Redskins Gesek back in middle


WASHINGTON -- When John Gesek was testing the free-agent waters last spring, the Washington Redskins appeared to be the perfect fit for him.

They needed a center because Jeff Bostic was retiring, and their new coach, Norv Turner, had been the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator the previous three years.

The Redskins' offer -- three years at $3.6 million -- was competitive with the offers he received from the Los Angeles Raiders and several other teams.

The result was that Gesek left the Cowboys after winning a pair of Super Bowl rings. After being the only offensive lineman to appear in all 30 of Emmitt Smith's 100-yard games, he departed to join the rebuilding Redskins.

For a team that basically had just just three regular centers -- Len Hauss, Bob Kuziel and Bostic -- since 1964, Gesek was ready to step in as the fourth.

That was before he hurt his back working out, missed all of training camp and wound up spending the first four games of the season as a backup.

In Gesek's absence, Raleigh McKenzie, who was scheduled to be the right guard, moved to center. Mark Schlereth, who was plagued by injuries last year, stayed healthy and took over at right guard.

Gesek still played part-time in a rotation system, but it wasn't quite the same.

That's all going to change today. Turner is moving Gesek into the starting lineup. It's probably not a coincidence that the opponent is Dallas at RFK Stadium.

Turner tried to downplay the switch, saying, "I think it's a good opportunity to have him start. They'll still be rotating. It's not a big deal."

McKenzie will go back to right guard and Schlereth will become the rotation player.

For both Turner and Gesek, the first game against the Cowboys since they said their goodbyes will have a special flavor.

"It's very emotional for both of us," Gesek said. "We went through the highs and lows down there. He came in mostly on the highs. I think he wants to prove he's capable of being a head coach in this league."

Gesek came to the Cowboys in a trade with the Raiders in 1990, and Dallas went 7-9. Turner didn't arrive until 1991, when the team went 11-5.

Turner doesn't want to attach special significance to the fact it's a game against the Cowboys. He remembers elbowing his brother playing one-on-one basketball against him.

"So when you're competing, you're competing and once the game starts, I don't know if anybody thinks about who's on the other side," Turner said.

But Gesek said: "Whenever you leave someplace, you want to go back and have a good showing."

He still lives in Dallas and would savor a victory over the Cowboys.

"I don't want to deal with those guys [as a loser]," Gesek said. "I'd rather be on the winning side."

Even though the Cowboys are heavy favorites, Gesek noted: "Regardless of which team is struggling, they still split."

The teams have split for six straight years. The Cowboys beat the Redskins in 1989 when Dallas went 1-15, and the Redskins beat the Cowboys in the opener last season, when Washington went 4-12. Smith, though, missed that second game while holding out.

Even stranger is the fact that the losing team in this matchup at RFK Stadium the past three years has gone on to win the Super Bowl.

Gesek said it's no problem to switch uniforms in what was once one of the best rivalries in football, one that's waned a bit in recent years.

"I think it's more that the Redskins fans hated the Cowboys than the Cowboys hated the Redskins," said Gesek, who wasn't around in the George Allen days, when even the players got into it.

Gesek has no second thoughts about leaving the Cowboys, even though his old team is 2-1. He was a right guard in Dallas and lost his job to Kevin Gogan when he got hurt at the start of last year. He then moved to center when Mark Stepnoski got hurt, and finished the season there.

At age 31, he likes the idea of finishing his career at center and he figured Stepnoski would have that position in Dallas.

From the Redskins' perspective, this game will be remembered because it's the first start for their $19.25 million rookie quarterback, Heath Shuler.

Gesek, who saw Troy Aikman go through growing pains in Dallas, said he thinks Shuler's going to be the same type of quarterback.

"You could tell Troy was going to be good," Gesek said. "It was just a matter of it taking a little bit of time. You could always see he was going to be a very good player and I think Heath's going to be a very good player."

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