This Sunday, Joe Gibbs and Dick Vermeil will coach against each other for the first time in almost 23 years.
At the time, the Redskins under Gibbs were on their way to an 8-1 strike-shortened season. Vermeil was the head coach of the Eagles, a Super Bowl team two years earlier that had begun a decline to mediocrity. The Redskins prevailed that day 13-9 at RFK Stadium.
At the end of the season, Vermeil would retire, citing burn-out. Gibbs would lead the Redskins to the first of three Super Bowl championships.
For perspective on their coaching tenures, consider this: In 1982, the last time the two coaching greats faced each other, Bill Parcells was one year away from becoming head coach of the New York Giants and Marty Schottenheimer was two years away from becoming head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Most other NFL head coaches of today were years away from their current jobs. To name a few, Bill Cowher was a special teams player for the Cleveland Browns and Jeff Fisher was a defensive back for the Chicago Bears. Andy Reid was a coaching assistant at Brigham Young and Jon Gruden was quarterback at the University of Dayton.
Obviously, both Gibbs and Vermeil have tremendous respect for each other. At 68 years of age, Vermeil is the oldest coach in the NFL. Gibbs is second at age 64. Vermeil came back to coach the St. Louis Rams from 1997-99, winning a Super Bowl in 1999, and then the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001. Gibbs returned in 2004 after an 11-year hiatus in which he grew his NASCAR business in North Carolina.
Said Vermeil: "I'm glad Joe's back in the league. I'm a dinosaur and I needed another one along with me."
When Gibbs and Vermeil returned to the NFL, they were both faced with a vastly different league.
"It's still the same game but it takes a while to get back--it did for me--into the total picture, the understanding of the differences in the game today, how it's played, how people do so much more with their athletes," Vermeil said. "You have more players to coach, you have a practice squad. There's more media, those kinds of distractions. But the core of the game is the same--you see so much more on a given day offensively and defensively than you used to see. It's more of a year-round program in the NFL today."
Said Gibbs: "I've said that the game changes about 30 percent every year, and I think that's still true. I was out of the game for a long time. But the one thing that hasn't changed is the people, dealing with people."
Vermeil spoke with Gibbs in January 2004 and advised him to surround himself with "good coaches and good people."
"He certainly did do that, and they were mostly people he knew," Vermeil said. "I know all of those guys, too. They're my vintage. I have tremendous respect for them. They're great teachers and you can see the accumulation of the teaching and the fundamentals transferring to the players on game day."
Asked what stands out about Gibbs-coached teams, Vermeil replied: "They were always a team that was balanced. They were going to run or throw. They were going to shift and move. They were going to go downfield on play action. They were going to run the counter-gap. They were always going to be patient and they weren't going to try to beat you all in one quarter."
Both coaches recognize the value of the coaching fraternity. For years, Vermeil has sent reports on NFL statistics to some of his long-time coaching acquaintances, including Gibbs when he returned in 2004.
"I do that for coaches I'm close with," Vermeil said on Wednesday. "Joe and I used to share a lot of discussions on the game. It's just something I do that takes very few minutes to do because it's organized that way. I share it with a few of the coaches."
Said Gibbs: "He sends me some information every week. He's big on statistics and turnovers and he's been good enough to do that. I have a lot of respect for him. When I came back, I think he probably talked to me more than anybody else."
Not that these two coaches need a lot of help. Gibbs has an all-time NFL coaching record of 133-71, while Vermeil is 112-105. Gibbs is 3-1 against Vermeil all-time.
The two "dinosaurs" still have plenty of resolve to win--and they want to win their way.
From Kansas City on Wednesday, Vermeil joked that Gibbs owes him a win since he has "won only once" against him.
Told of the remark, Gibbs joked back: "Tell him that if he gives me this one on Sunday, I'll give him the next one."