Shanahan humbles Haynesworth, buoys locker room

Let's call it a TKO, 6th round.

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David Aldridge
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Long story short

The old way gave way at Redskins Park last week.

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Give credit to the Big Guy, who had a lot more staying power than we thought, and was game for more than a week, trying to use his size to wear down his bantamweight opponent. But he was the one who got worn down, by the little guy with the superior motor, who set him up with body blows to his ego throughout the week and finally took him out Saturday with a sharp one-two that left him helpless on the canvas and near-mute afterward.

"He probably doesn't like me much right now," Mike Shanahan said at Saturday’s post-Fan Appreciation Day presser. "But I'm not here to be liked."

And that was that, as potent as Sugar Ray Leonard sending Davey "Boy" Green to La-La Land at the Capital Centre in 1980.

The Mastermind, as Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin came to call Shanahan during his days with the Broncos, has won, the locker room has been preserved, and the Redskins didn't have their season drowned in the bathtub before the first exhibition game. (They are exhibition games here, because it drives the NFL loopy when you don't call them preseason games, like you can't tell the difference between the watered-down, full-price dreck of August and the real stuff a month later.)

What took place in Ashburn over the last week was the restoration of order, the old way giving way, Dan Snyder meekly demurring when asked his opinion on the Albert Bidness on Friday. Mr. Snyder is permanently unavailable, the Bat phone for his playing buddies disconnected. No one talks now at Redskins Park without Shanahan clearing his throat first, like he's Edgar Bergen in a valley of Mortimer Snerds. Shanahan has all the juice, and everyone knows it.

"He's always been in charge," Phillip Daniels said Saturday, "from day one, when we had that meeting."

But Haynesworth was a major test for the coach, both in physical and contractual terms. The D lineman’s agent/managers/whoever had spent months plowing the field, putting the word out during the offseason that his client had no use for the 3-4, and wanted to play his normal one-gap position as a 4-3 tackle. When the Redskins wouldn't budge from their insistence that Haynesworth play nose tackle, he demanded a trade. My guess is the Redskins never seriously worked toward a deal. Whatever they did in their secretive corridors, Haynesworth ended up staying, and Shuttle Run Showdown was on.

Shanahan won that battle. He had to. He could not let Haynesworth skate on something as simple as a fitness test. That was the only way to show that whatever pull Haynesworth had in the offseason was gone, and that Redskins Park is Shanahan Territory. He'd convinced London Fletcher, who'd finally seen a distinguished 12-year career as a 4-3 middle linebacker rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance, to convert to an inside 'backer spot in a 3-4, sending Fletcher scrambling to pick the brains of friends like Takeo Spikes. He'd convinced Andre Carter, coming off an 11-sack season with his hand in the dirt at defensive end, to stand up and become an outside linebacker.

Everyone on the defense had bought in, had sacrificed comfort for a chance at winning, and Haynesworth had given up nothing. Think the players didn’t pick up on that little disparity? It may be window dressing and symbolism to some, but symbols have power. The idea of Haynesworth out on the practice field at 7 a.m., sprinting so that he can be one of the guys again, will have a much more lasting impression on his teammates than the act itself.

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