- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

The season finale between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday will be the third time this year the teams have met.

There was the 17-10 win by the Redskins on Nov.6 at FedEx Field. Before that, there was a little-known contest at the football field at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex.

The Redskins didn’t fare well in that game.

A group of Redskins and Eagles alumni — most came from the first Joe Gibbs era in Washington and Buddy Ryan’s Philly unit — got together on July27 for a flag football game for the charities of both franchises.

Mark Rypien, Brian Mitchell and Gary Clark played for the Redskins. So did 61-year-old Roy Jefferson, who scored a touchdown. Randall Cunningham played for the Eagles and threw eight touchdown passes in a 56-35 victory.

“This was a great day, for the players, the fans and the charities,” said Eagle John Booty. “The Washington players are already looking for revenge when we meet three weeks from now, up in Philly.”

They never got that shot at revenge. Cunningham backed out of the second game, not that there was a lot of interest in it anyway. Now, if this were 1990 and they played that game, the stands would have been filled. It likely would have been the most brutal flag football game anyone had ever seen.

Body bags, anyone?

The lack of interest in the game wasn’t just because 15 years had come and gone since the rivalry between the Eagles and Redskins peaked.

In August, any conversation about the Eagles and the Redskins seemed one-sided, and not in Washington’s favor. After all, the Eagles had gone to the NFC Championship game in four straight years. They won the conference title last year and were favored to do so again this season.

The prevailing feeling in Washington entering this season was either desperate optimism or desperate disbelief — a disbelief that any team coached by Gibbs could be as bad as the one that took the field in 2004. That feeling didn’t exactly generate much enthusiasm over the prospects of an Eagles-Redskins charity game.

Only memories could get anyone stirred up, and by this year the memories of the glory days were ever more distant for Redskins fans.

Over the course of a season, everything changed.

It still is a one-sided conversation, but in the other direction. The Redskins are on the verge of making the playoffs, probably the last team anyone wants to play right now. It now is the Eagles who are irrelevant.

The reason may be the same as it was back when the Redskins went to four Super Bowls under Gibbs and the Eagles always managed to fall short of a championship season.

Gibbs again has put his faith in, for the most part, players of character. So did Eagles coach Andy Reid — until he made the same mistake as Ryan and put the team’s fate in the hands of a player who fell short in the character department.

Cunningham was as talented as any quarterback to play the game, but he often was accused of being a selfish player who polarized the locker room.

Reid made a pact last year with a player who has retired the word “selfish” and become the most polarizing figure ever to wear an Eagles uniform: receiver Terrell Owens. Owens’ attacks on the franchise and his quarterback, Donovan McNabb, set in motion the downfall of the team this year.

Those character issues were never more apparent than when the Redskins were struggling earlier this season, when it appeared they were on their way to another desperate and losing season.

You never heard a Redskin player turn on another one during that stretch. There never was any evidence of frustration boiling over in the locker room.

Character may not trump talent when it comes to winning, but it gets you through the tough times.

That hasn’t changed from the first time Gibbs coached in Washington, and it hasn’t changed for the Philadelphia Eagles.

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