In a Tough Year, Gibbs Keeps Redskins Moving Forward With Class
As I wrote last year, greetings and holiday salutations sports fans -- and you know who you are. But this year's Christmas column comes from North Flagler Drive, hard by the intracoastal waterway in West Palm Beach, so we'll replace the annual spin around the Beltway with an illusionary satellite flyover, sending out as many good wishes as this space permits.
Starting with the Redskins, whose season was so tragically affected by the slaying of Sean Taylor.
From the moment this senseless act occurred, the organization, led by owner Daniel Snyder and head coach and team president Joe Gibbs, as well as the players, were respectfully dignified.
Was it only three Sundays ago at FedEx Field that the Redskins' band played the team's fight song so slowly and movingly in Taylor's honor that colleague Tom Boswell wrote it sounded like a dirge? That last-second loss to Buffalo -- followed by Taylor's emotional funeral in Miami the next day -- would have ended the season for most teams.
But Gibbs, whose four-year post-Hall of Fame tenure has been anything but stellar, rallied the team to victories over Chicago and the New York Giants to remain in playoff contention entering tonight's game at Minnesota.
For that, Gibbs gets a personal escort from me to the fifth and final year of a $25 million contract he signed in 2004. If Gibbs has not brought the Redskins back to the championship level he attained his first time around, he has restored leadership and respectability to the organization.
Gibbs's highly paid coaching staff did its best work in four years, helping the team overcome an inordinate number of injuries. And if we're passing out compliments, how about one to Vinny Cerrato, the personnel boss whose staff found those replacements.
Just as significantly, Taylor's closest friends -- Clinton Portis and Santana Moss -- showed so much character and grit this month. So did Jason Campbell, who kept improving this season until a knee injury sidelined him. Campbell has been replaced admirably by Todd Collins, who proved good things can happen to pros who wait with grace.
And I'll be in Canton this summer if the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, in its usual statesmanlike wisdom, elects Art Monk and/or Darrell Green.
Bird's-Eye View of Verizon Center
Continuing the flyover, we see a bustling Chinatown, the downtown neighborhood whose revitalization began 10 years ago with Abe Pollin's building and opening of Verizon Center. City bigwigs named a street for Abe (F Street NW, between 6th and 7th, not the locale I pinpointed two weeks ago in my typically lost daze).
Agent Zero is rehabbing and matching Steinberg blog for blog these days, but Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood have been getting it done for the most part for Coach Eddie Jordan. So is Roger Mason Jr. of Good Counsel (Okay, enough with Good Counsel) and Virginia. Ernie Grunfeld runs a first-class operation, but I still miss Susan O'Malley and, of course, Wes.
When they put down the ice in the arena, the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin shines as bright as any athlete we've had in town, with the classy Olie Kolzig still between the pipes. Owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee recently replaced good guy Glen Hanlon with Bruce Boudreau, who worked 30 years in the minor leagues for this chance. The players seem to have responded to Boudreau.