Tom Landry, we all know. Set adrift in a reed basket and found among bulrushes outside the Alamo, the small boy Tommy studied Xs and Os by the firelight in a drafty log cabin. He became a lawyer, a senator and president before the college of cardinals elected him coach of the Cowboys. He taught Bob Lilly to saw wood and Roger Staubach to spell r-e-l-i-e-f.
Joe Gibbs, nobody knows. Here we are getting ready for a Big Game, the Redskins against the Cowboys, and if you asked nine people in Dallas to tell you one thing about Joe Gibbs, seven of them would say, "Is he Andy Gibb's brother?"
These are facts: the next game Tom Landry wins with the Cowboys will be his 200th in 23 regular seasons. He's third best ever at winning, now 120 victories behind George Halas and 31 behind Curly Lambeau. Five times his Cowboys have made it to the Super Bowl; they've won twice. During the Cowboys' record 16 straight winning seasons, they have made it to the playoffs 15 times.
These are facts, too: the next game Joe Gibbs wins with the Redskins will be his 13th in two seasons. The big deal about Gibbs now is that his team has won all four games this year and has a seven-game winning streak over two seasons.
Here are the last facts: to put Gibbs' accomplishment in perspective, remember that Tom Landry in his 23 seasons has won four straight games 22 times. He has won five straight nine times, six straight seven times, seven straight five times, eight straight three times, nine straight twice and 10 straight once.
"I just don't want to say anything about Tom Landry or the Cowboys," Joe Gibbs said the other day. No offense, the coach said. But it is Dallas Week, as they call it here, or Week 5 as the computers print it out in the Cowboys' offices. And during Dallas Week, when the air at Redskin Park is heavy with the aroma of arrogance drifting up from Texas, Gibbs maintains radio silence lest he be quoted as favoring apple pie when, for all he knows, Too Tall Jones hates the stuff and will get fired up to win one for boysenberry.
So once you get past all the facts and bump up against Joe Gibbs' reluctance to offend Tom Landry, all that's left is to ask the experts how Gibbs took these Redskins from 0-5 last year to, now, 11-2 in their last 13 games, the best such record in the NFL (the Cowboys are 9-4).
The best experts, if biased, are Gibbs' assistant coaches, who, according to owner Jack Kent Cooke, are the NFL's highest-paid staff.
The coaches sketch a profile of Gibbs as a straight-arrow man's man who looks players in the eye as he tells them the hard truth. He treats players as grownup pros, making few disciplinary rules, expecting precise note-taking in classroom-style meetings, demanding they get the job done or get gone.
"The players don't get a Knute Rockne fire-up from Joe before a game," said Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach. "He's very businesslike, logical. But everybody who knows him can see that inner desire . . . The guy's a national champion in racquetball, and they don't just hand out national championships. The guy's a fierce competitor."
To his coaches, all with atypical three-year contracts at Cooke's suggestion, Gibbs delegates near-total authority.
"He lets each coach pick his starters," said Joe Bugel, the offensive line coach. "Like last year, he wasn't afraid to start four rookies in the line. Some people figure you ought to be in a mental hospital if you start four rookies. But Joe stuck with my recommendations."
Last season's 0-5 start is a recurring theme at Redskin Park.
"Joe never lost faith in what he was doing," said Dan Henning, the Redskins' assistant head coach and Gibbs' offensive brain. "The calm out here during that time really started from the top."
"For the people on his staff, Joe did like CIA work checking up on them," Bugel said. "He wanted people who in tight situations wouldn't crack. And 0-5 is tight."
"There's not a regimentation about Joe's method," Henning said. "If you want to leave a meeting to get a cup of tea, you leave. He runs a very loose operation -- loose in how you get things done, but very strict in getting it done."
As for the Xs-and-Os end of the job, Gibbs' one-back offense -- adopted at 0-5 -- "is a tremendous way to combat the 34 defenses," said Richie Petitbon, the defensive coordinator. "One time he'll have two tight ends, the next time three wide receivers."
You need know only one thing more about Joe Gibbs.
At last year's Super Bowl, when Bill Walsh allowed audiences to judge him a descendant of Plato and Socrates, the 49ers' coach said he had shared his offensive wisdom with other coaches. Listeners imagined NFL brains sitting in slack-jawed wonder at Walsh's feet. Walsh mentioned by name Ray Perkins of the Giants and Joe Gibbs of the Redskins.
"I have met Bill Walsh one time and we did not discuss football," said Joe Gibbs, who called a reporter from an airport pay phone and spoke very slowly so the paper would get his quote down exactly right.