Come Tuesday, the Turk will have put his dread sword to the tender necks of enough vulnerable Redskins, young and old alike, to reduce the roster to 50 men. They call him the Turk because the image is sinister. In their sleep, they hear his soft and approaching footfalls. They wait, chilling, for a knock at the door. The Turk's arrival means the man has been cut from the team.
The day Calvin Hill quit football it was obvious he didn't want to do it. From Yale to the Cowboys to the Redskins, he has been a remarkable running back, equal, parts size, power and grace. More than that, he loves the idea of a team. For Hill, as for many men have spent a lifetime in sports, the team is an extension of the family. Hill was leaving part of his family when he left the Redskins, and it was a hard thing to do, and he spoke of a young man named Tony Green, who wanted so much to be a part of the family Hill was quitting.
Hill didn't know what he would do, he told reporters, but it would be interesting, he thought, to be a sportswriter. So many good stories to do. And he said to look at Tony Green, what the rookie must be going through. Green came to camp as the Redskins' highest draft choice, but he hurt a leg and couldn't run well.
"He wants to do so much, and he can't do anything," Hill said. "Think what that must be like for a rookie at his first training camp, just trying to make the team and he can't do his thing."
Tony Green was a star Friday night in Baltimore. He ran back on kickoff 47 yards, another 67 yards. In the Redskins' next-to-last exhibition game, Green demonstrated good [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and open-field running [WORD ILLEGIBLE] that make him one of the team's few threats to make long runs. Tony Green did his thing at last, and the Turk likely will pass by the rookie's room.
If the 67-yard run didn't assure the rookie's safety, what came immediately after it should have. When a man runs 67 yards, he normally goes to the bench for a breather. The Redskins left Green in at tailback. And they ordered him to run the ball on the very next play. And the one after that. And the next one. And . . . well, he carried the ball on six of the seven plays after his 67-yard return.
It was a test.
Tony Green earned a reputation at the University of Florida as a gifted runner, a powerful 5-foot-9 and 185-pound gamebreaker. No one ever called him a practice star, though. He is not the arrogant sort who believes practice beneath him, he was good enough to play without working all that hard, so he never did. Simple.
In the pros, hard workers get paid well while men who don't work are paid visits by the Turk. Green pulled it hamstring early in training camp and later twisted a knee. So he missed two rookie scrimmages, and had touched the ball only once in the first two exhibition games.
"He's been scared to death," said Joe Theismann, the quarterback. The rookie has hitched rides in the quarterback's fancy car. Theismann says Green is a good guy, a competitor. After Green did his thing in Baltimore, Theismann was happy for him. He knows how far the rookie has to go.
"In camp, he had three weeks to pick up our total offense, which is about 800 plays," Theismann said. "To see if a man's scared, you just look in his eyes. Like two gunfighters will look at each other and one will have pure scared in his eyes. Tony would come into the huddle and his eyes would be like moons. You could see the wheels turning in his head, the smoke burning."
And when he made that 67-yard run Friday night, the Redskins put Tony Green to a test. They gave him the ball six times on the next seven plays with less than two minutes to play in a game they led, 17-16.
"They gave him the ball in a clutch situation," Theismann said.
Running inside, he gained 13 yards on five officials carries. The important things are that he was strong enough to do it after his long run and in contrast to what we might expect of a frightened rookie, he did not fumble.
A small test, this. But important. And in the locker room afterward, Jack Pardee, the Redskin coach, said he was glad Tony Green made good on the "first chance he's had." And some players, undressing, shouted, "Tony Green . . . Tony Green's the man."
Green loved it. A silly little smile settled on his round, soft face and refused to leave. But at Florida, he said, he'd never have been able to carry the ball immediately after a 67-yard return. "I'd have been dying, sucking for air," he said, those moon-eyes dancing in wonder at how things change.
He didn't want to say waht he thought of his chances of surviving Tuesday's cut to 50 men. The regular-season roster will be 45.
"There are still guys ahead of me who were ahead of men when I got here," he said. "I just have to keep working hard. I'm a very religious person and I placed God first in all things. I say my prayers every day and every night. Whatever He says, that is my destiny. I'll take that and go with it."
"Green said if he didn't make it with the Redskins, he might return to school, where he is a speech and theology student. "But right now, I'm playing football. I want to be on this team and the tought of not being on it scares me."
Even after the big game?
"It still scares me," Green said. "They cut down to 50 men on Tuesday and it's important now for everybody to do something. You never know."
Tony Green left the Redskins' locker room late the other night. A month ago an injured rookie, he now was doing locker-room interviews ("Theismann says your eyes get big in the huddle, Tony." "I'm just concentrating on what mistakes I don't want to make.")
As Green left the room and turned down a corridor, a pretty woman spotted him and said, "EEAYYAEE."
She leaned against him and put her arms around his neck.
"It was his wife, Karen, who said, in case anyone missed it, "I'm so happy I can't stand it."
The Greens haven't been apartment-hunting yet. The Turk lurks. "I'm waiting until after the 45th cut," Green said, his arm around Karen, their heads together.
They've been married three years. "We've got an anniversary coming up Aug. 30," Green said.
He smiled. "If I don't have heart failure first."