Through Tragedy & Travail: The Triumph Of Joe Gibbs & The 2007 Redskins
On January 7, 2004 the Redskins signed Joe Gibbs to resurrect the once proud franchise of the nations capital. After years of disappointment, Daniel Snyder re-signed Washington's most beloved head coach to bring structure and stability to a team that had been lacking it for nearly 25 years.
After a series of coaching and free agent blunders, Washington needed a coach committed bringing the team back to the future with hard work, proven leadership and character. A proven winner on and off the field, Gibbs had already brought three Super Bowls to Washington D.C.
Hiring Joe Gibbs was the easiest decision Daniel Snyder ever made.
After three up and down seasons the 2007 Redskins got Joe Gibbs' most inspiring coaching performance for every reason they never expected.
The Redskins got off to a promising 3-1 start that painfully turned into 5-6 by Thanksgiving. Fortunately for Washington, they were heading home after a disappointing loss to Tampa Bay to play a relatively weak opponent in the Buffalo Bills.
Instead the Redskins and the entire NFL community was handed one of the most horrific tragedies in league history. Sean Taylor, the Redskins beloved Pro-Bowl safety was shot in his home early that Monday morning and died on Tuesday, November 27th.
The focus of the team could not have travelled farther from the football field. The issues of life were once again put into perspective and football became an afterthought.
Instead of preparing for the Buffalo Bills that week the team laid to rest one of the faces of its franchise.
The following Sunday was the dreariest day in the short history of Fedex Field. The Redskins marching band came out with a slow somber version of "Hail to the Redskins" that seemed to tell the story without using a word.
From there, a short video clip was displayed on the jumbotron to memorialize the life and career of Sean Taylor. The memorial towels handed out at the gate before the game became memorial tissues used to wipe the tears of 90,000 sobbing fans.
Following the opening kickoff, the Redskins came out onto the field in one of the most emotional moments I have experienced as a fan or otherwise. With one safety deep, the Redskins came out in a strange formation on defense that was not immediately recognizable as a 10-man defensive formation.
The people in the stands did not recognize what was going on until one attentive fan stood up and yelled, "Get up! They're playing with 10 men!" It seemed the entire stadium realized what was happening just a second before the play, as the roar came just before Trent Edwards received the snap.
Fred Jackson took the handoff on that play for 22 yards. The game only got worse from there as the Redskins lost as time expired on a Rian Lindell field goal.
The Redskins were 5-7 seemed certain to pack it in for the season. And who would blame them?
The next four games would be against four playoff contenders in the Bears, Giants, Vikings, and Cowboys. To play well would probably result in 3 wins at best. Even so, at 8-8 the Redskins would most likely be on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
Joe Gibbs had faced his fair share of scrutiny to this point in the season particularly for his play calling and clock management. In one of his most humbling moments as a coach, Gibbs took responsibility for the loss in Buffalo the previous week for calling two timeouts to ice the kicker at the end of regulation. The Redskins were assessed a 15-yard penalty which allowed Rian Lindell to kick a chip shot for the game winner.
Accepting responsibility is not something Washington D.C. particularly understands. It doesn't happen often and not many knew how to respond. The fans and media decided to bite their tongue for one more week.
Joe Gibbs preached accountability and personal character from his first day with the team. Who would have suspected he would be the one judged by his own standard?
The team would respond.
In a hard fought Monday night battle with the Chicago Bears, the Redskins overcame a season ending injury to Jason Campbell to win the game 24-16. Is wasn't pretty, but it was their first win in a month.
The following week Washington arrived at a cold and windy East Rutherford, New Jersey to play their NFC East rival New York Giants. The Giants would make history of their own in 2007, but not on this day. The Redskins dominated both sides of the football winning 22-10.
At 7-7 the Redskins finally had a little momentum. The experts all agreed week 16 would be where it ended. Always tough at home, the Vikings hosted the Redskins as winners of five straight.
The 8-6 Vikings controlled their own destiny, but with a loss would lose the tiebreaker with the Redskins for the final wild card spot. Behind rookie sensation Adrian Peterson, the Vikings boasted the leagues fiercest running game and one of the nastiest run defenses the league had ever seen.
The Redskins hit Minnesota early and often that night in the Metrodome going into the half with a 22-0 lead. The Vikings running backs were bottled up and entirely ineffective, rushing 16 times for only 40 yards and no touchdowns. The Redskins held on to win 32-21 in a game that was never as close as the final score would suggest.
As fate would have it, the final game of the season featured the Dallas Cowboys travelling to Fedex Field with the possibility of eliminating Washington from the playoffs. The Cowboys came out slow in what was a meaningless game to their playoff scenario. The Redskins won easily 27-6 and secured the final NFC wild card spot.
The season with more peaks and valleys than some careers had somehow ended with a playoff berth. The Redskins would ultimately lose their first playoff game to the Seahawks ending what fans and players would agree was the longest season ever in Washington.
There were more story lines than an episode of Desperate Housewives to the 2007 Redskins season with the loss of Sean Taylor, the comeback of Todd Collins, and the battle to make the playoffs.
Behind the scenes of it all was Joe Gibbs.
In what may not have been his best season of X's and O's, Gibbs delivered again when Washington needed him most. The Redskins overcame a tragedy that was capable of setting them back for a decade.
The scars will forever be on the hearts of the players and fans who followed the Redskins that year.
The legacy of Gibbs second tenure with the Redskins may not have a Super Bowl to show as most fans had hoped. This time his impact was felt in the locker room and in the lives of his players rather than on the scoreboard at Fedex Field.
It's ironic that Sean Taylor was Joe Gibbs' first pick as coach of the Redskins. He came into the league with a reputation and lived it out the first years of his career in Washington.
After three years in the league Sean Taylor made noticeable changes as a person on and off the field. Before his fourth and final year in the league Taylor was quoted saying,
"You play a kid's game for a king's ransom. And if you don't take it serious enough, eventually one day you're going to say, 'Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.'"
His teammates noticed a change. His family noticed the change. He had embraced his role as a father and began making decisions far better than many 24 year-old superstars in the league.
Joe Gibbs described him as one of the teams leaders during the 2007 season. He had become a player the coaching staff was proud others would try to emulate.
Joe Gibbs was not responsible for Sean Taylor's remarkable turnaround, but its well-documented that his coaching extended far beyond the football field. Despite his miraculous run to the playoffs, Gibbs most important contribution to the team in 2007 came beyond the football field in the wake of November 27, 2007.
Just as he came in with Sean Taylor in 2004, Joe Gibbs resigned as coach of the Redskins after the 2007 season.
Like Sean, his legacy will forever be a part of the proud Redskins tradition. Hopefully his success and three Super Bowls will not erase the significance of his impact on the 2007 team.
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