Camp Old School: Driven to Distractions

When recalling the first Gibbs years, there is a tendency to look at all of the success and think that everything was smooth sailing. Of course, that was not the case; one of the strengths of those teams was an ability to overcome adversity and turmoil. They faced their share of that, particularly during training camp. Here's a not-so-fond look back at some of the preseason distractions and controversies from Gibbs Era I.

Holdouts

Prior to the advent of free agency, the only recourse a veteran player who was not satisfied with his team's contract offer had was to sit out of training camp while a new deal was being negotiated. One of the byproducts of the success the team enjoyed during Gibbs' first tenure here was that players were often seeking hefty pay increases, leading to a lot of missed two-a-days.

Among the more contentious holdouts was that of Mark Rypien in 1991. The team seemed to be primed for a Super Bowl run, but the quarterback position was one of the few question marks. Rypien had yet to hold down the starting job for an entire season yet he was demanding starting quarterback money. The team wasn't willing to commit major money over a long term for an unproven commodity. After holding out for the first week of camp, Rypien gambled and signed a one-year deal worth $1.4 million. His roll of the dice paid off as he passed for over 3,500 yards and was named the Super Bowl MVP.

Also rather ugly—and much longer—was Dexter Manley's holdout in 1986. The two sides were so far apart that they weren't even talking as camp began. The team was unwilling to pay top dollar for a defensive end who had yet to make a Pro Bowl appearance in five years in the league. For his part, Manley vowed to sit out the season rather than play for what the Redskins were offering. Cooler heads prevailed and Manley signed a four-year deal just 11 days before the season started.

Some holdouts were more cordial. In 1985 and again in 1987, defensive tackle Dave Butz held out for the initial part of training camp. Both times he signed for essentially what the team was offering when camp started. The delayed signings got Butz out of the worst of the workouts in the hottest part of camp. Certainly there were many winks and nods exchanged as Butz inked those deals

Walkouts

It's one thing to lose a player to injury during camp; it's another when a perfectly healthy player packs up and leaves. Defensive end Matt Mendenhall started every game for the 1982 Super Bowl champs and was expected to do the same for the 1983 team. About four weeks into camp, however, he walked out without a word to the team and returned to his home in Utah. After giving him a week to change his mind, the Redskins placed Mendenhall on a non-football injury reserve list and he never played in the NFL again.

A second defensive lineman bolted from camp five years later, although this episode wound up better for both parties. A few days into camp in 1988 Marcus Koch went into Bobby Beathard's office in Carlisle and told the general manager that he had lost his playing ability and was heading home to Canada. It was apparent to Beathard that this was not an impulsive move nor was it a stunt to get more money. "Markus is smart and a thinker," he said. "He's thought this out. It's not a ploy to get something from the Redskins. I hope he does have a change of heart." Koch did change his mind, returning after a 10-day "vacation."

Two defensive linemen leaving during training camp might be a coincidence; three makes it a trend. In 1989, sometime starter Dean Hamel bolted out of Carlisle citing "personal problems" that had piled up over the offseason, including his wife's bout with cancer and a pending assault lawsuit. He attempted to return about two weeks later, but he was informed that the team was trying to trade him. Washington eventually dealt him to Dallas for a draft pick.

Drugs

Substance abuse by players was a league-wide problem during Gibbs' first tenure and the Redskins were not immune from its effects. On top of Koch's 1988 disappearing act, the NFL suspended Dexter Manley for 30 days for a positive drug test. The talented but troubled end, who would ultimately get banned from the league for drug use in 1989, was back for the start of the regular season.

More shocking were the travails of safety Tony Peters. On August 3, 1983, federal agents entered the dorms in Carlisle during the night and arrested Peters for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. While Gibbs was hoping it was all a big mistake and that the Pro Bowl player would be back soon, it was not to be. The incident landed Peters a two-year suspension and he never regained his Pro Bowl form after he returned.


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