Gibbs's Risk Is Rewarded
Joe Gibbs was finally almost alone. The handshake at midfield with a grim-faced Bill Parcells was finished. Gibbs had walked off FedEx Field smiling with the arm of his champion NASCAR driver Tony Stewart draped over his shoulder. The last roars of the largest crowd in the history of Washington Redskins football had finally fallen silent after the most one-sided victory -- 28 points -- in the history of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, dating from 1960.
However, just before Gibbs ducked into his office to share congratulations with his assistant coaches, he stopped for a moment in a hallway to reflect on this night, on this delicious moment for which he had returned and risked so much, and on his doubts of the past two years as he wondered whether such a game would ever come.
"My wife, Pat, usually says things best. When I said I was coming back [to coach the Redskins], she said, 'You can't do that!' Any human being would ask himself, 'Can we do that? Can we get back to the point where we play a good ballgame here in front of all these people and bring back some of those feelings? Can that happen?"Gibbs said.
At this point, you might expect cliches from a coach who is already in the Hall of Fame. But Gibbs is too straight, too square and too direct with himself for that. "I said, 'I don't know.' But I felt, 'This is where I'm supposed to be.' Anybody would have fears. What I hated most, the thing I couldn't live with, was the idea that I didn't have enough guts to try it."
So, Gibbs summoned his monumental fear of failure, the engine that has always driven him through his marathon work schedule, and discovered once again, that for him, his horror at the thought of defeat provided all the guts he could ever need.
Sunday night, front of 90,588 thundering, slavering -- okay, extremely excited -- fans, the Redskins provided the 65-year-old diabetic grandfather with the euphoric moment for which he returned to the NFL. His team not only defeated a Parcells-coached Cowboys outfit that entered the game in playoff contention, but dismantled and demoralized it, 35-7.
The Redskins' 35-0 lead was achieved early in the third quarter. "We were just awful," Parcells said. "We kind of got overwhelmed."
"I can't remember being happier . . . That was one of the great sporting crowds I've ever been a part of . . . To have that kind of electricity in a stadium . . . And we played the game of our life," Gibbs said, "I was thrilled. It feels great to be part of it . . . In two years [back with the Redskins], I can't remember coming close to that. Everything went our way.
"It was a big deal for me and for our family, to realize how people appreciate you. This was just a special night," Gibbs said. "I told the team afterwards there's a good chance this will be 'one you remember.' And it will be one I remember."
Of course, like any sensible NFL coach, Gibbs repeated that this was just "one step" and that next week's game here is against the Giants "who really did a number on us" in October, winning 36-0. However, as he headed back into the catacombs of FedEx, Gibbs said, "Yes, it's one step. But it's a heckuva step."
No team ever truly becomes good until it has out-sized self-confidence. Without a few games in which first-rate opponents are dominated from start to finish, it is difficult for any team to believe it can be special. All of Gibbs's fine teams between '81 and '92 had one thing in common: In their best performances, they were so efficient, "so smooth," Gibbs likes to say, that they seemed almost frightening.
For those too young to remember, as well as millions who simply wanted to relish the experience one more time, this was a genuine Gibbs game. By the middle of the third quarter, the Cowboys looked so glazed and beaten on their bench that they might as well have encountered the Hogs, the Smurfs and the Fun Bunch, all in one.