The Washington Redskins arrived here yesterday knowing that few people give them a chance to begin the Jack Pardee coaching era with a victory over those awesome New England Patriots today at 1 p.m.
But to the man, the Redskins firmly believe they can defy those pessinistic oddsmakers who say they are at least nine-point underdogs in the NFL season-opener against a Patriot team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
A crowd of 55,000 is expected at Schaeffer Stadium, and th game will be televised locally by WDVM-TV-9. Because the CBS network will carry the installation of Pope John Paul I from Vatican City, part of the first half of the game may not be shown. WMAL-Radio-630 will broadcast the game live.
"Sure we're playing a good football team," said Joe Theismann, who will start at quarterback today against the NFL's fifth-best defense in 1977. "But I do believe we have the capability to do it. We're certainly not going up there to get embarrassed. I can tell you that."
"I'm ready. I think we all are," said running back Mike Thomas. "Maybe we can shock the nation, but I don't think we're going to shock ourselves. Maybe we can get a little respect up here."
"If we play the kind of football we're capable of playing," we'll be representative," said fullback and newly elected co-captain John Riggins. "If we play like an expansion team, which we certainly have the capability of doing, it will be humiliating.
"We've put in a new offense. We've had new people in there, and it's been a little unsettling. It won't be a total shock if we don't play spectacular football.
"But I know this: the one thing we can do is hit. If you can't do that, you shouldn't even put on the uniform. Now there's no excuses left. We can't say it's the exhibition season. And we won't. But I have no doubts that everyone on this team will be ready to play."
Pardee would also like to believe that all of the Redskins remember that humiliating 45-7 loss in New England almost a year ago during the preseason.
"One of the biggest things that has held up over the years is that when a team is routed by another team, the next time they play there's an upset," Pardee said yesterday. "I hope that will be the case this time.
"I'm excited about it, I'm ready to get started. We've had preparation, work, a lot of its and wherefores. You're nearly as set as you'd like to be but I'm ready to have something meaningful to happen.
"We're definitely not peaked out or as set as we should be, especially with (tight end) Jean Fugett out. But we have to learn how to win when we're not at full strength.
"If we have enthusiasm and hustle we can make up for some things that you don't have by not being 100 percent. Young players add that to a club with hitting and becoming physical. What we've given up in finance. I hope we gain in strength."
Pardee also has no doubt about what sort of game the Redskins must play against the Patriots to win. He stressed the importance of controlling New England's potent running game and not allowing quarterback Steve Grogan to dominate the clock. "We can't let them have 50 rushes on us," he said.
"Offensively, we have to be picky and choosy," he said. "We can't expect to dominate them, either. When they give us the opportunities, we'd better take advantage of them. And the kicking teams have to have at least one big play, or more."
Pardee was still hedging on officially naming his starting quarterback - "I have confidence in Joe or Billy Kilmer)," he said - but Theismann could hardly suppress his joy at time since he arrived in Washington in 1974.
"Are you kidding," he said when someone asked if he was just a little bit excited. "You don't know how much I'm looking forward to it. I know a lot of people don't give us credit as being a good offensive football team, so I guess this will give us the chance to prove we've better than a lot of people think. Am I healthy? Hell, yes."
During the past preseason, the Redskins did not get their offense untracked. They averaged 14 points a game, scored only six touchdowns and averaged only 3.6 yards a rush, a figure inflated by Theismann's nine-yard scrambling average.
The Redskins will have at least three new starters on offense - tight end Reggie Haynes, center Bob Kuziel and right guard Dan Nugent. And because Pardee still plans to call the plays from the sidelines, fresh faces should pop up in the huddle all day. Pardee will shuttle plays with the receivers, tight ends and, possibly, the running backs.
Defensively, the Redskins are expected to give New England a large dose of the Patriots' own 3-4 defense, particularly on first down and other running situations. The Redskins have two new starters on defense - and Coy Beacon and cornerback Lemar Parrish. Mike Curtis will replace Bacon in the 3-4 alignment.
The Patriots have averaged 310 yards a game offensively during the preseason, and Grogan has all manner of weapons to attack a defense, including 1,089 yard rusher Sam Cunningham and all-pro tight end Russ Francis. Both have been hurt during the preseason, but are expected to play.
"Francis is the best tight end in the NFL," said Redskins safety Ken Houston, who must cover him. And with the new rules changes (defenders only allowed one bump on a received inside a five-yard area at the line of scimmage), that will really put some heat on.
"Before at least you could give him one bump and throw him off his pattern when he got to you. Now I really have to depend on a linebacker to get him at the line. If they don't, I'm in trouble. It's almost impossible to stop a guy like that one on one. I'll need hlep.
"But I'm ready for him, and I think our football team is ready to play, too. All you hear about New England is massive, or awesome or unbeatable. But they're football players, just like we are.
"I think they're good, but I think we are, too. I believe we're going to win this football game, and I'm not afraid to go on record and say it. We're sure not up here to go through the motions. We just might surprise some people, but it won't surprise us."
Pardee Names Captains
The Redskins will have five permanent captains for the 1978 football season, appointed yesterday by Coach Jack Pardee.
Fullback John Riggins and offensive tackle George Starke were named captains of the offense; safety Ken Houston and defensive tackle Diron Talbert defensive captains, and center Ted Fritsch captain of the special teams.
"It's kind of nice," Riggins dead-panned yesterday. "But I think of myself more as kind of a first sergeant. I'm up there on the front, I don't go in the tents and make decisions. I guess I'll just stand there and shake hands. I'll leave the heads-and-tails stuff to somebody else."