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'Keep Workin', Dad'

The Redskins dive into preparations for the upcoming season.

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By Mike Wise
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Before he resigned as White House press secretary, the late Tony Snow visited Joe Gibbs's office last year and spoke with Joe Bugel, Gibbs's longtime assistant.

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"I heard Holly has cancer," Snow said to Bugel, whose second of three daughters has a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer, diagnosed the year before. "I just want to say, 'We're in this together.' "

"He was a perfect gentleman," Bugel said of Snow, who died earlier this month after his own battle with cancer. "It meant a lot after the year we'd been through as a family and the year we ended up going through as a team. . . .

"You get to meet some pretty important people here in Washington."

For instance, there's Buges -- the man who is coaching full-throttle at 68 years old, driving NFL offensive linemen like he drove "the Hogs" 25 years ago because at this moment that's the best way for him and his family to cope with Holly Bugel's fight.

Earlier this month, for the first time since his daughter's left arm was amputated last December as a result of the bone cancer, her father saw her in a bathing suit during a family vacation in Coronado, Calif.

"She was sitting in the hot tub, waving her feet. Holly said, 'I bet you can't do that,' " Bugel said. "That's the kind of person and fighter she is."

The aging coach trudged off the field after his 31st NFL training camp began last week, his cleats clickety-clacking against the asphalt, his cobalt-blue eyes squinting in the searing July sun.

Deep crevices canvassed his forehead. Occasionally a jowl or two protruded above his shirt collar. His mug is weathered, craggy. But his hair is thick and plentiful -- "My father still had all his when he died at age 97," he said -- and his smile and plain-spoken nature are as familiar as old leather, like the cowhide with his signature encased among the Lombardi trophies in Ashburn.

Jim Zorn, Gibbs's replacement and 13 years Bugel's junior, treats his new assistant as a human heirloom.

"I was talking to him about how many players he's influenced and impacted," Zorn said. "To be a part of his life on a coaching staff is a treat for me.

He added, "I didn't even know how old he is, but he's young, whatever he is."


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