By George Solomon
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The practice fields outside the office building at Redskins Park in Ashburn were empty Thursday afternoon on the eve of the opening of training camp. Joe Gibbs, 66, sat easily in his chair and talked about the pressure of trying to reverse the worst season (5-11) in his 15 years (1981-92, 2004-present) as Redskins' head coach.
"There's pressure for sure," Gibbs said. "The first year  we just wanted to get it all lined up, the second year we were on pace, making the playoffs. But last year was both a disappointment and shock. It was awful. We took a hard look and tried to fill spots that needed help."
In Gibbs I, his record was 124-60, with three Super Bowl titles. In Gibbs II he is 21-27, hardly befitting a Hall of Fame coach. Changing that course began in the final six games last season when the team reverted to a Gibbs-style "grind-it-out offense" from the wide-open attack installed by associate head coach-offense, Al Saunders. "A philosophical decision to fit our personnel that we'll stay with," Gibbs said.
This means that Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts will earn their pay, Jason Campbell ("I like him," Gibbs said) will lead the offense and the pace of training camp will be faster and tougher. "I always start the season a little nervous because I see all the gremlins," Gibbs said.
But is he having fun the second time around? "I had fun five times last year," he said. "The only time you have fun is when you win. Lots of changes in the game, but human nature stays the same. You have to get the right people. I think we do."
With two years left on his five-year, $25 million contract, Gibbs says "we'll play it out" -- knowing there are no sure things in a town where sports-talk radio show hosts discuss every out-of-work football coach from Bill Cowher to Bill Parcells. "Cowher? He's pretty good," Gibbs said with a chuckle.A Week to Forget
It's usually a pretty good deal to be the commissioner of a major professional sports league in this country. Great salary, mucho perks, good hours, important friends, terrific seats to games, sweet parking and first-class transportation.
But this week, in the memorable words of my late mother, "Oy vey."
David Stern of the NBA, Roger Goodell of the NFL and Bud Selig of Major League Baseball all had weeks they'd like to forget.
So did Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, the Super Bowl of cycling, who exclaimed "the [testing] system doesn't work" when a Tour favorite, Alexander Vinokurov of Kazakhstan, tested positive for a banned blood transfusion and on Tuesday withdrew from competition, along with his entire team. The next day the Tour's leader, Michael ("I know nothing") Rasmussen, was booted by his own team for violating team rules.
After Vinokurov's departure, the New York Times reported the sport was plunged "into a doping crisis that has eroded the legitimacy of its most prestigious event." That apparently leaves a couple dozen 4-year-olds on training wheels to finish this year's classic.
Stern, Goodell and Selig were not as fatalistic as Prudhomme. But all three had major concerns this week. Consider their plight:
· Stern not only has to worry about the investigation of 13-year referee Tim Donaghy for allegedly betting on NBA games and providing information to others for betting on games, he faces the challenge of convincing fans that Donaghy was, in Stern's words, a "rogue, isolated criminal."
The NBA had Donaghy, who was paid $260,000 a year, on its radar since he got into several nasty disputes with a suburban Philadelphia neighbor in 2005. There were also suggestions that he was seen at gambling tables in Atlantic City. But aside from sitting out some playoff games that year, Donaghy, who had the reputation among players and coaches as a hothead, skated clear of NBA investigators and "game observers" to lead the league in fouls called this year. The integrity of referees often has come into question over the years -- for instance, in the early 1990s, 20 of them exchanged first-class plane tickets for coach tickets and pocketed the difference. But primarily, refs are only in the spotlight when fans, players and coaches believe a ref's calls cost their team a game (see Mavs owner Mark Cuban).
"Fans question the integrity of refs all the time," said Joe Margosy, the supervisor of the D.C. Basketball Officials Association for the past 27 years. "That's why this is so damaging. Our responsibility as referees is to give both teams an opportunity to win. Be consistent. Call 'em the same for both teams. We've had two guys [Scott Foster and Lou Grillo] leave us over the years for the NBA. If I had a Bentley, I'd bet it on their integrity."
Which is why Stern, repeatedly emphasizing the league's covenant with its fans, said, "This is the most serious situation and the worst situation that I have experienced in over 40 years as a fan of the NBA, a lawyer for the NBA and commissioner [24 years] of the NBA." Stern is right. Donaghy resigned July 9, but he's not going away.
· Goodell banned star quarterback Michael Vick from the Atlanta Falcons training camp on Monday pending the league's review of federal charges related to a dogfighting operation. (Vick pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Thursday.) This gives all parties a chance to assess the situation. Goodell and Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, have expressed revulsion at the charges, as did Falcons owner Arthur Blank.
Goodell called dogfighting "despicable and incomprehensible." Upshaw expressed dismay if the charges against Vick are true. Blank said Vick's playing status for 2007 was "secondary to the charges."
Vick, one of the best and most publicized players in the NFL, should be ashamed for any involvement he or his friends may have had in this sickening, illegal activity. Vick, like other big-name athletes who put themselves in difficult situations, needed to ask himself: "What am I doing? Why am I doing this? And with friends like these, who needs enemies?" Questions stars rarely ask.
· And Selig was dutifully in San Francisco watching (and watching) as Barry Bonds inched toward Hank Aaron's magical home run record of 755. Bonds's chase is happening at the same time charges of illegal steroid use swirl around him. Bonds, in a classy response to an interview Curt Schilling gave to Bob Costas for HBO, called Costas a "midget who knows [nothing] about baseball." I'm waiting to see how writer Roger Angell, who beautifully elevates baseball on the pages of the New Yorker, elevates Bonds.
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