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Super Bowl Has Plenty Of Ties to Redskins


Inside the Redskins

By Gary Fitzgerald


We’re down to the final two—the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII—and it turns out that there are plenty of former Redskin coaches and players who are among the storylines this week in Houston.

For starters, the Redskins played both the Panthers and Patriots during the 2003 campaign.

In Week 4, Redskins safety Ifeanyi Ohalete batted away a Tom Brady pass to help stave off a late New England comeback and preserve a 20-17 win. Following that game, the Patriots proceeded to go on a 14-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl.

In Week 11, Stephen Davis rumbled across the goal line from three yards out to give Carolina a 20-17 win over the Redskins. Davis appeared to fumble on the play, but officials ruled he had crossed the goal line—otherwise, the Redskins would have beaten both of the Super Bowl participants this past season.

For the Patriots, former Redskins fullback Larry Centers and offensive lineman Wilbert Brown are backups on the team.

Brown, a close friend of Redskins linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, started the 2003 season in Washington. The Redskins released Brown twice prior to two early-season games so that they could call up practice squad tight end Kevin Ware.

Personnel officials indicated that they hoped to re-sign Brown, but the Patriots signed him just prior to the Week 4 game at FedExField.

Centers started at fullback for the Redskins in 1999 and 2000. He was productive as a pass receiver out of the backfield during his tenure in Washington, recording 150 receptions for 1,144 yards and six touchdowns.

For the Panthers, there’s Davis; the former Redskins running back had a stellar 2003 season, rushing for a career-high 1,444 yards in 14 regular-season games. He is the focal point of the Panthers’ offense, just as he was for the previous four seasons in Washington.

It’s notable that the Panthers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is Dan Henning, who coached under Gibbs during the 1980s.

Henning was the Redskins’ assistant head coach in 1981-82 and offensive assistant/wide receivers coach in 1987-88. He helped lead the Redskins to two Super Bowl championships during his two tenures with the franchise.

Defensively, Carolina head coach John Fox has assembled a unit reminiscent of those he established as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants from 1997-2001. Fox has built his defense with line play as the foundation—just as he did in New York.

Panthers’ linemen Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentsen Buckner are each young and should be a collective force for years to come. Incidentally, their position coach is none other than Mike Trgovac, who was the defensive line coach for the Redskins from 2000-01.

While the Panthers’ defense seems to have Fox’s signature approach, the offense seems to be built around Henning’s offensive approach, one that almost certainly evolved while he coached for Gibbs.

Consider this quote from Henning in the 2003 Panthers media guide: “[sid Gillman] believed, ‘If you can threaten with the deep ball, the short passes will come easier.’ That was the philosophy that Joe Gibbs came from as well.

“However, when we got to Washington in the early ‘80s, we had to adjust to the people that we had there. We won with big linemen, a great running back and a ball control passing game with Joe Theismann.

“Five years later, we had to adjust to an emphasis on passing. So in ’82 we won with John Riggins and the ‘Hogs’ and in ’87 we won with Doug Williams and the ‘Posse.’ Both of those teams had good defenses and special teams.”

In Carolina’s improbable run to the Super Bowl, the Panthers have displayed all the ingredients of Gibbs’ and Henning’s famous Redskins teams of the 1980s: A big tailback in Davis, a hard-nosed offensive line led by rookie Jordan Gross and veteran Todd Steussie, an efficient quarterback in Jake Delhomme and a wide receiver corps with plenty of speed.

Interestingly, the Patriots’ coaching staff is led by head coach Bill Belichick and assistants Romeo Crennel (defensive coordinator) and Charlie Weis (offensive coordinator). All three are products of Bill Parcells’ New York Giants’ teams from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

So, in a sense, this Sunday’s Super Bowl could be called a rematch—at least in terms of coaching philosophy—of the Giants and Redskins, circa 1980s and early 1990s.

Turns out the more the NFL changes, the more it stays the same.


Look for me at the parade.

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