Joe Theismann turned 29 yesterday and said he did not feel older, "just wiser."
When the Redskins take on the Philadelphia Eagles today at 1 p.m. in the home opener at RFK Stadium, 55.000 critics in the stands and those watching the game on WDVM-TV-9 can judge for themselves how much more cerebral Washington's starting quarterback has become.
Theismann and his semistruggling offense will go against a Philadelphia defense that allowed only four touchdowns in five preseason games and none against the Rams in a heart-breaking 16-14 loss a week ago.
Theismann was thinking out loud yesterday in the Redskin locker room, and he emphasized the importance of "moving the football and controlling the football. And if we get the opportunity for a big play, we can't afford to miss it.
"And every football game we've ever played against them has been real physical. It's becoming a very good rivalry."
And somewhat lopsided. The Redskins have won the last four meetings of the teams and 13 of the last 15, including 23-17 and 17-14 decisions a year ago with Theismann starting both games at quarterback.
The Redskins also have won their last four home openers and 11 of the past 12, one major reason for odds-makers installing them as a four-point choice.
Theismann threw a pair of touch down passes in each of those two victories a year ago against an Eagle defense that features most of the same cast of characters. He also was dumped 13 times in those two affairs.
Both games a year ago were decided by inspired special teams play, and Redskin Coach Jack Pardee predicted yesterday "a close game where any play can make the difference, whether it's offense, defense or the kicking game.
"We need to control the tempo and not get pressed into doing something we're not accustomed to doing. We certainly don't want to give them anything early and then play catch-up.
"Offensively, we got over 300 yards last week, and I knew if we keep moving like that we'll get some points on the board. The biggest thing that can help Joe is the receivers getting their patterns more precise and time out.
"We've had a lot of changes at the position, and that's something that doesn't happen in one week, two weeks or two months. It takes time. It's also important to have good patterns against the Eagles to prevent sacks. The faster you can get the pass off the better off you are."
Pardee also emphasized the importance of the home crowd. "We need a lot of help and support," he said. "The crowds here over the years have been the best in the league. I hope we can encourage them. I hope we're deserving of their support. The players still have to win, but it helps to have the people behind you."
It will also help to have Harold McLinton at middle linebacker against the Eagles, but Pardee said he was not sure of his player's status.
McLinton has a sprained calf muscle, and Pardee said he would prefer not to use him unless he is certain the injury will not get any worse.
If McLinton has a sprained calf muscle, and Pardee said he would prefer not to use him unless he is certain the injury will not get any worse.
If McLinton is not available, Mike Curtis will make his first start in the middle since he arrived last season, though he did play most of the second half at the position last week against New England.
Rookie Don Hover would join Curtis on the inside when the Redskins switch into their 34 (four linebacker) defense. "I won't hesitate at all in using Don in there," Pardee said. "He's had as much work in camp as anybody, maybe even more because he worked with the scout team on the 34, too. He's been playing well. He'll do fine."
For the second straight week, Reggie Haynes also will start ahead of Jean Fugett at tight end. Fugett seems almost fully recovered from a bruised knee he suffered against the Colts three weeks ago, but Pardee said he is not in condition to play a full game.
A year ago, Fugett was on the receiving end of two Theismann touch-down passes against the Eagles in the first quarter of that 23-17 victory, and almost had another just before half-time. He was stopped at the three-yard line as the gun sounded signaling intermission.
The Eagles seemingly have tightened their pass defense this season. They allowed only two touchdown tosses in the preseason, Los Angeles managed only 117 yards through the air a week ago, and they have not allowed a touchdown pass through the last 14 quarters of regular-season play.
Eagle cornerback John Outlaw still is being listed as questionable with a sprained foot. If he cannot play, the Eagles would be force to start rookie Charles Williams at the position, and the Redskin no doubt would take full advantage.
Redskin defenders are mostly concerned about the strong right arm of Eagle quarterback Ron Jaworski and his favorite target, mile-high Harold Carmichael, the 6-foot-8 wide receiver who has caught at least one pass in his last 81 games.
"Nah, his height doesn't bother me," said Redskin cornerback Lemar Parrish, who must cover a man 10 inches taller. "I've always played those big guys. The key is to stay with him, get a good pass rush and stay in the defense that's called."
The Eagles big play man is reserve receiver Wally Henry, who returned a punt 57 yards for a touchdown against the Rams and had a 72-yard touchdown return in the preseason.
"He's the kind of guy the coaches scream at because he doesn't go where he's supposed to go," Redskin linebacker Pete Wysocki said. "All he does is get yards. He's got world class speed and he has a real knack for breaking big plays.
"All their special terms are tough and every year it comes down to a special team play that wins the game. Last year we blocked a punt and Mark (Moseley) hit some field goals. We're all expecting it to be another dogfight. Against these guys, it always is."