Even from one of those new "obstructed view" seats at FedEx Field, the Redskins looked very good Friday night in their final preseason tuneup, overwhelming Atlanta, 27-0, in a game Coach Joe Gibbs wished had counted in the standings.
But Gibbs knows better. If the game counted, Falcons Coach Jim Mora Jr. would not have pulled superstar quarterback Michael Vick after three series, with the Redskins ahead 24-0, when it was apparent Atlanta could not keep LaVar off Vick.
A 3-2 preseason proved that Mark Brunell deserves to be the starting quarterback, the receivers are solid, Clinton Portis will be a dangerous runner, LaVar and Marcus Washington will lead an improved defense and rookie Sean Taylor is a budding star. The special teams clearly are better -- and John Hall's leg is a great asset.
Still, with the Redskins opening the regular season a week from today against Tampa Bay at FedEx Field, Gibbs is taking a wait-and-see approach. He's been away from the game for 11 years and knows he no longer has a dominant offensive line. He wonders if his defense under Gregg Williams will measure up as it did under Richie Petitbon. And he can't be sure the special teams will win games, as they once did.
"I'm anxious and nervous" Gibbs said Friday night of the upcoming season, sounding like the Gibbs of old. "Every game will be a life and death struggle."
Before training camp, Gibbs said he was apprehensive about how he would measure up after being away so long. That isn't a question anymore -- he's had a game-face from Day One on the job. And his coaching staff is first-rate.
What we don't know about Joe Gibbs's 2004 team is its character. In the Gibbs I era, the team was resourceful, competitive in just about every game, found ways to win and rarely beat itself. Gibbs always said he would win or lose with "his" people, solid guys he could count on.
Next week, we'll begin finding out about his new people.
No hard relocation news this week, other than to note again that time is waning for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to make a decision on where to place the Montreal Expos starting in 2005.
Over the objections of three sons who are pleading for this issue to cease being part of this column each week, here's an update:
* MLB Relocation Committee: Still touring and taking notes. Among its notes, surely: 45,000-seat RFK Stadium on East Capitol Street is the only suitable place for the Expos to play in 2005, over "What happens here, stays here" Las Vegas; Not Big Enough Norfolk; Monterrey, Mexico; and No Stadium in Portland.
* If Virginia Baseball is awarded the Expos, D.C. officials are reportedly considering allowing the Expos to play in RFK Stadium's parking lot, but not in RFK Stadium. I'm kidding, of course, but you never know now that D.C. councilman Jack Evans has his game-face on.
* Latest poll from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission shows non-driving residents of D.C. prefer a baseball team in the District rather than at a Dulles site.
* Bad month for O's owner and D.C. baseball foe Peter Angelos. Orioles lost 10 straight games after his players and smug front-office crowd overran Farragut Square, Aug. 18, in their successful D.C. "FanFest" that just happened to occur the day before an MLB owners' meeting. Then, negotiations between the Angelos family and Rosecroft Raceway owners apparently collapsed, perhaps because the legalization of slot machines doesn't appear imminent. Angelos is not showing much grace as momentum for the Expos' move to Washington seems to be building, despite his opposition and Selig's desire to please all his owners.
* Dormant of late, the Baseball Gang resurfaced last week at the bar at Zola, noting the news that Our Expos will remain in the NL East for 2005, with the Braves (they're ready to be had), overpaid Mets, underachieving Phillies and under-appreciated Marlins. Aging Baseball Gang members, some in Ted Brown open-neck black shirts, were excited about the Expos' strong play since the all-star break.
Zola staffers were not thrilled to see Baseball Gang members, some of whom were illegally smoking cheap cigars, their sports sections covering the bar, contemplating 2005 Washington season ticket plans while taking space from younger, sleeker patrons.
Making the Rounds
Deion Sanders's return to the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, ending a three-year retirement, might be nothing more than PR bonanza for Deion. Sanders's final season, in 2000, with the Redskins, was nothing special, in the eyes of most Redskins' fans, who never accepted him, or some members of the team's coaching staff, who felt he lost more than a step from his prime-time days with Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas.
In his one season here, Deion received an $8 million signing bonus and a $500,000 salary before fleeing first to baseball and then to CBS upon the arrival of Marty Schottenheimer. In a rare moment of self-reflection, Deion returned $500,000 of the $8 million signing bonus.
Why play for the Ravens and run from the Redskins?
"The Redskins couldn't get it done, the Ravens can," Sanders said at his Wednesday news conference. Circle Oct. 10 on your calendar: Ravens at Redskins, 8:30 p.m., prime time. . . .
We're pleased by the news that Chamique Holdsclaw will return to the Mystics this week after three games on the injured list, following her being MIA for three of the four games prior to the WNBA's month-long Olympic break in August. Holdsclaw's reason for missing work the past month was a "personal medical issue." But if the WNBA and Mystics want to be taken seriously, they'll have to do better than permitting a star player to vanish for a month without a better explanation. . . .
Steve Spurrier is in coaching exile this fall, watching his son, Scott, play quarterback at Loudoun County High School. Out of the game for the first time in more than 40 years, Spurrier's name will get called on TV every time a college coach takes a bad licking, or falls below .500. Don't think some Florida alums (I know one old dope, in particular) won't try to lure him back to Gainesville if his successor, Ron Zook, stumbles. . . .
Serena Williams's outfits at the U.S. Open leave me as bedazzled as Feinstein's wardrobe did on ESPN's "Sports Reporters."
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