Donnie Harris got his first fan letter a few weeks ago and the amil has been trickling in ever since. But that sort of flattery is small potatoes compared with the remarks Jack Pardee made the other day about the first year safety from Rutgers.
"Harris has become the superstar of our special teams," said Pardee, a man who rarely lavishes public praise on people. "He is just playing outstanding football."
The same can probably be said of most of Harris' young and reckless bomb-squad teammates, and when the Redskins face the Eagles tomorrow in Philadelphia, their contributions most likely will determine the outcome.
Consider the fact that four of the last five meetings between the teams - all of them Redskin victories - ultimately have been decided on special-team plays, usually in the fourth quarter.
Tony Green's 80-yard punt return helped provide the final margin of victory in Washington's 35-30 victory earlier this year.
Mark Moseley kicked a personal-record 54-yard field goal to win one game last year, connected on three field goals to take another and hit on a 29-yard kick in the final minutes to win the team's first meeting in 1976.
"We go into every game believing that we can help win it some way," said special-team coach John Hilton. "I think you'd have to say that blocked punt last week (in Detroit) got us out of a pretty deep hole and helped win that game."
And who blocked that punt? Donnie Harris superstar.
Connoisseurs of the kicking game will also tell you that Harris has an almost uncanny knack for getting to the ball carrier on punts and kickoffs, a major factor in the Redskins' gaudy record of allowing only 17.6 yards per kickoff return and 4.8 yards per punt return. The kickoff defense is the best in the NFL and the punt defense is No. 2.
"I think Donnie is as good a special-teamer as we've ever had around here," said Moseley. "He's fast, he covers a lot of territory, he plays off guys and doesn't let them knock him down. And he hustles. Even when he gets knocked down, he gets into the play."
Because of these qualities, Hilton has switched Harris from the outside position as a contain man on kickoffs back into the middle "just to get him more involved in the action. Even from the outside, he was making a lot of tackles, or causing them. I'd rather have him at the point of attack.
"It seems like the only way they can get him down is to clip him. He is always around the ball making something happen. He's got super intensity. He will not be denied."
And yet a year ago. Harris was denied the opportunity to play football almost as soon as he arrived at the Redskins' camp as an 11th-round draft choice.
He wa placed on the team's injured-reserve list even before the first preseaon game with a thigh bruise that healeda few weeks later. But Harris attended every practice and every meeting all season.
"I tried to learn as much as I could," he said. "It wasn't a wasted year for me. I really don't think I was ready to play last year. But all those guys - Kenny Houston, Joe Lavender - helped me and made me understand what to do. And when I came back this year, I was a lot more prepared.
"Last spring, we had a little mini-camp, and Coach Pardee talked to me, Reggie Haynes and Perry Brooks. He told us he thought we had ability and that we'd get a good shot to make the team. When you hear that from a coach if gives you even more incentive. And Pardee is a fair man. He's proved that to me."
Harris, meanwhile, keeps proving that Pardee's faith in him was justified.
"I just like getting to the football and hitting people," he said. "Now I'm getting two or three guys trying to block me sometimes. But that's all right because then someone else is going to be free.
"All I try to do is run as fast as I can and use my hands to keep them away. If they get to your legs, forget it, you'll be out of the play. I also try to make myself believe that just one man isn't going to defeat me. Two maybe, but never one guy alone.
"I also try and never take my eye off the football. I'm always looking at the ball carrier, and I try to keep watch for people coming from the blind side. No, not too many people have knocked me down this year. It's getting to be kind of fun."
Running back Mike Thomas missed another day of practice as a precautionary measure because of a slightly sprained ankle, but should be available against the Eagles . . . Newly acquired running back Benny Malone dressed for his first practice yesterday but mostly stood around and watched . . . Pardee said Malone probably won't play, from scimmage tomorrow but that he may be asked to play on a special team or two, depending on the progress of his sprained ankle . . . Green, converted to a wide receiver this week, probably will see some action at the position. Pardee added . . . Clarence Harmon will continue to be the Redskins' No. 1 reserve at both fullback and tailback tomorrow . . . The Eagles have not given up a touchdown by passing or running at home this season . . . The Eagles have announced the game is a sellout . . . Malone will wear No. 25 and newly acquired receiver Terry Anderson will wear No. 81.