Thursday, December 29, 2005

Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs yesterday attempted to keep his team and its followers focused on its biggest game in six seasons, a day after his star linebacker discussed departing the club.

“Right now, for anybody in this organization — I would hope in the entire town — to be focused on anything other than Philly would be ridiculous,” Gibbs said. “We’re getting ready to play the most important game that a lot of our players will play. …”

Gibbs said he had not read LaVar Arrington’s remarks in Wednesday’s editions of The Washington Times, but he objected strongly to anything that might distract his team from Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins can clinch their first playoff berth since the 1999 season with a victory.

“If we lose the game, we’re not going anywhere,” Gibbs said. “So my mind-set is on one thing, Philadelphia. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Arrington said yesterday the same was true of him, despite comments he made in The Times in which he said he expected the team to trade or cut him because of his high salary.

“I’m worried about Philadelphia, and that’s the bottom line,” Arrington said. “All this other stuff, people have your opinions, and I think it was obvious that opinion came through in that article. Those are my quotes, but it’s the tone of the story that comes from the writer himself.

“I think it’s horrible timing for a writer to write something like that, but it happens. It’s not going to be a distraction. It’s not causing any friction.”

Arrington also said he didn’t want to leave the club.

“It was taken out of context. I said I want to be a Redskin forever. I’d rather retire than play for another franchise and you leave it at that, you don’t go into all these other things. This is where I want to be. … Whether I will or not, I don’t know.

“I don’t want this getting misconstrued or dragged out or turned into something crazy. This isn’t me trying to be a prima donna. I’ve handled this situation during the whole season with dignity and respect and, in my opinion, class. A lot of that stuff in that article seems contradicting, but let it be what it’s going to be.”

Arrington said, in an interview with The Times conducted Monday at his house in Annapolis, that he doesn’t expect to be with the team next season and that he might retire if that is the case.

“It’s not a given that I’ll continue playing if the Redskins get rid of me,” Arrington told The Times. “I don’t really want to play for anyone else. I don’t feel bad about it. I’ve had my time. I’m capable of doing other things besides football.”

Arrington also said Monday a long dispute over his contract damaged his relationship with the team’s management and kept him off the field.

“Obviously, using me sparingly or not at all is a very clear message,” Arrington said. “I’m not wanted here. I believe in my heart that the Redskins faithful love me as Ravens fans love Ray Lewis or Packers fans love Brett Favre. Some individuals hate it that there are more of my jerseys in the stands than anyone else’s.”

Arrington missed most of last season because of a knee injury and did not play much early this season. Arrington also said Monday he noticed a difference in the way he was treated by the team.

“It’s crazy and unfair that something I had very little to do with derailed my relationship with management,” Arrington said. “You see they’re not marketing you anymore. You see people interacting with other people the way they used to interact with you. I watched how things were with Stephen Davis. I watched how things were with Champ [Bailey]. I saw the same things happening to me.

“I restructured my contract to help the Redskins. Do you think I’m going to do that now? Of course not.”

Arrington got some support from one of his opponents on Sunday: Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who played alongside Arrington in Washington in 2002 and 2003.

“LaVar is a guy that I would go to war with any day,” Trotter said. “He’s a guy that strikes fear in his opponents. When that guy is healthy, he can do anything he wants on the field.”

Arrington, however, needs to harness that ability, according to Trotter.

“I’ve always said — even when I played there — if we could ever get [Arrington] to play within the scheme, study and be a professional, he probably could be the most dangerous defensive player in the league,” Trotter said. “From talking to guys that play there, he’s more of a professional now. He studies and plays within the scheme.”

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