- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

We owe the Dallas Cowboys our heartfelt thanks for giving us the holidays back. That may be a little hard to swallow, but this joyous season is no time for hatred our usual emotion where the 'Pokes are concerned.
By beating the Redskins last Sunday, the Cowboys pretty much destroyed any realistic playoff prospects for the nation's capital. Now we can concentrate on spending money and eating recklessly, the two things maybe 96 percent of Americans do each December.
Besides, who would you rather spend Christmas thinking about, Kris Kringle or Marty Schottenheimer? Considering his dour public image, the only way I could associate Marty with Christmas would be if he played Ebenezer Scrooge.
For too many seasons under George Allen and Joe Gibbs, Redskins playoff games collided with the holidays and the holidays usually lost. Talk about distractions. I'm surprised that Allen didn't ask his pal, President Richard Nixon, to declare Christmas illegal when the Redskins were playing during Yuletide. I mean, ya gotta have priorities.
Gibbs had the same mindset, meaning one-track. I think I remember one Christmas Eve when he made the Redskins practice because a playoff game was coming up. As I recall, owner Jack Kent Cooke made Joe take a break so the players could observe the holiday. For 15 minutes.
While these Redskins were winning those five straight games, I was having nightmares about the same sort of thing happening this month. Except that Marty probably would take a 10-minute break.
Yes, I know the playoffs don't start until next month the better to assure more frigid games in cold-weather sites, I reckon. But two of the Redskins' last three regular-season games come at the height of the Christmas season, jolly or otherwise: Dec. 23 against the Bears at FedEx Field and Dec. 30 against the Saints in Nawlins. If the team were still in contention, who would be able to concentrate on finding a parking place at the mall? Now, thanks to the helpful Cowboys, our minds will be totally uncluttered by pigskin possibilities, such as: Let's see if we win our last two games, and if the Bucs lose theirs, and if the Falcons split, and if the Saints are struck twice by lightning
I mean, who needs it? We should devote all the energy of body and spirit we possess toward not giving Aunt Gertrude the same gift we gave her last year, right?
But perhaps ye of too much faith haven't given up on the playoffs. Did you notice where Chris Samuels, the Redskins' fine offensive tackle, said, "Our backs are to the wall," which should earn the NFL's Muddy Cliche of the Week Award. Actually, Chris, your backs have been against the wall since October. That's what happens in this league when you lose your first five games.
Samuels also said, "We've got to win five straight, but we've got to take it one game at a time. We can't look at the five."
You know, the kid is only 24, but I can see a future for him in politics. Just spin, baby.
The fine science of trying to calculate a team's playoff chances does strange things to people's thought processes. Quarterback Tony Banks has been around a lot longer than Samuels, but he actually told reporters that the Redskins' playoff chances were "just as good" as before the loss to Dallas. Now that's taking positive thinking a little too far. I wonder if Tony would be available to do my income tax next April.
I like the way the colleges handle their postseason, with nothing of major importance happening until New Year's. This has become even more attractive now that all the big games aren't on Jan. 1, when a lot of folks have trouble remembering which team they bet on.
Frankly, I'm a lot more excited about Maryland going to the Orange Bowl than I am about the Redskins' slim-and-none playoff possibilities. After their improbable but delicious 10-1 season, it's going to be great fun to see if the Terrapins can win one of the old Big Four bowls for the first time since 1952. That year, older fans will recall, they beat supposedly invincible Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl but then lost Orange Bowls to Oklahoma in '54 and ' 56 and the Cotton Bowl to Houston in '77.
Of course, the university will receive a huge payoff from the folks in Miami and might need a good chunk of it for the raise coach Ralph Friedgen should demand. Heck, Maryland might even have to deed Ralph the real estate under Byrd Stadium.
Back when I was a kid, the bowl games there were no minor ones then had the January football spotlight all to themselves because the NFL wrapped up business in December. The Eastern Division winner played the Western Division winner for the NFL championship, and that was it. The holidays had no competition, at least until the hangovers cleared enough for us to turn on the TV on Jan. 1.
Many things have changed since then, in and out of sports, but it will be nice to go wassailing without worrying whether, say, Stephen Davis has a sore toe. Thanks a lot, Cowboys, and all the joys of the season to you and yours.

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