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At end, wings and a prayer

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Joe Gibbs checked the life-expectancy charts and recognized that, at 67 years old, he is possibly down to the last decade of his life.

That reality undoubtedly contributed to his decision to retire from the Redskins a second time.

It was not merely his age, of course. There was the murder of Sean Taylor. There was the timeout blunder in the final seconds of the Bills-Redskins game. There were all those gut-wrenching losses that wear on coaches a generation younger than Gibbs. There was a family to consider as well, a family he sees as his true legacy after he leaves earth.

It was time to leave, and Gibbs knew it. Maybe it was time after last season, except Gibbs did not want to leave the Redskins after a 5-11 season.

So he said farewell 72 hours after the Redskins lost in the playoffs to the Seahawks in Seattle. He thanked everyone. He held what amounted to a chamber of commerce infomercial on the Washington region. He was retiring from the greatest job in the world, with the greatest organization in the world and the greatest fans in the world.

Gibbs meant every word of it, too. Gibbs wears his sappiness well, for he is a man of unyielding faith. He made certain to acknowledge his Creator and say he has been blessed in life. He said he was just an "average" Joe, a physical-education major, no less, and look how God had smiled upon him.

Gibbs has a lot of Frank Capra in him. Or maybe he is the real-life embodiment of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." He is an uncommonly decent man who produced mostly indecent results in four seasons on his second go-around with the team.

His 31-36 record, counting a 1-2 mark in the playoffs, was masked by two appearances in the playoffs the last three seasons. But at no time in the four seasons did Gibbs appear to have the Redskins moving in the proper direction. They would win a few games, and they would lose a few, often in agonizing fashion.

Both Gibbs and owner Dan Snyder suggest the Redskins are finally in a good place, that stability finally has been restored to the organization, which really is a backhanded compliment if you consider the Steve Spurrier fiasco.

Still, it was a day to put a positive spin on a passing that was anticlimactic. It was clear that Gibbs II was not going to end in a Super Bowl celebration. Gibbs II was a different coach from Gibbs I, and how could he not be? We all become more averse to risk with age. We all become the sum of our experiences. And Gibbs II had the additional burden of trying to live up to a legend who just so happened to be his younger self.

Alas, he no longer was that person staring out from those old photographs. He was a more conservative coach who became the last person in Washington to recognize that quarterback Mark Brunell was down to two weapons — throwing the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack and throwing the underneath pass on third down that would result in a 5-yard gain when 7 yards were needed.

It is doubtful Gibbs I would have stuck so long with Brunell or handed over so many of his responsibilities to a coaching staff that was almost as deep as his roster.

The game has changed, and Gibbs tried desperately to change with it. He promised this time around to have a life outside of football. He broke that promise in his first week back on the job. At 3 o'clock in the morning, when he would hear the trash men emptying the Dumpsters at the team's compound in Ashburn, he knew then it was time to get a few hours' sleep.

Gibbs cackled in that squeaky-voiced pitch of his at times, while charming his audience and speaking in heartfelt terms.

And then at about 4 p.m. yesterday, Gibbs II came to an end.