Hi, nice to see you all. I've been away for a while, working on a magazine piece about the Olympics tentatively titled, "Where's the Pork? The True Story of Paul Hamm, Mia Hamm and Virginia Ham." No, I'm kidding. It's about whose decision it was to make all the medal winners wear those dopey olive leaves around their heads so the medal ceremonies looked like the Delta House toga party.

After listening to Paul Hamm interviewed on TV a few times, I'm sure glad helium isn't on the banned substance list. Man, that kid sounds like he takes a big hit every time he speaks. I don't think Hamm should give back his gold medal. But I do think Gary Hall Jr. should give back that ridiculous robe. And you'll forgive me, but after watching "Old School," I can't look at rhythmic gymnastics or the rings without picturing Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

I shouldn't dwell on the Olympics, since I've already forgotten the names of everyone who won gold medals on Wednesday, but how 'bout Larry Brown almost duking it out yesterday after the buzzer with that finger-pointing coach of Spain? Larry might be our best hope for a boxing medal.

Let me get to something that truly matters: exhibition football! The Redskins are playing tonight. Tell the truth, what are you gonna watch, the Redskins or some hideous munchkins leaping over a pommel horse?

By the way, they are not "preseason games." They are exhibition games. (That's like trying to flatter yourself by saying you bought a "pre-owned car." You bought a used car, dude.) "Preseason game" is too classy a term for something you paid real money for and got to watch fat guys wearing No. 125 the entire second half.

These are completely meaningless games. They don't have any relevance to what will happen in the regular season. I believe the Redskins have won Super Bowls in years they lost every exhibition game. (And if I'm wrong, so what? Nobody remembers exhibition games, except Babe Laufenberg. Wow! I may be the only one old enough to remember Babe Laufenberg.)

These games should be abolished. Like mullets.

No exhibition games whatsoever. Dump 'em. They serve no purpose except to get players hurt. Jon Jansen and Correll Buckhalter this year. Chad Pennington and Michael Vick last year. You think those guys enjoyed their "preseason games"?

Football is a deliberately violent game. Every play is designed for harsh physical contact. It's rare that a player gets through an entire season intact. If you're going to get hurt in the first game, at least let it be a real game. Expand the regular season to 18 or 20 games, and tee it up already.

What exactly have the Redskins gotten out of their "preseason games"? Squadoosh is what. Tonight will be their fourth game, and Joe Gibbs still doesn't know who his starting quarterback will be. (And let me say a few quick words about that: If Gibbs isn't sure Mark Brunell will be his starter, why did they spend $40 million on him? I never saw the fascination with Brunell. The last few years Brunell has been getting hurt and not winning games. If not for Kurt Warner falling off the table like a hunk of cheese, people would be pointing at Brunell and asking, "Wha' happened?" As for Patrick Ramsey, is there progress? We know from last year that he can take a series of big shots, then get up and go to a neutral corner. But is he a good quarterback? At the moment, the quarterback with the most sizzle is Tim Hasselbeck. Of course, most of that sizzle may belong to his hot wife. The problem with going overboard for Hasselbeck in "preseason" is the quarterback he may actually be is Babe Laufenberg!)

The other day someone asked if I thought fans would be able to tolerate the "sloppy brand of football at the beginning of the season." I responded by asking, "Helmut, are you, like, from a foreign country?"

You give fans 18 or 20 games starting in August, they're going to think they won the lottery. Fans will be so thrilled there are more games that count in the standings they won't even notice if the quality is sloppy. But it doesn't have to be sloppy. Isn't that why you have practice? Teams can sharpen their skills with scrimmages. College teams seem to be ready to play their schedule without any exhibition games. The point is to not kill your players. It's not a quality issue so much as it's a quality control issue.

Come on, there's no literary romance in football training camp like there is in baseball spring training. This is not a father-and-son journey where you pile into a van and drive throughout Arizona checking out all the football training sites -- the stinking Cardinals are all that's there. I have yet to hear anybody say, "I'm taking vacation and driving around the country to see preseason football games." (Well, maybe John Clayton.)

Excuse me, Tony, but you've taken a lot of space here railing about policy, and you haven't yet told us what you think of Joe Gibbs coming back. Everyone else in town is excited. Are you?

At my age it's unhealthy to get excited. It's rare, but if my excitement lasts more than four hours, I call my doctor.

Um, how do I put this? The orthodoxy in town goes like this: "Bill Parcells was out of football, and he came back and took a Dallas team that was 5-11 and 5-11. And with most of the same personnel he went 10-6 and made the playoffs. So Joe Gibbs should do at least that well."

I understand that viewpoint. But Gibbs was away from football for 11 years. A lot can happen in 11 years. I became a TV star, for heaven's sake. (Watch "Listen Up" Mondays this fall on CBS! God, that was shameless. Get used to it.)

Football is still football. But the players have changed. Do they respect authority like they did 11 years ago? Do they accept coaching like they did 11 years ago? Do they care about winning like they did 11 years ago? And does Gibbs want to coach like he did 15 years ago? (Because 11 years ago he didn't want to coach anymore.) Can these "preseason games" tell us any of that?

Tim Hasselbeck is the Redskins' hottest quarterback, but that counts for nothing until the meaningless exhibition season ends.