Has anyone seen Bill Larson?
He used to be a Redskin.
For one game.
He's the tight end who beat out old-timer Jerry Smith.
The Redskins cut Smith the week before the opener against the Giants.
Word was that Larson earned the job with his tireless determination. George Allen said Larson wasn't a better tight end than Smith, but he'd earned the job with his work on the special teams. It didn't hurt, either, that Larson is 24 and it's been a decade since Smith was that young.
So: Bye-bye, Jerry.
Nothing personal, just business.
For Larson, it must have seemed a happy ending to a long struggle. After playing the entire 1975 season with the San Francisco 49ers, he was cut in the next training camp - the day after the 49ers doubled his salary. He caught on with Oakland for two practices, but the Raiders cut him, too.
Larson spent the 1976 season playing semipro football with the Newton (Iowa) Night-hawks, a team whose pay scale forced him to moonlight tending bar at the local Elks Club.
But Larson didn't give up. He wrote to National Football League teams, asking for a chance, and he was offered contracts by six. That was no surprise, because pro football teams always bring to camp 30 or 40 men who have no chance to make the team. But they are warm bodies, and their presence makes it possible to have full-scale practices. These no-chance men are often referred to as "cannon fodder" or "hamburger." Something nice like that.
They don't mind. What they want, after all, is a chance, and there's no way they can make an NFL team without going to camp. So they take their best shot, and if one gets lucky, if a team has an opening at the right spot, well, maybe one of the hamburgers can find himself wearing No. 86 for the Washington Redskins.
Bill Larson did.
The Redskins are an old football team. That's by design. George Allen believes pro football games are won by the team making the fewest mistakes. So the coach loves old players, who make fewer mistakes than young ones. Because Allen is no dummy, he knows he must replace those old guys before they stumble into senility.
So Bill Larson took Jerry Smith's job.
For one game.
After the 20-17 loss to the Giants, Allen said he realized the Redskins' offense was lifeless. It needed leadership, he said.
So Jerry Smith was put back on the team.
And Bill Larson was fired.
Nothing personal, just business.
This must be a bewildering experience for Larson.
He must wonder how Smith is going to inspire the Redskins when, in the preseason games, Smith's presence never caused the Redskins to score more than two touchdowns a game.
He must wonder, too, why George Allen gave him the job in the first place. The starting tight end, Jean Fugett, clearly was worn out Sunday, a victim of the heat. But Larson never was sent in to relieve him. If a coach has no more confidence in a player than that, why hire him?
These are questions Larson might be asking now, and maybe he's asking them with no bitterness, for he's been cut before and he's tended bar to live and he knows pro football is a business, nothing else. He'll probably try to catch on with another team, and maybe he'll wind up back with the Newton Nighthawks, and maybe he'll keep hoping.
That would be the sad part of it, if the hiring and firing killed his hope. Aman wanted to ask Bill Larson about that this week, wanted to find out what goes on in a 24 - year - old player's mind when one week he is a Redskin and the next week is a reject.
There's a Charlie Brown comic strip that somehow fits here. Linus, one of Charlie's friends, is telling him about the "most unbelievable" football game. The home team was behind by six points with three seconds to go and was 99 yards away from a touchdown. And the quarterback threw a pass to the left end, who whirled away and went for a touch-down.
"The fans went wild," Linus said, jumping up and sown. "And when they kicked the extra point, thousands of people ran out on the field, and the fans and the players were so happy they were rolling on the ground and hugging each other and dancing and everything. It was fantastic!"
Charlie Brown looked at Linus and said, "How did the other team feel?"
It was cause for celebration by some people when Jerry Smith came back to the Redskins.
But lloskins' public relations office said they didn't know where Larson was. He used to live in an apartment at Reston, but he didn't have a phone, they said. If they ran into a player who knew how to get in touch with Larson, they'd give him a message.
Larson never called.