Tight end Jerry Smith and safety Brig Owens, who together logged 23 years with the Redskins, were dropped from the team yesterday on the final cut before the start of the season.
"It wasn't a very pleasant afternoon," said coach George Allen, who learned earlier in the day that line-backer Chris Hanburger was readmitted to Arlington Hospital Sunday and may be sidelined longer than originally expected.
Hanburger, who underwent an emergency appendectomy Sept. 1, was readmitted with a 100.8-degree fever.
Dr. Frank Cardenas, who perfomred the surgery, said Hanburger was put on antibiotic treatment and given tests to determine the extent of a suspected infection.
Dr. Cardenas said it was too early to tell how much longer Hanburger would miss, but it was "possible, but unlikely" he would be ready for the season's second game, Sept. 25 against Atlanta.
Allen also confirmed that defensive end Duncan McColl, the team's top draft choice in 1977, was placed on the injured reserve list as the Redskins began on-the-field preparations for their NFL regular-season opener against the New York Giants Sunday.
The coach-general manager said he would not name the other player he placed on irrevocable waivers because the player had not yet been notified, it likely will be linebacker Joe Harris.
The Redskins originally had until 4 p.m. yesterday to cut five players to reach the 43-player limit. But Allen said the National Football League office gave the Redskins "special dispensation for two or three days" to make a final cut because offensive tackle George Starke had walked out of camp.
Allen will have to cut another player when Starke returns. He also must name a two-man taxi squad by 4 p.m. Wednesday.
If Smith and Owens clear waivers, as expected because of their because of their age and big salary, they could become Redskins again.Allen has done that with at least a half-dozen veterans Ray Schoenke, Myron Potties, Tommy Mason, John Wilbur, among them - in the past. They can be brought back anytime before the sixth game of the regular season.
This is a method of protecting young players of final cutdown time. But a team source said it was unlikely 11-year veteran Owens and 12-year man Smith would be back except in an emergency.
"It was the most difficult decision I've had to make regarding players since I've been coaching," Allen said or his cutting Smith and Owens. "They're more than football players. They're great individuals and have made tremendous contributions to our football program as well as helping me in . . . other things.
"The decision amounted to Mark Murphy over Brig and Bill Larson over Jerry. It was based on the fact both young players have done an outstanding job on the special teams, and when we played them, they palyed well. Sometimes a young player can play himself off the team. In this case, they played and earned a job."
Neither Owens, whose 36 interceptions is a Redskin career record, nor Smith, whose 60 touchdown catches is an NFL record for tight ends, wanted to comment yesterday following their meetings with Allen. Both men were told after practice.
"Just give me a couple of days," said Owens. "I have nothing to say now."
Smith, when asked what had happened, replied: "I'm not going to say." He then walked to his car and drove away.
Murphy, a rookie free agent from Colgate, and Larson, a three-year veteran who previously had been cut by San Francisco and Oakland, approached cutdown day with different attitudes.
"I haven't slept a night for the past three weeks," said Murphy.
"I don't worry about it anymore," said Larson after practice. "This would have been the third time I've been cut."
"Whether this is a correct decision at this time will only be determined by how well the two new men perform," Allen said. "If it had been based on regular players (starters), Jerry and Brig would have had the edge. But it was based on stronger special-teams play."
Smith and Owens for years two of the most popular and productive players on the team, are good friends and have been roommates in training camp and on the road for the last 10 years.
Smith, 34, lost his No. 1 status to Jean Fugett last year after Allen signed the former Dallas Cowboy as an free agent. He said this summer this would have been his final season.
Smith has caught more touchdown passes - 60 - than any other tight end in NFL history. Through the 1976 season, when he caught seven passes for 75 yards and two TDs, he recorded 420 catches for 5,490 yards for an average gain of 13.1 yards per reception.
Owens, also 34, a former player representative and one of the team's most respected leaders, was replaced by Bryant Salter in 1974, He was used as the fifth defensive back in Allen's nickel defense and kept alive his streak of never missing a game since joining the Redskins in 1966. He played in 154 consecutive games.
The Redskins made no announcements or statements on Hanburger, the starting right linebacker and defensive signal-caller.
Dr. Cardenas said that he would know more about Hanburger's condition today, when results of yesterday's tests are known.
When Hanburger underwent surgery, Cardenas said that Hanburger could be back in three weeks, barring complications.
Now the doctor says that Hanburger's return "could be set back a week or two" at least, depending where the infection is and how Hanburger responds to the antibiotics.
Also, it appears that cornerback Pat Fischer - who has been trying to recover from a pinched nerve in his back - will not start against the Giants, although he is doing more and more each day in practice.
"I would think Gerard Williams will start," Allen said. "I can't tell about Pat; nobody can tell, not even the doctors. He's on a day-to-day program. He'll get a little more work everyday and well see how much he progresses."
"Pat hasn't even had a full practice yet," Allen said.
Mike Curtis, the former All-Pro linebacker with the Baltimore Colts who signed as a free agent Thursday, ran with the first unit at right linebacker yesterday in place of Hanburger.
Stu O'Dell, who had originally replaced Hanburger and was injured against New England, apparently talked himself out of being placed on injured reserve. Allen and O'Dell, who suffered kneww and ankle injuries, had talked about the possibility Sunday, O'Dell confirmed.
But O'Dell told Allen he was against going on injured reserve for the second time in four years. Yesterday, he told Allen that he would be ready to play agains the Giants. And, after waiting two hours while Allen talked to Owens and Smith, O'Dell was told he would stay.
Running back Mike Thomas did some running stretching exercises, but did not take part in the team drills. He is still recovering from a hamstring injury and the Redskins want him in team drills by Wednesday.