- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

That the Washington Redskins return to postseason play in Tampa, Fla., is appropriate. This is where it ended six seasons ago, where the franchise began its descent to take its place alongside the dregs of the league.

Many fortunes changed at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 15, 2000, when the Redskins lost a divisional playoff game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-13. Brad Johnson, who led the Redskins to their first playoff appearance since Joe Gibbs left, had to fight for his starting job the next season. Brian Mitchell, who set a playoff record that day with a 100-yard kickoff return, didn’t play for the Redskins again.

Norv Turner, the coach who finally appeared to right the Redskins after five mediocre seasons, didn’t make it through 2000.

If you could mark the history of the Redskins by the letters B.G. and A.G. — Before Gibbs and After Gibbs — then you could do the same with the letters B.T. and A.T.

There was still promise in the air Before Tampa. After Tampa, though, there was nothing but dysfunction and disaster.

Brad Johnson was B.T. Jeff George was A.T.

Brian Mitchell was B.T. Deion Sanders was A.T.

Bruce Smith was A.T. So was Mark Carrier.

The agony of the loss itself resulted from the way it occurred — center Dan Turk’s long snap bounced back to Johnson on a 52-yard field goal attempt by Brett Conway.

But for some players who were part of that 1999 team, the biggest loss came when Dan Snyder began treating the franchise like his private Six Flags amusement park. He made drastic personnel changes by bringing in high-priced, high-profile free agents, changing the chemistry of the team. That started a spiral into the muck the franchise had been mired in until Gibbs reappeared last season.

No one can say for sure what might have happened in 2000 had that 1999 team been fine-tuned instead of torn apart. No one can make the claim that Norv Turner’s genius as a coach was squashed by Snyder’s moves.

But there was a feeling among the players that the team was headed in the right direction despite the 1999 playoff loss to Tampa Bay.

“All of the offseason acquisitions that were made in 2000 changed the chemistry of the team,” said former linebacker Eddie Mason, who, along with current wide receiver James Thrash, runs Mase Training, a sports conditioning program in Northern Virginia. “We cut a lot of guys who may not have been big names but were guys who were good solid football players. We had good chemistry, and we didn’t need to break that up. When he broke that team up and maxed out the salary cap, the team has been reeling from that ever since. All they had to do was let what they had develop and build from within.

“We didn’t have a lot of big names on that team. We didn’t have a lot of egos. We had a bunch of guys who played well together and were tight like a family. We knew how to win and come together. That is what it takes. We had guys who cared about each other and who wanted to play football. We were one game away from being in the NFC Championship. It was a tremendous feeling.”

It looks like the Redskins may have that feeling back again. This unit is tight like a family, complete with the crazy uncle played by running back Clinton Portis. This week he dressed up as “Coach Janky Spanky.”

“We’ve got more work to do,” said right tackle Jon Jansen, one of four current Redskins who were in the playoff game against Tampa Bay. “The excitement is fun, and it will last for a little while, but we’ve got some goals that are still out there.”

One difference between 1999 and now is that if those goals are not reached this season, they still will be there next season, and they still will be within reach.

Now Snyder really does have an amusement park to amuse himself with — a whole chain of them. And this is the G.R era — Gibbs Returns. And so have the good times, at least until G.L.A. — Gibbs Leaves Again.

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