What Joe Gibbs’ Return Means to a Kid
By: Jake Russell @_JakeRussell
Posted: 2004-10-26
Category: Washington Redskins News
I was born in 1987, a great year to be a Redskin fan. The team won its second Super Bowl in 5 years by defeating the Denver Broncos 42-10 in San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. Fortunately for me, my mom taped the game and just-so-happened to purchase the Redskins 1987 Video Yearbook. That was just the beginning of my fascination with this team.

Growing up, TV shows like Sesame Street and Barney were every kids’ favorite. Except for me. I did watch those shows quite often but watching Super Bowl XXII and the video yearbook just sang a different tune to me. Between the ages of about 1-7 years, I watched both videos non-stop. Watching those videos and seeing the likes of Ricky Sanders, Art Monk, Gary Clark, Doug Williams, Donnie Warren, The Hogs, Darrell Green, Barry Wilburn, Dexter Manley, Monte Coleman, Charles Mann, and most notably, the Replacement players lead this team to victory during that season was just mind boggling and put me in a state of ecstasy despite the fact that it had been years since it had happened.

But one person really impressed me every time I saw those videos. Joe Gibbs had led the Redskins to a level of success no other coach has ever done for this franchise. During his 12 years as head-man, Joe led the team to 4 Super Bowl appearances with 3 victories. As a kid, I knew exactly what he meant to this franchise and I respected him as much, if not more, than the middle-aged fan who had followed the Redskins since before Gibbs had even joined the team.

I didn’t watch many games live on TV until after Coach Gibbs had left. So for the past 11 seasons (the 1999 season being the only exception) I had gotten used to mediocrity and a level of play that would be only suitable for high school use. On Monday, September 18th, 2000, my mom and I were at FedEx Field to watch the Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys. Why is that significant? That was the night that Art Monk, Dexter Manley, and Joe Gibbs were inducted into the Redskins Ring of Fame during halftime. Joe was the star of the show. When he was being honored, a chant started throughout the crowd. Second later, my mom and I became two of the 84,431 fans chanting “Come back Joe! Come back Joe! Come back Joe!” Joe heard it can smiled but everyone knew it wasn’t going to happen.

After an underachieving Redskins team finished 5-11 in 2003, head coach Steve Spurrier left the team and suddenly, a state of disarray took over. “Who are we going to replace him with?” “Who’s out there?” “Who can lead this team to success again?” Those were just some of the many questions being asked by myself and the rest of the Washington Redskins faithful followers.

The names kept popping up. Jim Fassel, Ray Rhodes, Dennis Green, and Jimmie Johnson all became possible candidates for the head coaching job. All had their credentials but uncertainty still loomed.

On the morning of Wednesday January 7th, 2004, my mom woke me up to get ready for school. She said “Jake, Joe Gibbs might be coming back.” That woke me up in a heartbeat! In disbelief, I responded “Don’t joke with me like that. That’s not even funny.” So I went to the computer and checked out the Washington Post article discussing his possible return. I had many emotions. Joy, disbelief, thrill, and utter happiness. I didn’t know what to say or think. All I knew was that the most successful coach in team history was coming back

When I got back home from school, I logged back on and saw that it was OFFICIAL! Joe Gibbs, the closest thing to a hero that this franchise has ever seen, has come back after an 11-year hiatus from head-coaching. I will never say that Gibbs returning was a wish come true because I only wish for things that are possible. I never thought Joe Gibbs returning to the Redskins was possible because over the 11-years of his absence he was asked over and over again if he’d considered a comeback to the league. Every time he was asked he politely said ‘no.’

It didn’t hit me until the official press conference that night. I was watching with my eyes wide open and I listened to every word the man had to say. Then he said who his new assistant coaches would be. Don Breaux, Jack Burns, and Joe Bugel just to name a few. I was in Heaven and felt like I was re-living my childhood. It was one of the most exciting and humbling days of my life. I kept thinking to myself “Is this real? Is that really Joe Gibbs or a talking cardboard cutout of Joe Gibbs? Why am I so lucky to see this day? Oh my God this is awesome!”

Then Training Camp 2004 rolled around. I got my first chance to see Gibbs after his hiatus. The possibility of actually talking to him grew in my mind! Coach Gibbs signed autographs for fans everyday and thanked them for supporting the team by visiting camp. On my final day at Training Camp, I finally got the chance to speak to him. When he was signing autographs I proudly said “Mr. Gibbs, I may be 16 and too young to realize what you did for us during your tenure here but I do know what you mean to this franchise and it means a lot to me and every other Skins fan that you came back.” He looked at me and humbly replied “Thank you.” It was so awesome. I couldn’t believe I had actually talked to JOE GIBBS! Just that bit of dialogue made training camp worth the travel.

Then it was time for Coach Gibbs’ first home preseason game since 1992. I was a little down because Hurricane Charley dampened FedEx Field before the game. But when my mom and I arrived at the stadium, we filled up with energy in a snap. The stadium was about 75% full because of the Hurricane. When Joe Gibbs came out, the fans cheered as loud as they could. We may have lost that game but it was still an honor to see Gibbs and his staff pacing the sidelines again. The next week, Gibbs received a huge reception as the team geared up for the Atlanta Falcons. The Redskins scored 24 points in the first quarter and the stadium was going nuts. It was definitely the kind of game that made Joe Gibbs’ offense famous. But throughout the preseason, it hadn’t completely hit me that I had seen Gibbs on the sidelines.

On Sunday, September 12th, the Redskins kicked off the 2004 regular season with a bang against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was Joe Gibbs first regular season game as head coach of the Washington Redskins in 12 years. It still hadn’t hit me that I was seeing history. But that all changed. After the Bucs were introduced before the game, the fans, especially myself, were fired up after booing them with all of our might. Finally, the Redskins were introduced as a team and the record crowd of 90,098 was ecstatic! It was as loud as I’ve ever heard FedEx Field but the cheers grew even louder when Gibbs ran out from under the tunnel. I was cheering my head off when he came out and lost my voice before kickoff. I also had a headache during most of the game but it was well worth it! The deafening cheers continued throughout the coin toss, kickoff, and our 3-and-out defensive stand to start off the game. The crowd quieted slightly when the Redskin offense came on the field. But we returned to pre-game form and blew up when Clinton Portis broke free for a 64-yard touchdown! What a way to start off a game! The place was rockin’! It was all cloud nine from there! The defense was awesome and so were the fans! The Redskins notched their 500th victory in franchise history and it was Coach Gibbs’ 125th career win as head coach.

It was the best game I have EVER been to. It will be very hard to top but on Monday, September 27th, that may change in an instant when Dallas comes to town.

I can’t help but think how privileged I am to get a second chance to experience seeing Joe Gibbs as the Redskins head coach all over again. I grew up with the Redskins and completely understand why Gibbs is so important to the fans and the history of the Washington Redskins. I am currently living in a state of ecstasy I may never experience again so I am going to relish these next 5 years that I get to see Joe Gibbs gracing the sidelines.

I speak for every Redskin fan when I say: Thank you Joe!

-- Junior Hog
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