- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

Laveranues Coles, Chad Morton, Randy Thomas and John Hall have been bracing for this since mid-May, when the 2003 NFL schedule was released and the four former free agents found out when they would be making their Washington Redskins debuts: On the league’s Thursday night season opener, on national television, against the New York Jets, their former employers.

Now that “Jets Week” has arrived, three of the fab four are embracing the hype. The other would like to hide under a rock for the next four days.

“You always want to play your ex-team and show what you can do against them,” Morton said. “It couldn’t be better for that first game. It’s good for the NFL, too. … There’s been a lot of stuff on TV, and it’s making everybody else interested in football. A lot of people I know that didn’t really know about football have been drawn toward it, and want to know what’s going on with the Redskins and the Jets. It’s good publicity for the NFL.”

Morton’s sentiments are shared by Thomas and Hall. All three spent considerable time in front of cameras, microphones and notepads yesterday, with members of both the Washington and New York media salivating at the juiciness of this tailor-made story line.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Hall said of the league’s decision to schedule this game as the season opener. “You’ve got to look at why they did it. It’s a big ratings game, people are going to really want to tune in and watch it. It’s good for the fans, it’s good for the league.”

Added Thomas: “It couldn’t have happened any better way. I’m very excited.”

Coles isn’t quite so ready for the madness. He’s not speaking to the media this week, and yesterday he did everything within his power to avoid the throng at Redskin Park, even sending quarterback Patrick Ramsey into the open locker room to fetch him his playbook.

Coles did speak to a reporter from Newsday last Friday and made it clear he is not looking forward to facing his old mates.

“If it was left up to me, we would never have played this game,” said the wide receiver, who got a team-record $13million bonus to sign with the Redskins last spring. “If we win, then everybody will want to say, ‘The Jets made a bad decision.’ If the Redskins lose, they’ll say, ‘It’s good the Jets let them go, because they weren’t no good anyway.’

“To be honest, if I could have it my way, it wouldn’t go down like this. That way nobody gets embarrassed by the situation.”

Coles’ consternation aside, the other ex-Jets are genuinely excited about Thursday night’s game at FedEx Field. They’re also taking the high road when asked if they hold ill will toward New York for letting them go.

“I love everyone there,” said Hall, the kicker who signed with Washington for five years and $7.1million. “I don’t have anything bad to say about anybody there. … I’ll always remember the times up in New York, and I do love the state of New York and the city.”

Morton, the most controversial of the four acquisitions after an arbitrator awarded him to Washington for five years and $8million, plans to yuk it up with his old mates during pregame warmups.

“I’m definitely going to talk to the guys and the coaches before the game,” the return specialist and running back said. “There’s no hard feelings towards them.”

The Redskins signed all four former Jets within a 12-day period in early March. It took a little longer for the deals involving Coles and Morton, both restricted free agents, to become official, but by the time offseason workouts began, all four were wearing new uniforms.

Six months after the fact, the Redskins’ raiding of New York’s roster continues to reverberate around the league.

“It was a shock,” said Thomas, an offensive guard who got a seven-year deal and a $7million signing bonus to move 250 miles down Interstate 95. “Hall came in the day after I took my visit. Then they offered Chad, and then Laveranues. At the moment, it was like, ‘Can you believe this?’ You just couldn’t write it out the way it happened.”

Some Jets players have come to terms with the unusual series of events. That doesn’t mean they’re happy with the way things turned out.

“I’m not mad at them at all, honestly. They did what they had to do,” defensive tackle Jason Ferguson told reporters in New York yesterday. “But, man, the Redskins did a good job of getting all our key players.”

Others apparently are still holding a grudge and have resorted to taking shots at Washington.

“When you can’t win with the players you got,” center Kevin Mawae said, “you go find guys from a winning team, and that’s what happened.”

Regardless of how some New York players feel, the ex-Jets remain close with most of their former teammates and still feel connected to the franchise.

All three players who spoke yesterday expressed empathy for Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, who broke his wrist during a preseason game and is out eight to 12 weeks. Hall, who learned of the injury during the Redskins’ preseason win over Baltimore, said the news was “like a blow to the kidney.”

Which underscores the true nature of this sudden rivalry. Coles, Morton, Thomas and Hall will be Redskins when they take the field Thursday night, but they’ve still got a little Jets blood in them.

“Those guys are my friends,” Hall said. “You can’t take that away, even if you switch teams. You want to beat them, but you’re still friends. It’s much more than just the game.”

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