Skins Blog: Brunell, Gibbs and a Higher Authority?

Fans who accuse Gibbs of using religion as a factor in deciding his lineup need to shut up.

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October 14, 2004

Gibbs Answering to a Higher Authority?

I know that the quarterback always takes the heat when his team is losing and when the team's offensive output is the lowest in 43 years that heat is going to increase. But I don't understand the level of vitriol being hurled at Mark Brunell these days. On internet boards, on talk shows and in water cooler conversation it's like Brunell is Michael Moore and those making the comments are Rush Limbaugh.

Implicit in the pounding that Brunell is taking is that Joe Gibbs is making a big mistake in sticking with him as the starting QB. It's fine to disagree with the coach, even Gibbs. Say that Brunell is washed up, say that he doesn't have the arm strength, say that the team just needs a lift from a new quarterback, whatever.

But some of the comments are taking on a tone that has a sinister flavor to it and it's got to stop. It's the notion that Gibbs is sticking with Brunell as his starting quarterback because they both have deep religious beliefs.

I first saw such a comment in Mike Wise's column in the Post earlier this week. Wise was quoting a fan on an internet board:
"If Joe Gibbs starts Mark Brunell next Sunday, it will confirm what I have thought since the day we signed the inept quarterback. . . . One fervent Christian favoring another fervent Christian. Time to break the loyalty, Joe. This isn't church, it's football, and Mark Brunell is the biggest mistake you ever made."
I thought this was a random rambling by an irrational fan. But then I read similar comments from someone on a small Redskins email list that I've belonged to for years. The person who wrote the comments and I have met, went to a game together in fact. He's as sane and rational as they come.
Perhaps Gibbs view of Ramsey's talents differs from ours. Our perhaps he's blinded by his Christian loyalty to Brunell. I hope that nobody takes offense at that remark, I don't mean to get into a discussion here on religion. But obviously religion plays a big role in Gibbs' life and I don't think I'm out of line in saying that he would give Brunell the benefit of the doubt based on the fact they share similar values. And if that is the case in keeping Mark in there and Patrick on the bench then it would be wrong.
I've caught similar rumblings elsewhere. And I've got to say that saying or writing things like this is just flat wrong.

What these people are doing is making a very loaded accusation. If you or I were to keep an employee in a job because of his or her religion (or lack thereof, for that matter) knowing full well that another person was more qualified and could easily be put into that job, we wouldn't have our jobs for very long. We'd be lucky if we didn't wind up in court. But they think that a Hall of Fame coach will go off and to the same thing.

There is no evidence of a pattern of favoring those with a strong Christian faith in Gibbs' past. Certainly, there were players like Darrel Green on Gibbs' teams, but without knowing for sure, I'm going to guess that Riggins and many of the Hogs, among others, were not in the Bible-thumping demographic.

More recently, Gibbs has been in NASCAR. Again, I don't know for sure, but I'd bet that his Winston Cup winning driver Tony Stewart is not counted in the evangelical flock.

The sinister implication, of course, is that Gibbs is consciously willing to make a decision that lessens his team's chances of winning because the benefactor of the decision shares his deep faith.

If you have a rational argument against Gibbs starting Brunell, bring it on. But since these accusations—and that's exactly what they are—are being make without a shred of evidence to back them up, I would suggest that those who are inclined to make them just shut up.

Bad News Bears

I didn't realize how badly the Bears have been playing this year until reading A mention was made in today's Post to the New York Jets of 2002. That team also won its opener and then lost its next four. A key difference between that team and these Redskins is that those Jets were getting blown out. After beating Buffalo 37-31 in their opener they lost the next three by a combined score of 102-13. Rookie coach Herman Edwards' team lost by a more respectable 29-25 in their fifth game.

Still, they were 1-4 and looking up at a 4-1 Miami Dolphins team and the defending Super Bowl champ Patriots were 3-2. Their prospects were indeed dim.

Then a 20-7 win over Minnesota sparked a rally of eight wins in their last 11 games. Their 9-7 record earned them the AFC East title and they pounded the Colts 41-0 in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Oakland in the divisional round.

Four current Redskins were members of that team—John Hall, Chad Morton, Laveranues Coles, and Randy Thomas. The Redskins took four key players. Can they duplicate that team's turnaround?

To be sure, just because one 1-4 team gets into the playoffs and wins a game doesn't meant that this Redskins team will. The vast majority of 1-4 teams wind up having seasons that are mediocre at best. Certainly, catching the 5-0 Eagles will be a nearly impossible task.

Still, as badly as this season has gone for the Redskins so far, it means that there is no reason to give up on the season. It's amazing what one win can do for a team's outlook. That win should come in Chicago.

Of course, it also should have come in Cleveland game before last, so we will see.

Quick Hits

--What, exactly, is a "system" back? Is it a back who puts up big numbers behind a solid, well-coached offensive line and an imaginative offensive scheme? If Clinton Portis is a "system" back, why not just give him what he had in Denver?

--This "biggest payroll in history" statistic is absolute nonsense. Yes, the Redskins laid out a lot in signing bonuses this year. Due to the salary cap, though, that means that there will be that much less than they can spend in coming seasons. If they have a good run on '05 or '06, I'm sure we won't hear about how well the team is doing on a shoestring budget.

--It often takes a while to get to a line in a Tony Kornheiser column that makes any sense, and you had to get to the last few lines in his column today for that. But he had some sound advice for Dan Snyder: Now what the Redskins need most of all is continuity in their coaching staff, continuity in their key personnel and the time to get better by inches. Stop trying to turn it around quickly. It's a big boat. Just try to turn it around at all.

--Does anyone out there still wish the Redskins had Stephen Davis? He started out like gangbusters last year and, while he tailed off towards the end of the year, he was still pretty effective in the Panthers' playoff run. This year he got in nine carries for 26 yards before going out with a knee injury. A 30-year-old running back with over 1,700 carries on the odometer is not one you want to be relying on.

--Times columnist Tom Knott is a joke. His column today compares Mark Brunell to Danny Wuerffel. That's just moronic. I'm trying to remember how many conference championship games that Wuerffel had led teams to prior to coming to the Redskins. Oh, yeah, that would be none. Brunell may or may not prove to be the answer at quarterback, but he's a safer bet to do so than Wuerffel ever was.

Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins. Get details and order at

Click here for previous entries in Tandler's Redskins Blog

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