HERNDON, Va. -- By noon yesterday the snow had melted off all the cars in the Redskin Park parking lot, except one. It lay hard and fast, two inches deep, on the gray Lincoln.
Joe Gibbs' car hasn't moved since Sunday night, when he began game-planning for the Washington Redskins' challenge to the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park tomorrow afternoon.
Gibbs is by no means the only head coach in the NFL who burrows in for 20-hour skull sessions before a "big" game, or even a middle-size game. After the outcome of the Redskins' victory in Philadelphia on Saturday became evident, San Francisco coach George Seifert disappeared into his bunker in the 49ers' training complex at Santa Clara, 40 miles down the peninsula.
Seifert did not emerge all day Sunday, but he issued a communique. The Redskins' coaching staff "has done a good job over the years preparing their team for the playoffs," Seifert said, "and it was evident in that game."
There is a diplomatic language, a politesse, used among coaches (with Buddy Ryan a notable exception), but Seifert's hat tip to Gibbs is not merely a con job. It wouldn't work anyway.
The talk in the Redskins' locker room yesterday, what talk there was, seemed a consensus that the 49ers, going for their third straight championship, simply do things better than other teams.
"All teams have a two-minute drill," defensive coordinator Larry Pecciatello pointed out. "But [Joe] Montana might just be the best at it of anybody who ever played."
During the morning film session the offensive line had studied the way holes open in the 49ers' inner defenses, like the way to daylight, then close like traps. There is a subtlety to that, it was suggested, in which the champs even cheat a little better.
There may even be a concession that the 49ers, in depth and texture, have more and better players.
Yet Seifert terms the Redskins the "mountain" in his team's path to that third title. The Niners will need "big intensity, Super Bowl intensity" to win tomorrow he said, confessing "paranoia" as he closed practices.
Coaches around the league have respect for Gibbs and his think tank, but Seifert's is compounded by what he saw on television last Saturday: Gibbs and Richie Petitbon and their staffs coaching Buddy Ryan out of business.
San Francisco beat the Redskins easily in September, 26-13, almost as easily as the Eagles beat them on Nov. 12, 28-14. "But they'll be different," Seifert said. "They're beating everyone to the punch."
Mark Rypien, who threw for 241 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers, pointed out one of the things that might make tomorrow's renewal different.
"We have to put points on the board," Rypien said. That ranks high among the game's most simplistic cliches, but Rypien had a specific meaning: field goals will not do it.
Even the giddy success in Philadelphia last week was twice deferred when the Skins did it again: made first-and-goal and settled for three points. So they led only 13-6 until the 13th minute of the third quarter, when Ryan had his brainstorm and relieved Randall Cunningham.
"Inside the 20, we have to be sharper, crisper. It's sort of like golf," said Rypien, a low-handicap golfer. "You hit a good wood and iron to get within five feet, and then you miss the putt. It's a par, but it's a disappointment. You feel like you've lost something."
Rypien is growing the first beard of his 28 years. "It's a playoff thing a few of us are doing," he explained. "We won't shave until we're out of it."
So by Sunday maybe Rypien can shave and Gibbs can go home. But they're not planning on it. By yesterday the think tank had planned the adjustments in their plan.
"We'll have to go through one series to find out what they're doing," Pecciatello said. "Then," and he smiled, "we'll know what adjustments we have to make."
And how skillfully the Niners are cheating? "They tape their jerseys to their pads," explained backup guard Mark Adickes, "so you can't get a grip. And they put on silicone, so you slip off."
But wouldn't grabbing the jerseys be cheating? "Yeah, they call it holding," Adickes said. "But only if you get caught."