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TBO: One Step Ahead Of The Game


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One Step Ahead Of The Game


TAMPA - When (if?) One Buc Place finally gives way to a new facility, the old building could make an excellent museum. Potential artifacts: A replica of Lee Roy Selmon's bronze bust, the Lombardi Trophy, maybe even a creamsicle orange jersey, just for old times' sake.

They also should make room for a plaque.

Joe Gibbs Slept Here.

He did?

What a curiosity.

``If you ask that as a trivia question, very few people would know,'' said former Bucs quarterback Doug Williams, now a personnel executive with the team. ``Joe Gibbs was actually here.''

Briefly, anyway.

It's the virtually unknown sidelight to Sunday's Redskins-Bucs game, in which Gibbs makes his NFL return after an 11-season absence. But let's rewind even further. In 1978, Gibbs was offensive coordinator with the Bucs, serving a one-season stint in Tampa Bay.

He was 37 and full of big ideas. He got to know Williams during a visit to Louisiana, then helped to persuade John McKay to draft the player. Even then, he was more sideline professor than rah-rah guy.

Even then, he was the last assistant to leave One Buc (if he left at all).

``I liked to get my work done and get out of there,'' said Wayne Fontes, then a defensive backs coach with the Bucs. ``A lot of us did. Not Joe. He liked his space. He liked to stay back there and grind. It was pretty obvious this guy was going to be a good one.''

Taking A Back Seat

The world knows Gibbs as the coach who won three Super Bowls with the Redskins before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only Williams, and a few other long-timers, remember Gibbs as the young assistant who helped jump-start a previously moribund offense while steering clear of McKay's stinging barbs.

Four seasons later, he was a world champion in Washington.

But he hasn't forgotten the old Bucs. And he'll never forget McKay.

``Coach McKay's sarcastic wisdom and humor - as long as it wasn't directed at me - were some of the funniest laughs I've had in my life,'' Gibbs said. ``That man was so quick-witted. You also knew if he turned it on you, you were going to get scalded.''

One story stands out.

In '78, the Bucs were 3-3 and trying to get past .500 for the first time in franchise history. On the trip to New York for a game with the Giants, Gibbs noticed his name placard was on the seat next to McKay's. The ol' coach wanted Gibbs nearby to review the game plan.

In the fourth quarter, the Bucs were in control, leading 14-3. They got a first down to midfield, but it was negated by penalty. On third down, Gibbs called for a pass. Williams' throw, with the wind at his back, glanced off the hands of tight end Jim Obradovich, right to Giants linebacker Harry Carson.

The Giants scored. The Bucs fumbled. Then the Giants scored again. The Bucs were dealt a horrific defeat.

``So I get on the plane home and there's my [name placard] on the floor,'' Gibbs said, cackling. ``Phil Krueger is sitting in my seat. That night, I rode with the players in the back.

``Coach McKay, I think, was very much displeased with my play call.''

Playing A Hunch

Gibbs was here. Then he was gone, off to San Diego in 1979, for a reunion with his old boss, Don Coryell. That led to the head-coaching chance in Washington.

Williams initially regretted spending only one season with Gibbs. Then he realized his old coach received the opportunity of a lifetime.

``As the story goes around here, Coach Gibbs was drawing up some things, Coach McKay took a look and said, `You know what? When you get your own team, you can do that,' '' Williams said. ``Coach McKay was really the offensive coordinator, even though Coach Gibbs had the title. Coach McKay was from the old school, with his running game.

``When Coach Gibbs left, I felt like I lost more of a friend. He used to take me home and we'd go over plays on the kitchen table while his wife, Pat, cooked for me. I really had no idea he was such an offensive innovator because he never could show that in Tampa. I remember watching his Redskin teams and thinking, `Man, I wish I could be part of a system like that.' ''

A few years later, that dream came true. After Williams' acrimonious split from the Bucs, then the folding of the USFL, he received an inquiry from exactly one NFL coach.

Joe Gibbs.

As the 1987 exhibition season ended, Williams, the Washington backup quarterback, received another call from Gibbs. He was being traded to the Los Angeles Raiders. Not a bad thing at all. But when Williams reported for goodbyes, Gibbs called him into the office.

``I changed my mind,'' Gibbs said. He told Williams about a gut feeling that he would be needed. He thought the Redskins could be a championship team.

Five months later, Williams was Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXII.

When the locker room finally had cleared out, Williams noticed Gibbs in the corner.

``Hey, Douglas,'' Gibbs said, ``told you, didn't I?''

Always thinking. Always plotting. And usually, from the prehistoric Buc days to Redskin glory, always one step ahead.<

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