There's a temptation to say it didn't mean a thing. So what if the New England Patriots beat the Redskins, 45-7, today? The Redskins' best linebacker is in the hospital. An old-pro cornerback stayed at home with a bad back. The team's best running back ran three times and then sat down, hurting.
Anyway, there Redskins are veterans, and they know it's an exhibition game, and they know it doesn't make any difference if they win or lose, the game doesn't count in December. That's why the quarterback of iron spirit played only the first quarter and one more series. Why risk injury in exchange for meaningless heroics?
We should not forget, either, that the New England Patriots are a wonderful team. They alone beat the Oakland Raiders last season, did it 48-17 in the regular season, and would have beaten them in a playoff game save for an official's mistake. The team's president, Billy Sullicial's mistake. The team's president, Billy Sullivan, sat in the press box today, giddy with a 35-0 lead, and said his quarterback. Steve Grogan, may be the next Unitas, and he said the Patriots had youth and depth and speed and . . .
Well, you'd have thought they were the Packers of Starr, Hornung, Thurston and Kramer, and, it is no exaggeration to say this, they played today with the awesome precision and aggressivness that Vince Lombardi would have loved.
George Allen, the Redskins' brain, is a defensive genius. In a 1974 exhibition game, when the Redskins' real players were on strike, Allen put together a rug-tag bunch of rookies and free agents that lost to Houston, 48-3. Now in his seventh season in Washington, Allen never has seen another of his teams give up more than 35 points - until today.
And it might have been worse. The Patriot's quarterback, Grogan/Unitas, played only the first half, when New England ran up a 28-0 lead. By that time, the Patriots had 317 yards total offense (the Redskins managed 85) and the enthusiastic president, Sullivan, said, "This may be the best game we have ever played."
The Patriots, incidentally, may been carried away with the thrill of it, too, for some tender-hearted souls wondered why the winning coach, Chuck Fairanks, chose to run a play on fourth and three at the Redskins' 29 when he might have kicked a field goal. Barely six minutes were left to pay.
The Patriots made the first down easily on a ran around their right end, a path they chose so often today they beat a rut into the artifical turf there. And three plays later, they scored the last touchdown.
Asked what he thought of the Patriot's hunger for one more score. Allen looked in to a cup of milk he held. He moved the cup in small circles. He considered the question.
"No comment," he said.
It had been "a real thrashing," the coach said, and he said one of the things hurting the Redskins is the absence of key men.
The linebacker, Chris Hanburger, is in the hospital, recovering from an appendectomy. The cornerback, Pat Fischer, is trying to coax his aching back into shape to play a 17th season. The running back, Mike Thomas, was in a game for the first time this season, if only for three plays. The quarterback, Billy Kilmer, is playing one quarter a game, doing enough to get ready but not so much as to get crippled.
Around the National Football League, players believe the exhibition games mostly are a waste of time. Owners like them because they bring in money. But players believe six exhibition games are about three too many, and so it is small surprise to see the old hands (with nothing to prove) playing without the emotion a regular-season games evokes.
When New England jumped into its big lead early, it gained control of the game, both physically and spiritually. The Patriots could do whatever they wanted to do, pass or run, whenever they wanted to do it, and the Redskins could do nothing right.
"It was just one of those days," said Harold McClinton, the middle linebacker. "But they're not 40 points better than us. If we played tomorrow, it might be a different story."
Ken Houston, the safety who called the team's defensive signals in Hanburger's absence, saw cause for worry.
"They outhit us, and that shouldn't ever happen," Houston said.
"We missed him a lot. He's got experience. He calls our signals, and he's also a real good linebacker."
Then Houston smiled.
"But calls don't beat people. People beat people."
Against one of the best offensive teams in the NFL, a team with an outsanding line and three or four fast running backs, the Redskins' defense seemed woefully slow. For that matter, the Redskins' offense reminded no one of a herd of sprinters, and if today's game does have any lasting significance, the exposure of slow feet may be it.