The Redskins are on their own today against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Not even a shred of forbidden paper out of a misplaced Cardinal playbook. No sheet listing some of the Cardinals' favorite maneuvers on offense.
No, nothing of that kind.
The Cardinal coaches, no dummies, have been conducting daily search-and-destroy sweeps of the locker room to be vacated for the Redskins' use this weekend.
Maybe the Redskins did profit two weeks ago from a sheet listing certain New England Patriot plays to be used against them. This unexpected windfall was the clumsy gift of some Patriot miscreant who left it behand when his team vacated the locker room, later to be used by the Redskins. Patriot coaches know who he is, but in the wake of the Pats' 16-14 loss to the Redskins, he has not been publicly identified to Patriot fans for personal safety reasons.
The tell tale paper was chanced upon by the locker's next occupant, Redskin Pete Wysocki. In accordance with the pro football manual, Wysocki turned the heavenly evidence over to his superior, Chris Hanburger, who reported immediately to Coach Jack Pardee, with the greeting. "Look what we have here, sir."
The upshot was that the Redskins upset the Patriots. The Pats were solid nine-point favorites but their offense repeatedly was foiled, mysteriously or not. Going into the last quarter, they were suffering a 7-to-9 score against them. But, ultimately, they failed to hold a 14-9 lead.
A week later, came teh dawning of a sort for the Patriots. Paul Hornung, in Washington with the CBS crew to air the Redskins-Philadelphia Eagles game, flaunted his scoop on the air. It was that the Redskins had found a list of Patriot plays in a vacated locker in their dressing room. Added Hornung: "If you've got your opponent's game plan a day ahead of time, you're in business." A statement that nobody can deny.
"Stuff. Nonsense. Absurd," said Pardee. "What's a game plan?" he asked. He said the Redskins hadn't found anything useful. But the next day, Pardee admitted they'd found a sheet with some things on it, although it was valueless. Hanburger, who originally denied he had seen a Patriot playsheet, was later asked if he always told the truth. "No, I sometimes lie," he said to a Washington Star reporter. But other Redskin players admitted they had gotten a look at the Patriot playsheet.
Up in Boston, the Patriots immediately pounded on Hornung's exposure of the game-plan leak, to explain their defeat.
Steve Grogan, the harassed Patriot quarterback, instantly voiced suspicion that something was afoot.
Immediately after the game in Foxboro, Mass., Grogan had formed his own wonderment about the prescience of the Redskin defense that afternoon. "They did a hell of job stopping us." he told Washington Post reporter David Dupree. "They just seemed to know what we were going to do before we did it . . . I don't know how, but they did."
In any debate on the ethics of the matter, the Redskins could lean for support on several sources, one of whom is the estimable William Shakespeare who wrote, among other things, "Let not advantage slip." More specifically, NFL spokesman Don Weiss said of the aggrieved Pats, "Seems to me when you leave things around in your locker room, that's the responsibility of the home team."
There is, of course, the recognized right to cheat the cheater. Redskin tight end Jean Fugett said, "Who could be sure that the piece of paper the Patriots left behand wasn't a plant, a fake?"
Fakery is a fundamental of successful football and seriously taught. It is present in every play-action pass, in every pattern run by a receiver, in more than half the man-in-motion plays and in every flea-flicker pass that delights the fans who cheer loudest at such slummery.
As for outright cheating, it is a way of life, especially among offensive linemen, and more holding has been undetected than called in the NFL. When the late Cal Hubbard was playing tackle for the Green Bay Packers, he remembered that an official called a holding foul against him on the five-yard line. "I was offended," Hubbard said. "I told the official I didn't do anything against my opponent that I hadn't been doing all game. He said, 'Yah, but this is the first time he has complained."
In baseball, it's different. Game plan, schlame plan, who cares? The only fellow who had one is the pitcher, and it is unvariable with most of them. You are in there hitting against Nolan Ryan and his first pitch is his fast ball. That's it, that's the Nolan Ryan game plan, and as far as the California Angels are concerned, they can put it up in lights and strew it all around in the visiting club's locker room before the game.
But football is not baseball, so did or did not the Redskins have sufficient foreknowledge of the Pat's plays to make a difference? It is a question that could be debated down the ages. Sam Cunningham, the Pat's top runner, was stopped cold, but how come a sub back, Horace Ivory, averaged a whopping 5.6 yards on 16 carries?
Shame on the Redskins, though, if with the knowledge of their opponent's game plan they could beat the Patriots by only two points with the help of a lucky fumble in the last three minutes. Redskin fans can shudder at the thought of their team playing the Cardinals strictly on their own merits if their slim victory over the Pats is a measure of their skills under the best of circumstances.