There are only two motes in George Allen's unblinking focus on football. Two things drive him batty.
One is losing, a fate he equates with dying. To that end, he has whipped his Over the Hill Gang to six playoffs in seven years, hardly the grave's edge in a profession where only one team really wins.
The other thing that turns Allen dippy and starts him tugging on his cap and licking his left thumb is what he calls "distractions." By that he means any one of a variety of concentration killers.
It might be a pretty girl in a tight sweater asking a halfback for an autograph. It might be a low-flying helicopter spyring on his secluded practice fields in the wilds near Dulles Airport.
Whichever kind, George Allen doesnt cotton to distractions. And, poor thing, he has a whopper of a distraction on his hands now.
Last week it started. An article appeared in The Washington Post listing the highest-paid Redskins' approximate salaries. In boldface type alongside the morning coffee was the startling news that quarterback Joe Theismann was banking $90,000 while running back Clarence Harmon was scraping along on $25,000.
"Yeah, but Harmon's just a rookie, just a free agent," harrumphed personnel director Tim Temerario "We always sign them for $25,000; we make no bones about that."
Jake Scott, the defensive back who had trouble meshing personalities with Miami's drill sergeant, Don Shula, said he found "football heaven" in Washington - plus $125,000. Cornerback Gerard Williams, who presumably practices and plays the same hours as Scott, makes a paltry $30,000.
When a team full of men begin competing among themselves for salary status, it amounts to a Super Bowl-sized distraction because money is the only means of measuring worth in a profession that feeds on here-today, gone-tomorrow.
There is not a player in the nFL who doesn't have second thoughts while the ink on his contract is drying. "If I'd held out a little longer, played it tough, I could have jacked 'em up real good," he broods. The public disclosure of such sensitive information as salaries - exposed like a closet full of skeletal bones - breeds the kind of embarrassment that turns men mean.
Yes, it's take-a-number time in the long, dim corridor outside Allen's office at Redskin Park. Players will be queuing up to "talk contract" now that the inequities are public. Thirteen Redskins make $100,000 or more; the rest will demand part of the action too. It will become very ugly because the love of green stuff ignities most human troubles.
The Redskins are joking abou this new rating game, but many can't hide their discomfiture. "Boy, I can't wait until I get that Christmas bonus the 'Skins owe me," guffawed one veteran whose average salary is now an embarrassment to him.
It is popular these days to go for the "easy money." Witness the rock band with more sequined gimmickry than rhythm, the dirty novel with plenty of sex but no structure. Football, it is said, offers very easy money.
The money may be easy, but the game is hard. It often leaves scarred victims with inflated egos and destroyed cartilages. The money flows for a few years: flashy cars, can't-miss investments that go bankrupt unnoticed, the idea that everything you see is what you can buy.
In a way, it is like watching children play with Monopoly money. It's sad, the waste, because players really want the intangibles: recognition, notice, attention, praise, glory, fame.
Which brings us full circle back to money, so often mistaken as a synonym for security. There will be a run at the Redskins' bank, mark my words. Team president Edward Bennett Williams will get writer's cramp signing checks. Even George Allen is in line to negotiate a new contract for himself.
"We call know what John McKay is making down at Tampa," huffed temerario, politicking for hisb oss. "And Tom Landry just signed a new contract." Allen, according to the newspaper, makes $125,000, and is blushing when compared to Landry and McKay.
The Redskins' salary scandal is the dreaded can of worms, the ultimate distraction that Allen guards against during his 22 waking hours each day. His players are laughing, but it's more like all the way to the guess where?
"What am I gonna tell IRS when they ask me where I put all that extra money"? joked grizzled vet Ron McDole, possessor of $100,000 and pretending poverty.
"Hell," drawled center Len Hauss ($110,000), "forget about the IRS. What am I gonna tell my wife?"