- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

One of the first to congratulate Joe Gibbs upon his return to the Washington Redskins in January was Bill Parcells.

Perhaps Gibbs’ fiercest rival when he coached the New York Giants, Parcells — now the coach of the Dallas Cowboys — wanted to welcome Gibbs back to the NFC East so he sent a fax to Redskin Park. The page had just one line on it, but it spoke volumes about the relationship (or lack thereof) between the two coaching greats.

It read: “Does this mean we can’t talk for the next five years?”

Based on Gibbs’ response — none — the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

“He’s the enemy,” Gibbs has said on more than one occasion.

Not that the two have any actual dislike for each other. Gibbs and Parcells will shake hands before and after tonight’s Redskins-Cowboys game at FedEx Field. Perhaps they’ll even go so far as to exchange a pleasantry or two, something along the lines of “Good to see you, Bill,” or “Best of luck, Joe.”

But that’s as much interaction as you’re likely to see between them. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it always will be.

“You respect them, you go up against them,” Gibbs said of his coaching counterpart. “But it’s not something social.”

Ever since the 63-year-old Gibbs returned to the Redskins after 11 years of retirement, fans have been pointing to his first meeting with the 63-year-old Parcells. It’s by far the most intriguing coaching matchup of the season: one man already in the Hall of Fame, matching wits with another surely headed to Canton.

This kind of coaching showdown might have been a regular occurrence back in the day (think Gibbs vs. Landry, Noll vs. Shula, Walsh vs. Ditka). But in today’s ever-changing NFL, meetings like tonight’s between a couple of coaching greats are rare.

And until Gibbs’ surprising return to Washington, Parcells probably thought the two would never oppose one another again.

“Everybody knows how I feel about him,” Parcells said affectionately. “I’m very happy that he is back in football, and I hope he is happy doing it, I really mean that. I know it means increased competition. It has always meant that, and I am sure it will continue to mean that.”

Despite some obvious similarities — they share the same age, football philosophies and propensity to come out of retirement — their personalities are diametrical.

Gibbs is the soft-spoken coach, the one who tries to deflect attention off himself and onto his players. Parcells is the bombastic field general, the one who has no problem making a spectacle of himself and his players when something goes wrong.

Whether you agree with one approach or the other, it’s hard to dispute that both have worked in the NFL. Gibbs has 141 career victories, Parcells has 160. Gibbs has three Super Bowl trophies, Parcells has two.

Which explains why the two, despite their obvious differences, share a great deal of respect for each other.

“He has a way of doing this, and it works,” Gibbs said of Parcells. “He has certain principles he believes in, and if you have watched wherever he’s gone, the players believe in it and the whole organization does after awhile.”

Parcells’ players certainly believe in his system when it comes time to play the Redskins. He holds an 11-6 head-to-head edge over Gibbs, and carries a six-game winning streak into tonight’s meeting.

Not since Nov. 29, 1987 at RFK Stadium has Gibbs been victorious over a Parcells-coached team. And for that reason, Gibbs is not looking forward to tonight’s reunion with his old nemesis.

“No, I’d rather have somebody easy,” Gibbs said. “You don’t want to go up against somebody who you consider is real good at what you do. … I’d say he’s definitely done the best job when I coach a team and he coaches a team.”

Perhaps some day, when both coaches have retired once and for all, they will try to strike up a friendship. The two did play golf together once — during the brief period when both were out of coaching — and they shared some health advice, with Parcells battling heart problems and Gibbs dealing with diabetes.

“I enjoyed it,” Gibbs said.

But with both men saying they are committed to coaching their respective teams for the time being, there don’t appear to be any more golf outings in their immediate future.

Just a friendly handshake at tonight’s game before the two retreat to their separate corners.

“It’s like having a lot of respect for the enemy,” Parcells said. “Now, he’s not my enemy, he’s a friend. But he happens to be my enemy on Sundays, and I’m sure he feels the same way.”

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