The last NFL preseason game on a Thursday night in the middle of one of the most catastrophic weeks in the country's history is about as meaningless as sport can get. Still, 69,885 fans showed up at M&T Bank Stadium to see the Baltimore Ravens overcome an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and defeat the Redskins, 26-20, in overtime.
If Coach Joe Gibbs and many of the team's fans agonized at watching the Redskins' reserves collapse in the final 20 minutes, allowing a receiver named Randy Hymes to score two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, at least one young man walked into the cool Baltimore night feeling a little better about himself.
That would be Jimmy Farris, a 27-year-old special teams guy who also plays wide receiver and hoped his play Thursday night might net him a spot on the 53-man roster. It didn't. He was cut Saturday. Now Farris will look for another NFL job.
Thursday night, Farris, who is from Lewiston, Idaho, and played college football at Montana, caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell in the second quarter and a 37-yard touchdown pass from rookie Jason Campbell in the third quarter. That's two touchdown catches for the 6-foot Farris, who has bounced from San Francisco to New England to Atlanta in the past three years on the strength of his ability and willingness to play on special teams.
"Teams need guys like me, on the bottom of the roster, to do what I do," he said. "Special teams is my niche -- a guy who does the dirty work and gives them a fifth wide receiver."
And while Gibbs and his staff huddled this weekend to carve out the Redskins' 53-man roster, making what he calls "the tough decisions," Farris and guys like him throughout the league awaited their fate. "Coaches and personnel guys are not dumb," Farris said. "They know what guys can do. I had a good training camp, and this game was good for me."
The only smile from Gibbs in his postgame remarks came when asked about Farris. "A little ol' guy who fights his guts out," Gibbs said.
"That's nice," Farris said before acknowledging his precarious station: "I'm always on the bubble."
In the old days, Gibbs always had a few Jimmy Farris-type players. But after last year's 6-10 record, such luxuries might not be affordable. The team needs to improve offensively: better blocking for Clinton Portis and more solid protection for Patrick Ramsey, who needs the receivers to do better getting open and catching the ball. Ramsey has Brunell looking over his shoulder, with most professional observers convinced Brunell was the best quarterback in camp.
Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, seems to have his guys ready to duplicate their success of a year ago, with LaVar working into game shape Thursday with some good hits on the Ravens and waving to fans as he left the stadium around midnight in a natty white straw hat. All eyes followed LaVar into the parking lot. Such a star. Downstairs, Jimmy Farris was doing TV interviews, in no hurry to leave.
From Russia With Love
Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin hit town big-time this week, joining his new boss, Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis, for a Thursday news conference at MCI Center, followed by a visit up the parkway to his first NFL game in Baltimore. That will be followed by his throwing out the first pitch at an upcoming Nationals game.
"We want to introduce him to the city," Leonsis said, crowing that his 19-year-old left wing, the first pick in the NHL's 2004 draft, had a "charismatic" personality "comparable to former president Clinton" but cautioning, "we don't want to put too much pressure on him."
"But you just compared him to a former president," I noted.
"That's true," Leonsis said, cackling, aware his team needs all the personality it can generate after missing a full season and retooling the roster with younger players capable of scoring goals but with many questions on defense.
The Caps hope to build a rivalry between Ovechkin and Canadian wonder boy Sidney Crosby, the No. 1 draft pick in 2005, taken by Pittsburgh. "Magic vs. Bird?" envisioned Leonsis recently.
"Alex just bulldozes his way to the net, Crosby is more of a playmaker," Caps GM George McPhee said. "The two of them will grow up together," said Coach Glen Hanlon.
Ovechkin recently signed a three-year contract with the Caps at a base salary of $984,200, plus a possible $3 million in incentives. His goals were to play in the NHL -- "a dream come true" -- and now "to win a Stanley Cup" with the Washington Capitals. We like him, but he needs to meet LaVar.
Touching the Bases
* Loved home plate umpire Jim Wolf's description to The Post's Barry Svrluga of Frank Robinson's staring him down Wednesday night: "All of a sudden, he just stared at me. I was like 'What? Are you staring at me?' I felt like [Robert] DeNiro in 'Taxi Driver.' Are you looking at me? And he just kept staring. I was like, 'All right, I'll stare at you back.' " My view: Robinson can stare all he wants; he did a great job this season. GM Jim Bowden has done well, too, although his seeking to expand the Nats' September roster to include five players from the Hawaiian Little League World Series champs might be a stretch. (Just kidding.) Also, nice work by Nats President Tony Tavares, who recently hustled an additional $4 million from his MLB bosses to get the team's payroll to $54 million. Nat of the Week: Brad Wilkerson, for his ninth-inning base running that beat Atlanta on Wednesday.
* John Harkes, who starred for the U.S. national team, D.C. United and the University of Virginia, as well as spending six years playing in England, was inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame this week. He's director of youth development for D.C. United.
* Steve Spurrier lives.
* Observations from Day 1 at the U.S. Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.:
If you like tennis, nothing beats walking between the outside courts, watching unheralded players, up close and personal.
Players will sign autographs, even Rafael Nadal.
Feinstein in attendance, sans security, greeting fans, many of whom gleefully whacked him painfully on his surgically repaired shoulder.
Serena Williams survived an entertaining first-round match against Yung-Jan Chan -- while Andy Roddick did not the following day.
Thought the fan next to me reading the New Yorker a bit pompous, as was the string quartet playing at the Food Court. That's where you can watch the matches on a big screen TV and easily remain on the Dan Jenkins Diet of a thick cheeseburger a day ($7.25, plus fries), with a dessert of three Alka-Seltzer tablets.
Miss Arthur Ashe a lot.
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