For the Redskins, another season and a new era begins today in a quiet college town in south-central Pennsylvanis. It is a time to look toward the future, a summer for fans to follow phenoms, for players to prepare for the season opener against the Patriots in New England Sept. 3.
And yet, it is also time to reflect on five men who will not make the trip to Carlisle for the first time in oh-so-many years.
Charley Taylor, Jerry Smith, Pat Fischer, Brig Owens and Bob Brunet belong to the past now. All "retired" this past offseason, though the fiesty Fischer still insists he didn't quit the game. They just wouldn't let him play it anymore.
No matter, for we will never again watch Fischer climb over a man 18 inches taller to swat a pass away; hear the pop of pads as Taylor hear the pop of pads as Taylor cracked back on an unwary line-backer: exult as Smith stretched his soft hands to haul one in over the middle and into the end zone; cringe as Brunet sacrificed limb and life busting a wedge; pull for Owens in his yearly struggle to beat off a bigger, swifter, younger man. And usually succeed.
There are other recollections of this fabulous five, many of them far removed from the Sunday wars of NFL football.
You could always count on Charley Taylor to come up with the proper expression, the precise adjective, the colorful anecdote when you needed him the most.
Once, after the Eagles had upset the Redskins in Philadelphia. Taylor said, "They came at us today with ice picks." A year later, before a critical game at the end of the season that would determine the Redskins' play-off fate, he said, "It's do or die time, and if we don't do it, we're done."
Someone once asked him why he lifted his arms and the football above his head after he scored a touch-down, instead of the traditional spike. "I just want the folks to know I rest my case," he said.
Taylor always delighted in talking about his first confrontation with Otto Graham, at the College All-Star Game in 1963. Graham, who coached the All-Stars that year, was quoted the week before the game as saying Taylor wouldn't make it in professional football.
Even after Taylor had been named most valuable player in that game, then went on to make NFL rookie of the year in 1964, Graham wasn't convinced. "I met him in the elevator at the All-Star Game the next year," Taylor said recently. "He told me I still wouldn't make it. I wonder what he thinks now."
Graham went on to become the Redskin coach and made the decision to switch Taylor from running back to wide receiver. The move ultimately allowed Taylor to become the all-time leading pass catcher in NFL history.
But Taylor never received the sort of attention that feat probably deserved. He set the record in a dreary Redskin defeat against the Eagles in a meaningless season-finale in 1976.
A few weeks after that season, a reporter asked Taylor if he was interested in writing a book about his career. Taylor was willing, but after 15 major publishing houses turned the project down, the idea was scrapped
One provincial New York publisher, asked "Who's Charley Taylor?." When a reporter relayed that to said, "Hey (Taylor always prefaced every sentence with a hey), that's the story of my life. That's all right, man, I know what I did."
He was known as the Peach from Long Beach, a splendid tight end and the epitome of a team man to the very end.
The record states that Jerry Smith caught more touchdown passes than any tight end in NFL history.
It does not tell you about the excruciating pain in the back Smith suffered the last several years of his career every time he bent over.
It does not tell you how a nice hunk of his salary went to set up a family construction business and put a sister through college.
Nor does it tell you about the conversation Smith had with a reporter the day after Coach George Allen returned him to the team roster last fall after cutting him two weeks earlier.
Allen had placed Smith and his roommate, Brig Owens, on waivers, a decision Allen described as among the most painful he had ever made.
Smith was deeply hurt. He left town without a word to contemplate in seclusion at the shore. There was no public tantrum the day he was released, nor was there any smile of satisfaction the day he returned.
"Don't write about me," he said, "write about Brig. We've got to get him back." Yes he said, it was nice to be reactivated. Yes, he said, it was wonderful to get so much moral support from the fans. But, no, he insisted, it meant very little to him as long as his friend, Brig Owens, couldn't share his joy.
Smith was like that, a team man who often talked in cliches. The team, it was always the team to Smith. The cliches came straight from the heart.
All his professional life, Brig Owens seemed destined to suffer.
He was a quarterback in college, but no black had ever played the position in the NFL when Owens broke into the league in 1966, and he was switched to the defensive backfield.
Even though he is listed as the Redskins' all-time leading interceptor, George Allen tried to replace him in each of the last five years. And almost every year, Owens beat out the new young hope.
His most valuable contribution came in the summer of 1974, when the NFL player's strike dominated the news of training camp.
Many teams were racked by dissension as veteran players crossed the picket lines and entered camps. The Redskins, behind Owens' calm leadership, managed for the most part to avoid bickering and bad blood.
Owens made arrangements to work out at Georgetown University, hired a trainer and made sure all of his striking teammates were there for drills.
There was pressure on many of the younger Redskins to walk back into camp. But Owens, for the most part, kept the team together that summer. "We marched out together," he said at the time, "and we'll march back in together."
Owens was always the conscience of the club. He represented the team at countless public appareances, usually accepting no fee. He devoted a good portion of his time to the Special Olympic program and even found time to attend law school.
Owens suffered in 1977, even after Allen brought him back to the team early in the season. The cut hurt him, too. So did his treatment after being put back on the squad.
Owens spent most of the year on the Redskin taxi squad. He could not suit up for the games. Instead, he roamed the sideline in street clothes, yelling encouragement to his teammates on the field.
The week before the final game of the season, a reporter sought an interview. "I'd rather not," he said. "I don't even know if I'll be playing."
"Aren't you upset by what they're doing to you,' he was asked.
"C'mon, you know I won't talk about things like that. I'm just hoping he lets me play Sunday. You understand, don't you?"
Owens did not play in the final game. Five months later he announced he would not play again.
Johnny Unitas brought a television crew to Redskin Park one day a few years ago to tape an interview with George Allen.
"Hey, John," one of his cameramen bellowed, "look at that little guy playing the corner. Who's that kid."
"Let me tell you something," Unitas said. "That kid is 35 years old, and if he ever hits you, he'll knock your socks off. Ever hear of Pat Fischer, dummy?"
Children all over the Washington area know all about Fischer. Among the under-10 set, he was probably the most popular of all the Redskins. Maybe it was that little-boy face, that impish grin, or the itty-bitty body that withstood 17 years of pressure and pounding at one of the toughest positions.
All the kids loved him. A 7-year-old met his hero two days before the 1972 Super Bowl. The boy was almost hyperventilating as Fischer signed his autograph book and shook his hand. He talked to the young fan far longer than simple courtesy would have required.
There was another side to Fisher, too. He was a quiet man, a loner who often left the hustle and bustle of a training camp dining room to sip coffee and smoke a cigarette in a quiet corner of the building, perusing the stock averages or the Daily Racing Form.
Players told stories about Fischer arriving in the locker room many hours before the kickoff, only to sit and sip and smoke alone staring into his locker. After games, he often seemed in a trance as he sat the same way winding down.
A reporter covering the team for the first time in 1973 made the mistake of interrupting Fischer's postgame ritual.
The little cornerback snapped, "Not now, please."
Thirty minutes later, he sought out the reporter. "Sorry about what I said before," he said. "It just takes me a little while to unwind. What do you want to know?"
What most reporters wanted to know was how Fischer managed to survive being so small in the land of the giants. Every year they trudged to training camp and asked the same question, and every year Fischer would pooh-pooh the notion that he was something special.
"It's all in the angles," he would tell them. And then he'd go out on the field and knock somebody's socks off.
He lay in Georgetown Hospital, looking like an extra from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." His hair had been cut short, the back of his head shaved clean.
Only the jagged surgical scar that ran from above his shoulder blades four inches up his neck was visible. A visitor to Bob Brunet's room tried to keep from looking too closely.
"Ah hell, it's not so bad," Brunet said. "At least I'm still walking."
This was last March. Brunet had undergone surgery to repair damage inflicted when he was kicked in the back of the neck against the Dallas Cowboys. Ever since the initial injury, Brunet had felt tingling all over his body.
The operation, he hoped, would eliminate the problem, but there was no guarantee. His doctors were even talking about a second operation, through the front of his neck, to help relieve pressure on Brunet's spine.
Still, Brunet was in wonderful spirits. He would be leaving the hospital the next day to fly home to Baton Rouge, La. He was having a delightful time, chiding his friend for not bringing him a steak, teasing a gaggle of adoring nurses for not paying enough attention to him.
But then the talk turned serious.
Brunet was asked if he thought playing all those years and suffering injuries too numerous to count was worth it. Why had he subjected his body to so many hurts and sprains, breaks and brusies over the last 10 years?
Yes, it was worth it, he said. He had come into the league 10 years before with one goal: to make enough money to buy his own house. That was accomplished with the check he earned in the Super Bowl.
Brunet spoke at length of his respect and admiration for George Allen, even if the coach had never given him the opportunity to be a running back. He talked about the wonderful people he had met playing the game, the friendships of his teammates, the joy of winning and, yes, all the spoils that went with it.
In addition to the house, Brunet owned and operated a thriving seafood business in Baton Rouge. He owned valuable property outside of town, another 200 acres across the state line in Mississippi where he could hunt and fish and teach his children about the wonders of the land.
"You're damned right I'd do it all over again," he said. "I was a poor kid from the backwoods of Louisiana and now I've given my wife and my kids security for the rest of their lives. I know I'm going to have problems from football. But I accept that. I have no regrets, none whatsoever."