- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 11, 2004

Joe Gibbs, whose second stint as coach of the Washington Redskins begins tomorrow against Tampa Bay at FedEx Field, talked this week about how much the game has changed since he last coached in 1992.

“Football changes about 30 percent a year, and I’ve been gone for 12 years,” he said.

That comes out to a 360 percent change — nothing compared to the way Washington has changed since American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon three years ago today.

It is nothing compared to the way the world has changed since the September 11 terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

It is not the same town, and no matter what glory Joe Gibbs brings back to the Redskins, it will never be the same again.

Ray Brown, the 6-foot-5, 318-pound grand old man brought back to fill in at guard and tackle after Jon Jansen went down with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in the preseason, is the only player on the roster here when the times were so much better, when the Redskins were in the playoffs nearly every season and won their last Super Bowl in January 1992. He was here for the parades down Pennsylvania Avenue and the rocking, frenzied crowds at RFK Stadium.

He remembers a time when the only color codes he had to concentrate on were the ones used when plays were called — not to determine how safe it was to exist in the world.

“When I got here, when they called one play in practice, I said to [Joe Bugel, who has also made his return to the Redskins as assistant head coach for offense], ‘Isn’t that orange and yellow?’” said Brown, 41, who is entering his 19th season and played from 1989 to 1995 for the Redskins. “They were calling it something else for the new group of guys.”

According to one poll, 98 percent of those questioned remember exactly what they were doing three years ago when the attacks took place. Brown said he was 3,000 miles away, sleeping at home in San Jose, when his wife woke him up and said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

“We couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “It was an off day for us [he was with the San Francisco 49ers at the time], but I went in later that day for treatment and everyone was somber.”

Somber, anxious, frightened — the mood hasn’t changed much here over the past three years, and the atmosphere struck Brown when he came back to town, particularly the security presence. He experienced it firsthand while driving through the District the night after the final preseason game against Atlanta.

“My wife and I were in the Capitol Hill area, and we ran into a checkpoint. They looked into our car. It is amazing what has happened here.”

What has happened here is the Earth shook on that September morning and hasn’t stopped shaking since, and the closer you are to the two Ground Zeros — the Pentagon as well as Twin Towers — the worse the aftershocks.

The city is turning into an armed fortress, and the stress of the concrete barriers, the metal detectors, the fighter jet flyover exercises and the long lines at the airports has taken its toll on the collective psyche of the community. Our passion has been replaced by fear. Turning back the clock on the football field would be a welcome relief from the tension of the times.

“I had forgotten how big the Redskins are here in Washington,” Brown said. “It transcends everything. It gets this area up in a roar, and Joe being back here, trying to recapture those old days, that nostalgia can make you feel good.

“Redskin fans are some of the most passionate fans in the world, and they deserve something good,” Brown said. “You think about your role here and it is not important, but we can offer something to take people’s minds off the world today. Not just here, but for the soldiers over there [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. They are putting their lives on the line every day, and they are watching these games. I hope we can give them some type of respite from what they go through.”

Brown said he received a letter from a mother whose son is a Redskin fan and serving in Iraq, asking to send her son an e-mail or something, “just to keep him connected to what is happening here.”

Since September 11, 2001, what seems to have kept all of us connected is terror. It would be nice to replace the security color code of the day with burgundy and gold.

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