Monday, September 11, 2006

[size=13pt]Remembering MNF, 9/11[/size]

Redskins tackle Jon Jansen recalls playing on Monday night after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

By Jim Ducibella
Landmark News Service


The reasons vary, but virtually every Washington Redskin remembers his first experience playing Monday Night Football.

For defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, then with Tennessee, it was the first time his friends and relatives in American Somoa could watch him on television.

For Andre Carter, then with San Francisco, it was the chance to play the Denver Broncos, where his father was an assistant coach.

Center Casey Rabach remembered feeling like every player in the NFL had their eyes on him, and being more determined than usual to show them that he belonged in their fraternity.

Many players say their first appearance on Monday night floods them with memories of the games they watched, the players they emulated, the motivation provided to also be seen in prime time.

Jon Jansen has far more vivid memories of his second Monday appearance: Sept. 24, 2001, in Green Bay. The Redskins were trounced, 37-0, in Marty Schottenheimer's second game as coach. That isn't what Jansen recalls.

The veteran offensive tackle remembers the enormous American flag that Packers linebacker and Air Force Academy grad Chris Gizzi waved as he preceded his team onto the field. He remembers a crowd of nearly 60,000 chanting "USA . . . USA . . . USA," and waving miniature flags. He remembers Martina McBride's soulful rendition of the national anthem, and seeing other players getting teary-eyed, too.

"That was one of the most emotional times I've ever had on a football field," Jansen said. "They pull out a gigantic American flag, they're playing the national anthem. There are firemen and policemen out there. It was unbelievable, something I'll never forget, and I don't think anyone else will, either."

Jansen will witness many of the same commemorations tonight in the moments leading up to the season-opener against the Minnesota Vikings and the five-year anniversary of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Each of the more than 92,000 fans entering FedEx Field will be given a flag. The national anthem will be sung by a joint choir representing the four service branches. An honor guard of military, police, firemen and EMS workers will feel the spotlight at midfield as four U.S. Army helicopters fly over the stadium.

"It's going to be indescribable," Carter admitted.

"Electrifying," added Rabach.

How the players from both sides are affected by what figures to be raw, unbridled, emotion could impact on a game the Redskins' Joe Gibbs called "one of the biggest I've ever been in."

"I think it's huge for us from the standpoint of where we are in the current program," Gibbs said, meaning the third year of his process to rekindle the championship days of the 1980s and '90s. "It's Monday Night Football. It's the first game of the season, which is always important."

Jansen and others said that it may take a series or two, but the added energy generated in an emotional pregame ceremony gradually wears off and players get back to "doing what they've been doing all of their lives. It can only carry you so far."

That's not the case among coaches. Like the players, they are aware that, for one night at least, they will occupy center stage. Noting Washington's all-star staff, a couple of Minnesota assistants said last week that they were motivated to show that they could X and O just as well as Gibbs' big-dollar assemblage.

More importantly, while they are necessarily more dispassionate than the players, season-openers are the first legitimate chance any staff gets to evaluate every move, every decision, they made in the offseason.

"Every year, you're judged by wins and losses," Gibbs said. "Every year, you make decisions with that in mind. For every decision you make, there's one you could have made. I know what happens when you make bad ones . . . it ain't pretty."

Among the decisions under scrutiny in Washington was Gibbs' refusal to add a new kicker to replace often-injured John Hall and a new punter to replace inconsistent Derrick Frost. Gibbs passed on Adam Vinatieri and Mike Vanderjagt, two of the league's best kickers, and has professed complete confidence in Hall.

With the Redskins having played six games last season that were decided by three points or less, Gibbs knows that the value of proficient special teams can't be overstated.

On defense, decisions were made not to pursue safety Ryan Clark, who signed with Pittsburgh, and to instead go after Adam Archuleta of St. Louis. Archuleta struggled in coverage and with his tackling during preseason.

There was the decision to sign Kenny Wright as backup corner to Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers. The results of that move could be seen early, as Springs will miss the game with an injury. Wright, who played poorly in preseason, gets first crack at replacing him.

Another possible question could involve the wisdom of giving injured running back Clinton Portis a role in the offense. Gibbs originally said that Portis, who suffered a mild shoulder separation on Aug. 13, wouldn't play until he had been through a couple of hard practices. The star running back got onto the field for only a few non-contact plays on Thursday, and a few more on Friday, yet has been upgraded from being unlikely to play to probably serving as a backup to Ladell Betts.

"The thing about it is, the whole world's watching," Gibbs said.

"And that's what makes Monday night special," Carter added, picking up Gibbs' thought. "It doesn't matter how long it or you have been around, it's still always special."