Stars Arenas, Taylor Illuminate the D.C. Landscape

By George Solomon
Sunday, July 27, 2008

This week was about stars, news conferences, klieg lights and sound bites.

Gilbert Arenas did not wear a suit to his presser on Tuesday, but looked splendid in a fabulous black shirt while sitting next to Wizards owner Abe Pollin, team president Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Eddie Jordan.

The day before, Jason Taylor wore a suit at his news conference at Redskins Park, filling up a dark pinstriped number so well my friend Mary Pat and I agreed the "Dancing With the Stars" runner-up makes heartthrob David Beckham look like Radovan Karadzic on a bad day.

Arenas, who this month signed a six-year, $111 million contract, was ebullient in his first public remarks since returning from a shoe company-sponsored tour of Asia and Europe. And why not? He was treated like a rock star on his trip, probably "because of my blog," Agent Zero reasoned.

"We're going to put a banner up here, a championship banner. That's the kind of talent, that's what kind of team and what kind of belief we have," Arenas said.

Looking at Pollin, Arenas added, "Mr. Pollin had the belief and trust in me from the start . . . and this is the city that has embraced me."

Taylor's arrival in town Monday had the feeling of a savior rescuing a desperate city, with all the newspaper reporters, television and radio microphones -- not to mention the Redskins' Red Zebra media empire -- poised and ready to record his every word. What's a fair comparison? "Superman IV?" Or, at least "Batman Over the Potomac"?

The loss of defensive end Phillip Daniels for the season with a torn ACL on Sunday morning -- the first training camp practice under new coach Jim Zorn -- left Redskins fans in despair. "A devastating blow," defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

But several hours later, team vice president Vinny Cerrato, after verbally tap-dancing around local scribes in a manner as slick as any shifty Capitol Hill pol, came up with Taylor. Cerrato and owner Dan Snyder deftly obtained the 33-year-old sackmeister, on the outs in Miami with new Dolphins boss Bill Parcells, for two draft choices and a promise Taylor would complete his two-year, $17 million contract.

That left Taylor to pass his physical exam and dominate the 6 p.m. newscasts.

"The only way he was going to fail that physical is if he quit breathing," WRC-TV commentator Sonny Jurgensen said. "They'll miss Daniels, but Taylor is an upgrade for this team. He makes them solid defensively."

Taylor said all the right things Monday ("I'm just trying to feel my way"), began practicing the next morning and even accepted No. 55 because defensive end colleague Andre Carter wears Taylor's favorite number, 99. (Memo to Taylor: Some of us believe 55 belongs to Chris Hanburger forever, so you might call and ask him if it's okay).

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