- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Coach Tuna makes sniffling wimps out of men in the interest of leading previously deficient football teams to the playoffs.

This is his gift and curse.

The gift leads to a high cholesterol count and a premature rush to the doctor’s office.

From the Tuna come obscenity-laced bromides intended to build character and increase book sales following his next retirement.

He is forever walking away from who he is, which is the Vince Lombardi of our times, only without the myths. He is tough, arrogant, moody, almost impossible to please, even in victory, because the game film inevitably will reveal a zillion busted assignments and players putting forth less than optimum effort on each play.

The Tuna has a succinct message for anyone who bristles in his vicinity: You’re stupid and I’m not.

The Tuna is bringing the suspect Cowpokes to the bowl by the Beltway Monday night, in a nationally televised game that is certain to please ABC, the bus-happy John Madden and all the sports bar proprietors in the nation’s capital and Dallas.

They go back a generation, the Tuna and Joe Gibbs, linked by the geography of the NFC East and the excellence of their respective teams.

You see the Tuna on one sideline and Gibbs on the other, and then you see Lawrence Taylor bearing down on Joe Theismann in a Monday night game at RFK Stadium 19 years ago. You see the human wreck and a gruesome injury that is forever etched in the mind. That one indelible image is part of the Tuna-Gibbs portfolio, along with five Super Bowl rings.

The Tuna actually holds an 11-6 advantage on Gibbs, odd as that seems. Time sometimes plays tricks on the brain, and in the second coming of Gibbs, it is almost impossible to recall that he went 7-9 in 1988 or ever lost a big game against a heated rival.

The city’s feelings are so warm for Gibbs, the expectations so grand, that it is blasphemous to think that last Sunday was anything more than a speed bump on the team’s road to the playoffs.

Yet his team is seemingly lumped with the Cowpokes and the rest of the unexceptional teams of the NFL. There are a few really good teams and a few really bad ones. That leaves all the rest, including the contingents entrusted to the Tuna and Gibbs.

The Tuna’s fire and brimstone made all the difference with the Cowpokes last season. Theirs was a playoff appearance fashioned in fear. They were not a compelling team otherwise. Gibbs is looking to reprise a similar turnaround with the Redskins this season, the task equally daunting in his case.

The two franchises share the elements of exceptional coaches, pad-popping defenses and basket-case offenses, with an added emphasis on the play of the special teams.

The Tuna is wedded to Vinny Testaverde, a quarterback going on 41 years old, and Eddie George, a running back past his prime. Their objective is not to make mistakes, a shaky undertaking for the error-prone Testaverde.

His three interceptions on three consecutive possessions in the second half Sunday were not unlike the misguided throws of Patrick Ramsey. They were enough to make each coach cringe.

Gibbs is more restrained on the sidelines than the Tuna, perhaps because as his emotions rise, so, too, does the squeak in his voice.

Gibbs comes across as more clinical than the Tuna, although both men are committed to details and remain a threat to work themselves to death. Their shelf life is no small element of concern on this go-around. We can assume their nights are long this week, if only because to the loser Monday night goes a season in doubt.

Gibbs already professes to be annoyed with the attention that accompanies his attempt to walk anew on the Potomac River. He should be happy to share the attention with the other coaching legend this week.

Their first meeting of the new millennium promises to be our viewing treat.

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