The legacy of Joe Gibbs has been taking a beating here in Washington with each embarrassing defeat during his second reign.
And if that was all there was to Gibbs’ legacy with the Redskins, it would be pretty sad. With his 20-25 (and counting) record since he came back to coach in 2004, Gibbs would be right there with Otto Graham’s 17-22-3 mark and just a game ahead of Joe Kuharich’s 26-32 contribution. Fortunately, he still has some distance between himself and Norv Turner’s 49-59 record.
But in Canton, Ohio, it’s still 1996 — the year Joe Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl champion Redskins coach, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. None of this year’s losses have taken place. Nor has that 6-10 record in 2004.
And no matter how bad things may get — or good, if Gibbs can turn things around — no one who walks through the Hall will see any evidence of his coaching comeback.
“It is not part of his display,” said Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Where his bronze bust is are the years for which he was elected to the Hall of Fame, the reason he was elected is reflected there.”
And that’s the way it will stay, according to Horrigan, because that is how the Hall handled the only other case in which an inductee returned to the career that got him elected to Canton: Paul Brown.
There never has been a player inducted to the Hall who then returned to play. “We had a close call with Barry Sanders when we thought he was coming back, but that didn’t happen,” Horrigan said. “Technically, George Halas was a charter member and elected while he was still coaching, but he was being recognized as a coach/founder and everything else.
“Paul Brown was elected for his coaching years with the Cleveland Browns,” Horrigan added. “He was actually elected in 1967, and then that same year he was the founder of and coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. So he did coach after he was elected as a coach.”
Brown’s records with the Bengals are included in a more in-depth biography on file in Canton. But in his display at the hall, there is only this reference to Brown’s tenure with the Bengals: “Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame before Cincinnati Bengals tenure began.”
But Gibbs’ situation is unique.
Cooperstown has never had to deal with the issue. Jim Palmer nearly created that situation with his comeback in 1991, one year after being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but the attempt never got beyond spring training. Earl Weaver had not yet been inducted into the Hall when he came back to manage the Orioles in 1986, more than three years after he had retired.
“There is not a precedent for changing plaques,” said Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications. “Since there’s no precedent, it’s hard to say what we would do” if faced with a baseball situation similar to Gibbs’ return.
No basketball player has returned to play after induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, according to spokesman Dean O’Keefe. But many coaches get elected while they’re active, such as Bobby Knight and Jim Boeheim. “We update their displays periodically if something noteworthy happens,” O’Keefe said.
At the International Boxing Hall of Fame, remarkably, there hasn’t been a case yet when a fighter continued in the ring after he was inducted. Sugar Ray Leonard fought Hector Camacho in March 1997, two months after he had been elected to the hall. But he retired after that loss and was not inducted until June. Trainers and contributors have been inducted while they continued to work.
The one place I thought this dilemma would hit home was the Soccer Hall of Fame because of Freddy Adu’s trade to Real Salt Lake. Surely they would have to amend his plaque in Oneonta, N.Y. Imagine my surprise when I learned Freddy was not in the Hall. With some of the outrage expressed locally about his lack of playing time, I thought surely he already was enshrined.