Paul Laaveg, once considered the Redskins' most talented offensive lineman, announced his retirement from football yesterday. "I have the neck of an old man," he said. "I'm tired of treatments and I'm tired of the pain, so I'm quitting."
On a day when the Redskins also announced they had placed offensive tackle Pete Solverson, cornerback David Thomas and running back Harold Hart on waivers, Laaveg's decision to end his career after seven seasons in the NFL was a major jolt to the team.
Laaveg, who will be 29 in October, seemingly had been making a successful comeback from a neck injury that forced him to miss most of the 1975 season and knee surgery that sidelined him all of last year.
It was a decision based on the fact that I didn't feel I was contributing what I should or playing the way I did before I was injured," Laaveg said. "Even though I feel I could still play, my performance was embarrassing to me.
"I've tried as hard as I can to come back, but it just wasn't good enough. There are certain things you can overcome, and there are some things you have no control over. I wasn't the first guy knocked out of professional football and I'm sure I won't be the last."
Laaveg said the pain from his neck injury - a combination of arthritis, rheumatism and spurs in the neck has plagued him since 1975.
"It wakes you up in the middle of the night," he said. "Your arms go to sleep depending on what side you sleep on and I wake up half the time with headaches. Heat and ultra-sound treatments helped and I took a lot of aspirin and Tylenol in training camp. But it's always aching."
Laaveg said his neck got progressively worse during the 1975 season.
"At halftime of the Houston game (the fifth in the regular season), something was very peculiar. I was losing the feeling in my right arm. It was something that had been coming on all during the season and I just couldn't take it any more."
Laaveg spent the next month in traction, had a hernia operation that January and then underwent knee surgery last summer after being hurt in the final preseason game.
"In 10 months I saw a lot of the hospital," he said. "And that's one thing I won't miss."
Coach George Allen seemed genuinely anguished when he announced the retirement after meeting with Laaveg for more than 30 minutes late yesterday afternoon.
"These are the toughest gol-darn things," he said, "and Paul is such a tremendous person, that makes it doubly tough. No one worked harder than he did to come back. I have the highest regard for him and anything I can do to help him in any career he has I'll help him. But he's prepared himself and that's a lot more than you can say about some other players."
Laaveg was the Redskin's fourth-round draft choice out of Iowa in 1970 and earned a starting position his rookie season, playing in every game from 1971 through 1974. He is a part owner of the Apple Tree, a popular new restaurant in downtown Washington, and has other business interests as well.
He was asked yesterday if he might reconsider his decision next year if the pain went away.
"A year from now," he said, "I'm going to weigh 205 pounds. I'm never going to lift another weight, hit another sled, never pull and trap and pass-block again. And I played golf today.
"Football has been good to me and I have no complaints whatsoever. I'd never say anything against George Allen. He's been as good to me as any coach has ever been to any player."
Allen said that Laaveg made the final decision, although Laaveg described it as mutual. "It's a numbers game and I realized that," he said. "But we've been talking about this all along, and the numbers are starting to count now."
Laaveg's retirement left the Redskins with three offensive guards - starters Ron Saul (he moved into Laaveg's left guard position last year) and Terry Hermeling and reserve Dan Nugent.
Center Bob Kuziel can also play both guard positions as well as offensive tackle, and that was a major factor in the release of Solverson, who spent the 1976 season on the Redskins' injured reserve list. He, too, underwent knee surgery last summer, although he made a complete recovery.
The cutting of cornerback David Thomas, another injured reserve last season, came on a day when veteran Pat Fischer was able to handle a dozen hundred-yard wind sprints in an early morning workout at Redskin Park.
Fischer, who said, "I'm getting better every day" from a pinched nerve in his back, wore a heavy girdle during his workout. But Allen said he was still encouraged that Fischer will be able to make it back for the season.
"We'll have to make a decision on Fischer next week," Allen said. "The fact that he can run well, it's a real plus," adding that he may thrwo Fischer into some drills during practice this week.
If Fischer can play, second-year man Gerard Williams will be the backup. If Fischer can't play, Allen still has not fully made up his mind on whether to trade for a veteran cornerback or to allow Williams to play the position regularly. With David Thomas cut, the Redskins now have only one reserve cornerback in camp - rookie Skip Sharp.
Thomas, once the leading pass interceptor in the World Football League, came to the Redskins with Williams last year. But Allen apparently feels that Shapr, a fifth round draft pick of the Eagles cut earlier this summer and picked up on waivers by the Redskins, is a better prospect for now.
Hart was cut 10 days after he was obtained from the New England Patriots for future considerations. The deal no doubt was contingent on Hart's making the Redskins, and the will not owe the Patriots anything for him.
A three-year veteran who had played previously in Oakland and Tampa Bay, Hart did himself no good when he pulled a hamstring in his second practice. He did not play against the Packers Saturday night.
His cut means the Redskins are now down to five running backs, and they will probably start the season with that number. Hart's release means that rookie free agent Clarence Harmon, the team's leading preseason ground gainer, will probably make the team, barring injury or a monumental foulup on his part in the next two preseason games.
Allen seemed emotionally drained when his day had ended.
"The conferences with the players have been more difficult this year than ever," he said. "And the subsequent one will be the same way."
Allen will have to do it all over again next Tuesday. His roster then must be rimmed from the current 52 players to 48 and there will be one more cut after that on Sept. 12 - the final one to 43 players and a two-man taxi squad.