It doesn't matter who is coaching the Redskins -- Joe Gibbs, Steve Spurrier or Norv Turner. When the local NFL team finds itself in a four-game losing streak, not uncommon during the past 10 years, fans here bounce between hyperventilating, Defcon-4 and sitting quizzically on Dr. Melfi's couch.
No one expected Gibbs, who had taken the Redskins to four Super Bowls and won three of them, to be 1-4, especially after beating Tampa Bay in his first regular season game in 11 years. Gibbs had a formula for winning during the 12 seasons that got him in the Hall of Fame: a good running game that set up the pass, opportunistic defense, solid special teams, an avoidance of killer mistakes and smart halftime adjustments.
Five games into this season, there have been few moments comparable to Gibbs's first tour here. With the so far unimpressive Mark Brunell at quarterback and dart-to-nowhere Clinton Portis at running back, the offense has been a dud, in part because of awful run blocking and bumbling receivers. The special teams have been so-so as well, last Sunday surrendering a backbreaking 78-yard punt return to Baltimore's B.J. Sams. Nor has there been any halftime magic coming from the Redskins' locker room.
I went looking for them during the week clicking a TV remote with one hand and spinning the radio dial with the other. Here's a sample:
* Gibbs, with WRC's George Michael and Sonny Jurgensen, Monday night: "The past doesn't buy you anything. We need big plays; our turnover rate is awful, and it's not just the quarterback."
* Gibbs, later, with Michael: "I went into this with my eyes wide open. I wanted to do something for the franchise. "
* Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense, to Michael and Jurgensen: "We're going to regroup . . . get this turned around."
* Rick "Doc" Walker on WTEM-980: "Joe Bugel needs a bigger role. He has some dog in him."
* Jurgensen to Gibbs: "107 yards in total offense?"
* Riggo on WTEM, WRC-TV, Armed Forces Radio, satellite radio and walkie-talkie transmissions: "The game has changed."
* Postgame caller on WTEM: "It's Dan Snyder's fault."
* Postgame caller on WTEM: "It's Joe Gibbs's fault. He only wins in strike years."
* Postgame caller on WTEM: "What about Tim Hasselbeck?"
* Postgame interview with fan on WJLA-TV: "Steve Spurrier shouldn't have been fired."
It's 1:30 Monday morning, FedEx parking lots are still crowded, but the traffic around RFK Stadium is light. RFK is empty -- except for the football memories etched in our minds. Gibbs could use Art Monk. But I still believe Gibbs will get it right.
Three nights later, I take the Metro from Arlington to RFK. Fans are walking from the station to the old stadium. The lights are on: The U.S. men's national soccer team is taking on Panama, needing a victory to advance to the final round of the 2006 World Cup qualifying tournament.
This could be the last international soccer match of significance at RFK, because by mid-April there will be a pitcher's mound and a diamond that soccer officials say won't work for big-time soccer games.
On this cool, sweet night, RFK looks good -- not yet ready for major league baseball, but good. The lighting, video screen, scoreboard and sound system have been improved, thanks to the recently departed stadium boss Bobby Goldwater, who fixed up the place even if he did create a nutty auto raceway, made too much money to suit some and played it too loose according to some critics.
"Brings back memories," stadium usher supervisor Ricardo Douglas said, looking at where they'll put home plate.
April 15 is the date the Arizona Diamondbacks are supposed to play Washington's baseball team at RFK, if Mayor Anthony A. Williams can deliver a council-ratified $440 million stadium plan to Bud Selig by Nov. 1, or so. Lots of work still needs to be done -- to the tune of $25 million -- to make the stadium suitable for the first regular season baseball game here in 34 years. For starters, they might spend some of that money on about 5,000 cans of air freshener for the concourses that are currently not acceptable for your kid's knothole gang.
I don't like Mayor Williams scooting off to China before handing a final financial package to Bud Selig, especially when I could have asked Red Auerbach to fit him in at Red's regular Tuesday China Doll lunchfest, which is much closer than Beijing. But I was excited to read Dave Sheinin's story in The Post on Thursday that reported Washington's baseball team has an office in "some" downtown hotel. Meantime, the Zients-Malik ownership group waits, while several sources say Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been looking again at the numbers and twirling his pencil. Hmmm.
Still, it's a shame we'll be missing out on international soccer matches, if that's the case, because World Cup qualifiers and other big-time matches add to the sports landscape in our diverse community. I hope D.C. United can stay the course at RFK, until it moves into its proposed, 24,000-seat stadium near the baseball venue on the Anacostia waterfront. Do I dream?
Nearly 20,000 people, including a large section of noisy Panamanian fans, were on hand Wednesday night. But when 22-year-old star midfielder Landon Donovan slipped a beautiful goal into the net 21 minutes into the game, it was clear the visitors wouldn't have much to cheer about. Donovan scored another goal in the second half, and 20-year-old Eddie Johnson had three as the U.S. team won, 6-0.
"The significance of the game had our attention," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena told reporters afterward. "All-around, it was a fantastic performance"
Arena, who coached United to two MLS championships after guiding Virginia to five NCAA titles before taking over the U.S. national team six years ago, runs his operation out of his basement in Fairfax. It's cool having him around -- making appearances, giving clinics and running practices -- and helping to secure good matches here. I hope it doesn't end.
Covering the Bases
* Who was the genius that made the decision to put the Yankees-Red Sox and Astros-Cards on TV at the same time Wednesday? Couldn't one game have started at 4 and the other at 8?
* Keep an eye on Orioles owner Peter Angelos. How are those "don't be angry, Peter" negotiations going with MLB?
* What happened to the NHL?
* Wizards in town this week.
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