- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Joe Gibbs assembled his players and assistant coaches Saturday night at the Washington Redskins’ pregame hotel and apologized.

For what?

For hogging the spotlight.

The subject of so much attention since coming out of retirement in January, Gibbs felt bad for his players on the eve of their season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He knew things would only get worse the next afternoon, with thousands of eyes and cameras following his every move in his first regular-season game in 12 years.

So the Hall of Fame coach, in what has to rank among the more unusual pregame pep talks ever delivered, actually apologized to his players for being, well, too good.

“I told them it’s not right, really, but that’s what happens in today’s sports world,” Gibbs said. “You can’t do anything about it. But hopefully, after this game, the attention will go to the players.”

The Redskins took a major step toward earning their own recognition with a 16-10 victory over Tampa Bay. Whether the attention finally shifts away from Gibbs and onto his players remains to be seen.

Either way, Washington’s players were grateful for the coach’s pregame words.

“He was very humble,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “He didn’t want any attention. I think it was a release for him. He wanted us to know that it wasn’t something he enjoyed. He was ready for us to go out there and get a little attention, you know?”

Gibbs has been sheepish about all the accolades since the day he returned to town. He was stunned when he arrived at FedEx Field via helicopter for the team’s draft day party and found a crowd of 20,000 waiting for him. He likewise looked embarrassed when a similar-sized crowd packed Redskin Park for Fan Appreciation Day during training camp.

Gibbs had an inkling things would only get worse when Sunday’s season opener rolled around, so he did everything within his power to deflect the attention to his players.

While the record crowd of 90,098 was busy roaring at the sight of the players emerging from the tunnel during pregame introductions, Gibbs stood back and then deftly sneaked out onto the field without any fanfare.

When a Fox television sideline reporter tried to grab him for a quick interview as he ran off the field at halftime, Gibbs politely declined and raced back into the locker room to work on adjustments.

And when the final gun sounded and his 141st victory (playoffs included) was sealed, Gibbs jogged out to midfield to shake Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden’s hand, gave a quick thumbs-up motion to the crowd and then retreated to the locker room to congratulate each player individually as he passed through the door.

“They’re the ones who made the great plays in the game,” Gibbs said. “I think the focus goes to them. Really, the biggest job I have is to try and pick the coaches and pick the players. From that point on, I kind of ride their coattails.”

To that end, Gibbs eschewed conventional practices during his postgame presentation of game balls. Typically, an NFL coach hands out anywhere from three to seven a game.

Gibbs gave out 53, one for every player on the roster.

“You’ve got a coach who’s not a big-ego guy,” guard Derrick Dockery said. “He’s always humble, putting everybody else before himself. You want to play for guys like that. It makes you want to do your best. And if you don’t perform, it really hurts to know that you let him down.”

Like many of his teammates, Dockery, a 24-year-old, second-year pro, said he looks at the 63-year-old Gibbs as a father figure. Gibbs does have a family of his own, though, even if he hasn’t gotten to spend much time with it lately.

The coach did manage to sneak in a late Sunday dinner with his wife, Pat, and other loved ones. Even that celebratory meal was a generally low-key affair.

As always, Gibbs didn’t want to be the center of attention. Besides, he had to be up first thing Monday morning to start working on the next game.

“I think [Sunday] night’s about the only night you get as a coach,” he said. “I had dinner with my wife and some family and friends. You get one night, and then it’s back after it again. The reality hits.”

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