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Holidays, Redskins bad mix

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 25, 2005

While we're giving thanks for our blessings this week, let's remember the Washington Redskins.

Almost certainly, they won't be messing up our holidays by playing meaningful games -- not with a 5-5 record that makes any playoff prospects as dim as ... heck, supply your own simile.

Now, if you bleed burgundy and gold, you might not consider this a blessing. After all, nothing in life matters as much as football, right?

But if your perspectives are a little more in order, there's little doubt about the benefits of Redskins-less holidays.

Take Thanksgiving. In many parts of America, it's a day for traditional high school rivalries. Well remembered are those 11 a.m. Old Oaken Bucket bashes in Northern Virginia between Alexandria's George Washington and Arlington's Washington-Lee. The most stirring came in 1956, when a 42-yard field goal by Wayne Ballard as time expired gave W-L a state championship.

The NFL stages Thanksgiving games in Detroit and Dallas -- contests watched by millions of viewers until overloads of turkey, cranberries, stuffing and pumpkin pie induce slumber. That condition must be especially prevalent among fans of the Lions, who have played like turkeys, or maybe pussycats, for decades now.

And for Redskins rooters of some vintage, the mere mention of Thanksgiving threatens to produce nausea. A rookie quarterback named Clint Longley ruined the holiday for thousands in these parts by tossing a 50-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left that gave the hated Cowboys a 24-23 victory in 1974.

It's even worse when football interferes with Christmas and New Year's. True the Redskins play the Giants on Christmas Eve and Eagles on New Year's Day, but chances are the games won't really mean anything. (Though stomping the two NFC East rivals always means something to Redskins fans).

Too many times in the past, we've been so obsessed with the Redskins that we forget about the traditional joys of the holiday season. Take 1971, when George Allen got Washington into the postseason for the first time in 26 years. Watching them play the San Francisco 49ers the day after Christmas, I nearly sat down at one point on a small child in a chair behind me. Oops!

And football just about wiped out the holidays a year later, when the Redskins defeated the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Eve and smacked down the Cowboys -- who else? -- on New Year's Eve to reach their first Super Bowl. The day after the latter triumph, both The Washington Post and the old Washington Star greeted 1973 with the same euphoric headline: Happy New Year! We're champs at last.

Well, not quite. Two weeks later, the Miami Dolphins beat the Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete The Perfect Season and add to Washington's midwinter gloom.

During Joe Gibbs' three championship seasons, the Redskins also overshadowed the holidays. The 1982 team dispatched the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 26 and the St. Louis Cardinals on Jan. 2 by way of preparing for the playoffs. The 1987 club made the postseason by edging the Minnesota Vikings in overtime on Dec. 26. And the 1991 gang lost its regular-season finale to the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 22 and beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first playoff game on Jan. 4.

Though Gibbs is known far and wide for his piety, I doubt that he spent much time thinking about Christmas during those years. In fact, you could almost visualize the following exchange:

Coach Joe: "What's that tree doing in our living room? And why do I hear the sound of hooves on the roof?"

Wife Pat: "It's Christmas, dear. Come have a mug of eggnog."

Coach Joe: "Eggnog, schmeggnog! If we win the toss, I wonder if we should receive or defer."

Son Coy: "The Bible says it's better to give than receive, Dad."

Coach Joe: "OK, so we'll defer. I wonder if we should blitz on the first play?"

Fortunately, unless all the signs are wrong, the Gibbs family should be able to celebrate the holidays like normal people this year, at least somewhat. And if Joe gets his Christmas wish, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush will be wearing burgundy and gold next season.