- The Washington Times
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sunday’s game between the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers may not seem like much on paper.

But it has some real marquee potential - the coach formerly known as “the worst coach in America” vs. the coach with no pants.

It’s not your typical sideline showdown. Then again, these coaches - Jim Zorn and Mike Singletary - are not your typical sideline bandleaders.

It has been widely reported that Singletary, after taking over this season as coach of the 49ers, dropped his pants at halftime during a loss to the Seattle Seahawks to motivate his players.

“I used my pants to illustrate that we were getting our tails whipped on Sunday and how humiliating that should feel for all of us,” Singletary said in a statement he issued when the pants-dropping went public. “I needed to do something to dramatize my point; there were other ways I could have done it, but I think this got the message across.”

Zorn has never dropped his pants to make a point to his Redskins players - “I have been thinking about taking off my shirt in front of my players,” he said Monday - but he did try one gimmick this season to make a point. He dropped to the ground in the fetal position while addressing the team.

“After a practice, I started talking about all the things that could happen to us,” Zorn said. “I started to act like I was getting stiff and not being loose with every negative thing I talked about. At the end of it, I fell over.

“Then, as I was in the fetal position plopped over sideways, I was explaining how this is how it could be Sunday if we play all tight. But if we chose not to do those things … and then I kind of loosened up and got back up.

“I think, while I was on the ground on the fetal position, our players were thinking, ‘OK, he’s lost it,’” Zorn said, smiling.

He could smile while telling this story the day after his team’s 10-3 win against the Philadelphia Eagles because, in fact, the coach did not lose his players. Not when he balled up into the fetal position - and not last week, when the organization seemed to be sliding into uncertainty and the coach was questioning his own state of mind after his team had lost five of its last six games.

There were questions about whether Zorn was losing the team, given the tension the previous week with running back Clinton Portis and Zorn’s blunt style of answering questions about his team’s play - his refusal to coach-speak and fall on the sword for every mistake made on the field.

That is why a win against Philadelphia on Sunday meant far more than whatever position it may have put the 8-7 Redskins in for another accidental playoff appearance - they were eliminated by the Atlanta Falcons’ win. It stopped the all-too-familiar momentum that seemed to be consuming this franchise and taking another coach with it in the process.

Zorn called it “breathing out.”

“Everybody can take a breath,” he said. “We’re all breathing in, but not too many people these last couple games have been breathing out. This is an opportunity just to breathe out. …

“It is still not satisfying of the overall picture of having that spell in there when we lost so many. But … my spirits were lifted because our players didn’t give up on the season. They didn’t give up by just playing a couple of more games halfheartedly and then getting to the offseason.”

They didn’t give up on the coach. Going into the season finale in San Francisco, he needs to find a way to keep whatever momentum is allowing them to breathe out after the win over the Eagles. The Redskins will face the 49ers (6-9, winners of four of their last six games) and Singletary, a Hall of Fame linebacker whom Zorn faced as a player when he was quarterbacking the Green Bay Packers in 1985 - the year of the historic Bears defense.

“I had him staring at me with those eyes that were these big orbs through his face mask. … He was a tremendous football player and [had] an intensity level that would be pressing against the ceiling here,” Zorn said. “A really intense player.”

Zorn is no shrinking violet when it comes to intensity on the sideline. His eyes can look like big orbs sometimes. And, who knows? Maybe with a win Sunday he will take off his shirt to celebrate.

Or maybe with a loss he will curl up in the fetal position after a tumultuous rookie season.

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