After seven years as George Allen's chief troubleshooter and jack of all trades, Joe Sullivan, now the director of operations for the St. Louis Cardinals, was not about to provide his former employer any hot items for the Redskin bulletin board.
No, Joe (you could call him silky) Sullivan was cooing sweet praise for Allen yesterday form the Cardinal nest in St. Louis. insisting "I think George has done a super, super, super job this year considering all the problems he has had."
When a Washington inquisitor teased him about all his sugar and none of his usual spice, Sullivan persisted. "No, I really mean that," he said. "How he has gotten through all the problems he's had and still put a winning football team out on that field, well, he has done an amazing job.
"Look, (Pat) Fischer missed all of training camp and so did Mike Thomas. Then he loses (Chris) Hanburger. (Frank) Grant walks out of camp and (George) Starke does too.
"Then he loses a fine offensive linman like Paul Laaveg. I can tell you that if I had to go through all those things, well, I'd be climbing the walls. You just can't lose top people like that, but George does it, and he still wins. I giave him all the credit in the world."
In truth, however, Sullivan and the Cardinals have had their own share of hard taimes this season. There have been a number of ruffled feathers over contract problems, and the Cardinals, who come into RFK Stadium for a confrontation with the Redskins Sunday, hardly resemble the high-flying, hing-scoring Birds of previous years.
"There's no question we're having difficiulty putting points on the board," said Cardinal quarterback Jim Hart. "We're moving the football pretty well (THE Cards are third in the NFC in total offense, second in passing), but we've been bogging down near the goal line. If I knew what the answer was, I'd tell the coach.
"Fortunately, our defense is playing very well, so I don't think the offense is anything to get too concerned about. We'll come around. I've always heard it said that defense wins championships, and if that's true, we're on our way."
The Cardinals all insist they have added incentive against the Redskins, because they lost both games to the team and the coach they all despise, in 1976.
"We got beat fair and square last year." Hart said. "And we have non one to blame but ourselves. We definitely thought we had a better team last year and I think it's the same this year. But you have to prove that on the field. You can talk all you want to the press, but what good does it do if you don't back it up?"
Many of the Cardinals remember the sickening feeling they had flying home from New York after beating the Giants in their final game of the 1976 season only to learn the Redskins had upset the Cowboys in Dallas to clinch the wild-card berth in the playoffs. No amount of dramamine could ease the hurt.
"It's something I'll never forget," admitted safety Ken Reaves. "They kept us out of the big-money games, so we've got a lot of motivation. We want to win two this year becuase they took two last year, and they owne us."
The Cardinals, like the Redskins, are still struggling offensively.
Terry Metcalf, the original shake-and-bake back, is being used on a spot basis and probably won't start against the Redskins. While his nine pass receptions lead the NFC, he has carried the ball only nine times for 40 yards, and there is talk in St. Louis that he has slowed a step or two.
Cardinal coach Don Corayell is rotating four of his backs - Metcalf, Jim Otis, Jerry Latin and Steve Jones - mostly, he says, to have Metcalf fresh in the fourth quarter, and in November and December when it counts the most.
Metcalf, plagued with injuries throughout his career, is probably playing his last season in St. Louis. He recently took a $20,000 pay cut in return for a contract that will make him a free agent agent after the season.
"I keep hearing that part of our problem is all the unhappy players," says SUllivan. "But under the new collective bargaining agreement, I would think it would work the other way. If they want to go somewhere else and make more money, I would think they'd want to go out there and have a great season. So I don't really think that's a factor.
"Our biggest problem is that we're just making too many mistakes. We're fumbling, we've had interceptions and missed blocking assignments in important situations. We have to get htese things solved. And we just can't seem to play a game that doesn't go down to the wire. I don't know how the heart can take it."
Jim Hart, meanwhile, continues to dish out punishment to opposing defenses. He has completed 57 per cent of his passes this season, including a club-record 12 straight against Chicago in the Cardinals' 16!13 victory on Sunday. He has thrown three interceptions, but the Redskins know he has usually played well against them, and are properly wary.
The Cardinal offensive line continuse to provide adequate protection, even if several starters, including guard and resident meanie Conrad Dobler, center Tim Banks and tackle Dan Dierdorf are said to be among 11 St. Louis players who may opt for free agentry this winter.
When the Cardinals lost their first four preseason games, there was talk is St. Louis that the line - one of the main reasons for the team great offensive success - was becoming complacent, that the men's contracts were more on their minds than playing football.
"Nah, nobody's thinking about that stuff," says Banks. "It hasn't hurt our morale or any of thatn junk. And the offense is gonna be just fine. We think we can control the line of scrimmage against any team any week. And now that the defense is coming on so well, we thing we've got a hell of a team."
No one is quite sure why the Cardinal defenders are playing so well. Although they are eighth in the conference in total defense, they have allowed only two touchdowns in two games "and we're getting more confidence in ourselves every week," says Reaves.
Middle linebacker Tim Kearney is the Cardinal crazy on defense. Released by Tampa Bay and picked up early last season, Kearney leads the team in tackles and oozes mucho macho.
Last week against the Bears, Kearney was knocked woozy tackling All-Pro running Back Walter Payton, a man the Cards held to 36 yards. When Marv Kellum tried to replace him in the huddle, kearney sent Kellum back to the bench.
Twice more Cardinal coaches tried to send Kellum in to spell Kearney, and both times Kearney told him to "get the hell out of here." Kearney didn't miss a down.
"We've just got a bunch of guys here who have played together fo a couple of years," said Reaves, "and we're starting to get a feel for one another. We're young, but we compensate for that by being aggressive.
"Every year people always talk about the great Cardinal offense. This year, when they talk about this team, they're not gonna forget the defense, I guarantee that."