Things just aren't the same around the Washington Redskins without them. No sooner does John Riggins reluctantly drop out of sight to pursue walleye and whitetail than Joe T. limps up to the booth to be Joe TV, a role that he was born for. Riggo and Theismann, gone but not forgotten—not by their teammates, not by their fans, not by the working stiffs of the Washington press. No more Cathy Lee Crosby to leer at. No more "loosen up, Sandy baby, you're too tight" gaffes to report.
Nope, just the new-look, vanilla-flavored Redskins, led by quarterback Jay Schroeder, an even-tempered, blond, blue-eyed 25-year-old who looks as if he just stepped off the PGA Tour, and a pair of running backs, Kelvin Bryant and George Rogers, who just might turn out to be a better one-two punch than that lovey-dovey duo in Dallas. "We'll miss Riggins and Theismann less on the field than off it," says guard Russ Grimm, 27, a leading Hog on an offensive line that still ranks with the best in the league. "The guys stepping in for them have just as much talent, maybe more. But as a team I don't think we know what kind of personality we have now."
Say this about Riggins and Theismann: Their personalities will not be easy to replace. Thank God for small favors. But if the last six games of 1985 and the first three preseason games of this year are any indication, Redskins fans will not exactly be pining for Joe T. and Riggo this fall. The knock against Theismann was that he had lost some of the zip on his passes. Worse, he was concentrating more on the pass rush than on his receivers. As a result, he had stopped hanging in to complete the long pass. Theismann's average gain per attempt fell from 8.09 in '83 to 7.11 in '84 to 5.89 last year. At the same time, the Redskins' point production dropped from an NFL-record 541 in '83 to 426 in '84 to a meager 297 last season.
All the 6'4", 215-pound Schroeder did when he filled in at quarterback after Theismann suffered a compound leg fracture last November 18 against the New York Giants was rally the 5-5 Redskins to victory in that game and then to a 4-1 record in their final five games. "Joe's injury was probably the only way we were going to get a look at Schroeder last year," says Washington G.M. Bobby Beathard, who drafted Schroeder out of UCLA in the third round in 1984 although Jay had started only one game for the Bruins. "We needed a change, but you have a tendency to go the extra mile with guys who have done a lot for you, waiting for their old form to come back. Now we have had six games with the new guy, which has made a tremendous difference coming into this year."
August 31, 1986
Schroeder, who runs an eye-popping 4.6 40, threw only 5 interceptions in 209 attempts last season—the second-lowest interception percentage in Redskin history. He also completed six passes of more than 40 yards to wide receiver Art Monk, thereby reinstating the bomb in the Washington offense. So far in the preseason, Schroeder has converted 59% of his 66 passes, albeit with four interceptions. "He will have some downers," says Beathard. "He's still a baby in this game. But he's starting to do some little things that show leadership. Like two weeks ago he got on the coaching staff to send in the plays more quickly. A timid guy wouldn't do that."
On Saturday against Tampa Bay, Schroeder had another chance to demonstrate his assertiveness. He was having an off night, and the Redskins trailed the Bucs 13-7 in the third quarter when coach Joe Gibbs told him not to worry but he was sending in Doug Williams to replace him on the next series. The Redskins had traded a 1987 fifth-round draft choice to Tampa Bay for the' rights to the 31-year-old Williams, the former Bucs quarterback who had spent the last two seasons in the USFL. The Redskins had made it clear to Williams that his role would be that of a veteran backup to Schroeder.
But Schroeder wanted one more series. "For my benefit more than anyone else's," he said later. "I needed to prove that when things weren't going well I could turn things around and get things going." Sure enough, after a turnover, he directed a 44-yard drive that gave Washington the go-ahead touchdown.
"He seems to have great presence," said an obviously impressed Gibbs afterward, trying to defuse a quarterback controversy before one developed. He may yet have one on his hands, for in his Redskins debut Williams, playing little more than a quarter, outshone Schroeder. Williams completed 13 of 17 throws for 94 yards and had two passes dropped. Schroeder was 14 of 26 for 139 yards with two interceptions.
"The Bucs were giving Doug the passes underneath," said Gibbs, adding offhandedly that Williams, who's still learning the Washington plays, had trouble in practice all week. "I'll say this, though, when he makes up his mind to throw the ball somewhere, it sure gets there in a hurry."
Another player who made his debut as a Redskin on Saturday night was Bryant, the USFL's second-leading alltime rusher. Over three years with the Baltimore/Philadelphia Stars, he ran for 4,055 yards, caught 141 passes for 1,270 yards and scored 47 touchdowns. Bryant brings a new element to Washington's ground game—outside speed. Like Rig-gins before him, the 6'2", 229-pound Rogers is a punishing runner who is most effective carrying the ball 25 times a game between the tackles. Bryant is built more like a thoroughbred. In high school in Tarboro, N.C., he ran a 9.29 100. He once long-jumped 24'8". At 6'2", 195 pounds, Bryant looks, by pro football standards, almost fragile out of uniform. "On television I thought he was a lot bigger," said offensive tackle Joe Jacoby during Bryant's first week of practice. "But give him a hole a foot wide and he's through it."
The trick, of course, will be to get Bryant the football while still taking advantage of the Redskins' bread and butter—Rogers controlling the ball behind those ripsnorting, yard-churning Hogs. In the final three games of last season Rogers ran wild—150 yards against Philadelphia, 95 against Cincinnati, 206 against St. Louis—to finish with more than 1,000 yards for the third time in his five-year career. "We're racking our brains about how to best use Kelvin's talent," says Gibbs, who's reluctant to abandon the one-back offense that has been so successful for him in Washington. "He has great hands, so do we use him at outside receiver? Do we put Kelvin and George together in a two-back offense? Do we save him for second-and-long and third-down situations? The one thing about Kelvin that I have seen so far is that he's a real team guy and will do anything we ask of him, including block."
In Redskins parlance "a real team guy" is about the highest praise a player can get. Joe T. was not a real team guy—he was too self-centered. Riggo, however, was. When it came time for Bryant to select his Washington jersey, he naturally had his eye on 44, his number in the USFL and at North Carolina. Trouble was, 44 had been Riggins's number. After a couple of the Hogs got wind of the situation, they made noise about a one-day strike if Riggo's number was given out. Gibbs told Bryant how the players felt about Riggins's number, but he also made it clear to him that if he wanted old lucky 44, it was his for the taking. No problem, said Bryant, and he took 24 instead. "I'll wear double-zero," says Bryant. "I don't care."
His decision made him a lot of points with his teammates. And if there were any doubts about what he could do against NFL competition, Bryant dispelled them against the Bucs. The second time he touched the ball, he turned a harmless-looking flare pass into a 25-yard gain, making two cuts that left Tampa Bay defenders grasping at ghosts. Then, on a delay in the fourth quarter, Bryant took a handoff over right tackle and made a one-legged, now-you-see-him-now-you-don't cut back to the left that was reminiscent—dare we say it?—of vintage Gale Sayers, after which he galloped untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. It was the kind of run that left the Redskins on the sideline grinning. Not high-fiving or raising their fists, just grinning. The guy was something to see.
However, Bryant also fumbled twice, which isn't very good for someone who touched the ball just seven times all night. All told, he gained 27 yards on three carries and caught four passes for 35 yards. "He's an explosion back every time he touches the ball," a guardedly pleased Gibbs said after the game, which Washington won 21-13. "But you can't lay the ball down on the ground like that and win games."
Bryant was sheepish about the fumbles, and he would not let well-intentioned reporters supply him with the excuse that he hadn't been in a full contact game in more than a year. "I have got to protect the football," he said. "I'll promise you one thing, I'm not going to fumble next week."
That was one thing about Riggo: He didn't fumble. We shall see about Bryant. He should be very, very interesting to watch. As Schroeder says, "No one really knows what this club is all about. We're anxious to find out."