide receiving corps. "We had a chance to see what the greatness of that attack looked like. They may change completely on Sunday, who knows? It's not like Coach Gibbs is a novice. It'll be a great battle."

Former Colts and Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda said Gibbs teams traditionally used a strong running game to loosen up passing routes for the receivers.

"Joe did a great job focusing on the running game," Marchibroda said. "He gave the ball to Riggins and let the Hogs do the dirty work. Then he'd set you up that way and get a big play on you through the air. It wasn't anything fancy. They just played mistake-free football. They'd set you up with play action and crossing receivers. He'd give his quarterback maximum protection, and he always seemed to know when the offense was ready to hit one of those big plays downfield.

"He won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, and that should tell you something about the kind of coach he was. It wasn't trick plays, it wasn't anything fancy. It was well-designed, well-disguised and well-executed plays, and there was always great pass protection to let them get it done."

Joe Theismann was the first of the quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl under Gibbs, and he was far more mobile than his successors, Williams and Mark Rypien.

"After I left [in 1986], Joe evolved into using those bunch sets, the three-wide receiver stuff," Theismann said. "He just had an arsenal of versatile formations, and I think now, the three-wide and one-back with Clinton Portis will be his best weapons."

Then and now, the game-planning often went long into the night on Mondays and Tuesdays. Rypien once said that when the offense got in on Wednesday, the coaches, and especially Gibbs, often looked like a new father showing his first-born. Players worked on the plan during practice, and Gibbs relied on his quarterback to let him know what felt comfortable, and uncomfortable, on the field.

The plan was tweaked all week, and on Sundays, Gibbs would occasionally rewrite some of it in a quiet place in the locker room, perhaps even taking a brief nap and visualizing the game as his players warmed up.

Theismann, among others, said he thought Gibbs did his very best work in the 10 minutes he had with his offense at halftime.

"I thought Joe was phenomenal at halftime," Theismann said. "We would go into every game with an extensive number of plays. He had the first half to figure out what people were doing to us. At the half, he would say to us, 'This looks good, this looks good and that looks good, but this isn't working, so let's ditch it.'

"If you break a game down, and say there are 65 offensive plays, within those 65 there will be five or six that you can qualify as big plays, or scoring opportunities in the end zone. Joe would isolate three or four plays, and if the situation came up where we knew we would get the right look from the defense, he'd call that play. Now, we had to execute it, but if we did, it usually worked.

"We knew every week that in the second half, we were going to score a lot of points. It was our preparation during the week more than a surprise. We were as prepared to do our jobs as anyone has ever been."

Gibbs's former players said he also solicited feedback from players -- and listened.

"Whether it was the running back, the wide receiver or even an offensive lineman, if you told him you thought you could beat somebody, [he] wouldn't just dismiss it," Bostic said. "He'd listen to you, and he'd take the suggestion and do something about it."


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