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Wilbon on Arrington...


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I suspect that even the most dedicated Wilbon critics here will have little to disagree with in this column -

Knocked Out, Arrington Doesn't Give In

By Michael Wilbon

Monday, October 22, 2001; Page D01

The morning after the quarterback throws for nearly 350 yards and the rookie wide receiver catches 200 yards worth of passes, including the game-tying rainbow and the lob that set up the overtime win, you figure the column about the Redskins' first victory of the season will be all about offense, right?


This is about LaVar Arrington.

Unnoticed in the Redskins' nightmarish 0-5 start has been Arrington's development from promising phenom to great player. Monday night at Dallas, the only player on the field better than Arrington was Emmitt Smith. Yesterday against the Carolina Panthers, no one was better than Arrington. His interception with 10 minutes to play stopped the early-exit procession up the aisles of FedEx Field. It was the play that electrified the Redskins and unquestionably the play that caused a reversal of fortune in the game. And while 1-5 is no cause to throw a parade, if anything comes of this season, the guy who will have jump-started the dead battery will have been Arrington.

There are two fabulous, young, game-changing players in the NFL: Chicago's Brian Urlacher and Arrington, linebackers who can dramatically affect the game every time an opponent snaps the ball. They can have nearly the impact on defense that a great quarterback has on offense.

On Carolina's second play from scrimmage, Arrington was kneed in the head by Carolina's Tshimanga Biakabutuka. Was he hurt? "Hurt?" Arrington asked. "I was knocked out. I mean out. Spaced out."

If Arrington had been unable to return, my guess is the Redskins would have lost. Remember last year when Arrington got knocked cold on the opening kickoff of the Eagles game here and couldn't perform his "spy" duties on Donovan McNabb? Well, that game was McNabb's coming-out party; the Eagles won and went onto the playoffs. Okay, it would have been the same result yesterday, except Arrington did come back after about a quarter in the locker room.

Just what was he doing in there?

"Well, it was a concussion," Arrington said. "I was messed up. I just came in here and laid in the dark for a couple of minutes to get the cobwebs out."

The voice he kept hearing belonged to Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff, now a member of the Redskins' radio broadcast team. Arrington said he kept hearing Huff say, "We're linebackers. We have to play with pain."

What about advice from the doctors and trainers? "I wasn't going to let them not allow me back," Arrington said. "I said to myself, 'I'm not knocked out. I'm conscious. I know where I'm at.' "

And with that, Arrington trotted back to the sideline as if nothing had happened. Let the official play-by-play show that Arrington made the tackle on his first play back . . . and the third play back . . . and the fourth play back. Not tackles really, but the kind of shots that make a running back more reticent to hit the hole the next time or make a tight end bobble a high pass because he thinks the headhunter might be in the vicinity.

Of course, the game didn't really start until Carolina was ahead 14-0 early in the fourth. George Siefert's arrogance and Chris Weinke's incompetence set the table for the Redskins, without question. In building the lead and getting into position to score a third touchdown, Biakabutuka had carried the ball five times for 64 yards. That's nearly 13 yards per carry. He was shredding the Redskins' defense.

But Siefert, one of those coaches who swears he invented the game but appears less than brilliant without Steve Young and Jerry Rice, had his rookie quarterback, who already had thrown three interceptions, put the ball in the air at the Redskins 28 on second and third down. (Remember when The Genius took the ball out of Biakabutuka's hands after two long touchdown runs against the Redskins a couple of years ago?) Anyway, Weinke couldn't accurately throw a two-yard pass to a 6-foot-3, 245-pound fullback, Chris Hetherington. The toss was too high, off Hetherington's fingers, and Arrington had his chance to feast. He went 67 yards for the touchdown.

If there's one legit criticism of Ray Rhodes's defense last year, it's that the scheme didn't allow Arrington to operate in open spaces. Then again, he was a rookie who was learning how to play. Arrington says defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer and linebackers coach Greg Manusky have consistently put him in position this season to use his speed and strength to create these huge collisions. The absence of the injured Shawn Barber has given Arrington more space in which to roam. Last week, one of Arrington's blasts left Emmitt Smith quivering for a few seconds after a running play.

Marco Coleman said afterward that not only is Arrington probably the hardest hitter on the team, he can deliver a debilitating blow from a standstill, from less than a foot away. "It's a gift," Coleman said. "And his increased maturity and understanding allow him to use it in a way that is having a huge impact."

Teams often take on the personality of great linebackers. Mike Singletary personified Ditka's Bears. The Giants belonged to Lawrence Taylor, just as last year's Ravens carried the signature of Ray Lewis. It's not X's and O's that will get the Redskins out of their early-season malaise, it's one hard-headed, big-hearted dude who plays with a strength and speed and abandon that awes his teammates and says, "Follow me." That's the kind of performance Arrington turned in yesterday, one that makes teammates think real good things aren't just possible but probable as long as he's in the fray. "The last three weeks," Redskins Coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Arrington, "he has played extraordinarily well. . . . It's starting to all come together for him. . . . He's a very formidable player."

Asked how he felt 45 minutes after the end of the game, Arrington said, "I feel terrible physically." But emotionally, he soared. He's 23, at that point in his life when he can tell the pain to go away and for a while it does. "I can't play any harder than what I am now," he said. "If I did, I'd probably paralyze myself. . . . I'm a warrior, man. I'm always gonna ball. Ball 'til I fall."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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unfortunately, because Washington has so many transplant writers you never get the perspective of someone who has followed the team from the beginning.

Wilbon is a Chicago native. He is rooting for the Bears, Bulls, Black Hawks, Cubs, etc..........

He covers the Redskins, Capitals, Wizards and Orioles because he is PAID to do it.

Ditto for Kornheiser who is a New York guy (read Yankees fan).

They follow and write about the area teams the way Leno delivers his monologue.

Just looking for targets of opportunity.

While the Redskins and Orioles were on top for years, the pair took unremitting glee in writing columns about the "choking" Caps.

Now that the Capitals are the division-winning team in the city and the one to go out and get superstar players, the writers have gone back across the road to jump on the collapse of the Redskins and O's.

Kornheiser is silent on the Caps all of a sudden. What happens if they win a Cup? Time to lay low. smile.gif

So, don't expect the kind of writing you get in the Boston area or in Detroit from the guys in Washington.

These guys have no more attachment to the teams than Bruce Smith does to the Skins, simply a matter of $$$$.

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