Wide receiver and runing backs, the dainty people of pro football, share a corner of the Redskin locker room. A stand of lockers separates them from their ferocious brothers, the defensive linemen. And now we hear the wide receiver. Frank Grant, happily shouting, "We are ready."
"Ready for what?" comes a mock grumble from Coy Bacon, a defensive end. He is passing by. "You guys ready for what? The bench?"
Everyboy is laughing, because Bacon is laughing, and when a defensive end laughs, everybody laughs. And now we hear the defensive tackle, Diron Talbert, saying loudly, "Hey, Coy, we're going to send an invitation to the offense to ask them if they'll pretty please show up at the next game."
Everybody is laughing, because the offensive unit produced only seven points last week against Atlanta, and because Diron Talbert is laughing and Coy Bacon thinks it's a scream, and so the dainty wide receivers laugh as if Talbert and Bacon were a comedy team in shoulder pads.
This is truth disguised as jest, for on every football team the offensive and defensive units, while working toward the common goal of victory, yet are rivals teams within a team, and, as competitive men, they are determined to be the best part of the whole.
So when Grant says his offense is ready and Talbert counters by saying he will send the dainty fellows an invitation to the next game, it is all done in needing form, with everyone laughing like crazy. The Cincinnati Reds won the World Series and made famous their locker-room "ripping," a collection of insults that would have provoked World War III on a losing team.
With less than a week before the Redskins open the season for real at New England, the offense is not good enough to win half the time in NFL games. It is averaging only 14 points a game. Until Joe Theisman produces touchdowns under pressure, the Redskins must rely on Talbert, Bacon and their defensive friends for victory in important games.
So while everyone was laughing yesterday, Bacon admitted it was really nothing to laugh about.
Bacon is an old hand, 35, now in his 14th pro season. A decade ago, he played with the Los Angeles Rams alongside a defensive tackle named Diron Talbert and in front of a linebacker named Jack Pardee. Pardee, now the Redskins' coach, traded next year's No. 1 draft choice to Cincinnati this summer for Bacon and Lemar Parrish.
"We were joking in the locker room, sure," said Bacon. You can't be too serious all the time. It's a long, tough season and we're going to be together a long time.
"But in with the Joking, there was a little message between the lines."
The message, Bacon said, was that the offense didn't do its job in last Friday's 10-7 loss to Atlanta.
"Our confidence is not there," he said. "It shouldn't have been a close game, it should've been rout. We should've wiped them out and we didn't do it. That's an indication of no confidence. We had a lot of good field position and didn't score but one touchdown.
After four exhibition games, these Redskins seem an identical twin to the '77 version: not much offense, good defense. Theismann has earned the quarterback's job by demonstrating self-control never before in evidence. Only once or twice a game, instead of once or twice a series, does Theismann do something so exasperating a defensive end, say, would like to hammer his head.
But the offensive line has overwhelmed only poor Green Bay and no quarterback and no runners can produce three or four touchdowns while wondering if each snap of the ball will followed by the snap of their collarbones.
Happily for Redskin zealots, though, the defense may be better even than a year ago, when it alone kept playoff hopes alive until the week before Christmas. Both Mike Curtiss and Chris Hamburger, the angry linebackers, are healthy, and the additions of Parrish, a wonderful cornerback, and Bacon give the Redskins enviable depth.
In the exhibition season, Pardee has used Bacon at defensive end in passing situations. When the enemy figures to run, or when Pardee calls for his 3-4 defensive alignment (only three linemen, four linebackers), Bacon comes out of the game.
Bacon doesn't like that arrangement.
"It doesn't give me a chance to get into the game, to get loose," Bacon said.
At Cincinnati, Bacon fell into a running argument with the coaches that wound up with him saying he did not want to play in the 3-4 defense they were planning. Always one of football's best pass rushers - he had 26 sacks two years ago - he was not comfortable in a defense that consistently pitted him against two offensive linemen.
So, lo and behold, he is traded to the Redskins - and a 3-4 defense that the Redskins have used frequently.
"The coach is just trying to get us together now," Bacon said. "I hope he doesn't stay with this alternating me in and out. I don't think he'll do that. I always get better as a game goes on."
Pardee smiled when asked about Bacon's idea.
"Coy doesn't care that much for playing on running downs, anyway," the coach said. "This way we'll keep defensive linesmen in there who are fresh and will make the big play. And if a man is playing great, I assure you we won't take him out."
Pardee remembered the Rams' great line that had Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones on one side, Talbert and Bacon on the other. The Olsen-Jones tandem was famous, Pardee said, "But everyone was running at them to get away from Diron and Coy.
"So Coy would be telling Olsen and Jones, 'We're getting tired of pursuing all the time.'"
Frank Grant, then, is in good needing company.