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Giving Thanks and Praise

By George Solomon
Sunday, December 24, 2006

Greetings and holiday salutations, readers. Follow me for a cheerful Christmas spin around the Beltway, leaving some presents and good-natured barbs for our favorite teams and players along the way.

Of course, our first stop has to be Ashburn, where the Redskins have struggled through a 5-9 season in Joe Gibbs's Year III of The Return. This disappointment comes on the heels of a 10-6 record and a playoff victory last season that generated dreams of a Super Bowl that have been shattered.

Under their tree, we'll leave the promise of Jason Campbell and the grit of Ladell Betts, who next year will team with a healthy Clinton Portis to form an offense that I hope Gibbs designs. That offense would take advantage of good running and blocking, as well as the receiving ability of Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Chris Cooley.

For Gregg Williams and the defense, we'll leave a package that resembles the excellent units of 2004 and 2005. To do that, the likes of Marcus Washington, Phillip Daniels, Sean Taylor and Shawn Springs will need to carry a group of guys who simply didn't produce this season.

But let's wait until next year to talk about next year and instead give a nod to quarterback Mark Brunell, who handled his demotion with grace, as did place kicker Nick Novak when presented with his walking papers. So did Sports Week's favorite football player, wide receiver Jimmy Farris, released on the final cut in September but "still a Joe Gibbs guy" -- now training, he said, for the indoor track circuit.

If the Dan Snyder/Redskins-owned Triple X ESPN Radio decides to buy that last classical music station in town -- as well as the few remaining non-Redskins stations on the dial -- here's hoping they at least keep Sonny and Sam to guide us through Mahler's Symphony No. 7.

Please follow me east on the Dulles Toll Road to I-66 and downtown to Verizon Center, where Abe Pollin is spending his 42nd year as the owner of Washington's NBA team. Pollin and his wife, Irene, still agonize over every game. But they've never had a player like Gilbert Arenas, the 24-year-old, 6-foot-4 guard who averages 30.1 points a game. He dropped 60 on the Lakers last Sunday night, and came back five nights later with 54 at Phoenix to help snap the Suns' 15-game win streak. Arenas lives in his own airified world and makes up nicknames and catchphrases for himself ("hibachi" being his latest).

Pollin's basketball guy, Ernie Grunfeld, has surrounded Arenas with an exciting cast, including Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, coached by Washington native Eddie Jordan, with ticket sales still generated by Susan O'Malley. For Christmas, this gang needs more clutch defensive stops and a plea -- I'm begging here -- to kill the new mustard shirt and black shorts uniform. Would Mystics President Sheila Johnson allow Alana Beard and her teammates to wear such a dreadful ensemble? Never.

Now step aside while we lay down the ice for one of the NHL's best stories of the young season, the playoff-contending Washington Capitals, led by the great Alex Ovechkin and goalie Olie Kolzig. It's been three years since Caps owner Ted Leonsis decided "no more Jaromir Jagrs" and chose to have GM George McPhee and Coach Glen Hanlon rebuild around Olie and through the draft, which has yielded Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and The Economy Kids.

Let's get back in the car for the short hop on the Southeast Freeway to venerable RFK Stadium -- site of the final season of baseball before the Nats move into the city's new ballpark in Southeast in 2008. A suggestion regarding that new stadium: Will someone consider a lasting tribute, outside or inside the venue, to Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Shirley Povich?

I wanted to give new manager Manny Acta a Christmas present that included Alfonso Soriano. But the Chicago Cubs stepped in with a seven-year gift card worth $138 million. So the enthusiastic Acta will have to make do with John Patterson, Chad Cordero, Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson (back from a broken leg) and recovering shortstop Cristian ("I'm back") Guzman.

Stan Kasten, who is running the team for owner Ted Lerner, isn't promising fans much for 2007, preferring to rebuild a depleted farm system as GM Jim Bowden tries to cobble something together worth watching next spring. Frank Robinson, the face of the franchise since it moved from Montreal in 2005, is gone, as is second baseman Jose Vidro. Both good men. It could be a long season unless Bowden can cobble as well as he did in 2005.

Meanwhile, the other RFK tenant, D.C. United, dealt local teenage phenom, Freddy Adu, to Salt Lake City on Dec. 11 because Adu wanted to play in the middle of United's attack. But Coach Peter Nowak would have none of that. Then, guess what? On Friday, Nowak left United to become an assistant coach for the U.S. national team. He was replaced by assistant Tom Soehn, while Freddy remained in Utah. I'm confused. Doesn't anyone but Nike like Freddy?

We head back through town, with a stop at Howard, where the Bison needs to replace football coach Ray Petty. To Georgetown, where John Thompson III has the same problem as Karl Hobbs at George Washington and Jim Larranaga: Re-create last year's magic. That doesn't seem to be a problem for Navy football coach Paul Johnson or Maryland's Brenda Frese, whose defending NCAA women's champions are undefeated and ranked No. 1. Among Frese's colleagues, Gary Williams has his guys in the tournament hunt while Ralph Friedgen takes his football team bowling on Friday against Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. Stop the car.

More Holiday Musings

· The Tuesday lunches at the Shanghai Village aren't the same without Red Auerbach and his friend, Hymie Perlo. Both men died this year. Auerbach surely would have questioned the Philadelphia 76ers' strategy for trading Iverson; Red never would have put him on ice before trading him to Denver. Still with the departed: Cecil Travis, a favorite of Povich, died on Dec. 16 at 93. Travis was a one-time infielder who played 12 seasons for the Senators from 1933 to 1947 and compiled a career batting average of .314, including a .359 average on 218 hits in 1941. He served in the Army during World War II.

· A nod to Ben Bundred for at least trying -- unsuccessfully -- to keep the PGA Tour stop in town after decades of mostly successful events. . . . A high-five to Donald Dell, whose efforts have kept men playing pro tennis here regularly for about 40 years. . . . And to Louis J. Raffetto Jr. for doing his best to keep Laurel and Pimico racetracks relevant while Mayor Anthony A. Williams gets the highest marks for returning big-league baseball to Washington. . . . To Feinstein, for being a good sport, and to Bishop O'Connell basketball Coach Joe Wootten for being the best sport: He recently donated a kidney to his Hall of Fame father Morgan, an act I hope the Solomon boys noted.

Finally, some applause for the D.C. Divas, champions of the National Women's Football Association.

What's your favorite moment in sports for 2006? Let me know attalkback@washpost.com.

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