For four seasons, Ted Marchibroda and Billy Kilmer were more than assistant coach and quarterback. "We became good friends," said the Baltimore Colts' head coach, "and the more I worked with him, the more I respected his talent."
So do not tell Marchibroda that Kilmer's 39-year-old legs are shot, that his throwing arm is so-so at best, that it takes him forever to set up in the pocket. "All you have to know about Billy," said Marchibroda, "is that he comes to play - and to win."
Marchibroda, Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard and two classy former players, Bobby Mitchell and Charley Taylor, were asked yesterday to assess Kilmer's talents.
The conclusions were unanimous. Physically, Kilmer has enough athletic ability to get the job done. Mentally, they say, nobody does it better.
"No. 1, Billy is a pure fighter, a total competitor," Marchibroda said. "What happens a lot of times is that people tend to overlook leadership. At the quarterback position, that's vital, and Billy inspires people.
"He uses his running game as well as anybody who plays. He utilizes everything he has in order to win. And people are always underestimating his arm, too. I was looking at the 49er films, and I saw one pass that went 50 yards in the air.
"Billy will adjust and do whatever it takes to win. I'm a little surprised they're calling his signals, but I'm sure he'll use a lot of audibles to get what he wants. The guy just always gives you 110 percent, and that's how I judge a man. Billy Kilmer has always performed."
Beathard says he has been a Kilmer fan ever since he watched him play at UCLA 20 years ago. "Some guys have confidence that turns out to be flatout cockiness," Beathard said. "Billy has confidence in himself that turns out to be charisma.
"He's a regular-guy's guy, a person everybody likes to be around. When we had our differences on his contract (last summer), I told him I didn't want it to hurt our friendship, because I really do respect the guy. He's very sincere, but he'll also tell you exactly what's on his mind and what he means."
Beathard was asked to evaluate Kilmer through a scout's eyes, and he admitted, "when you look at the physical things, his arm and things like that, you wouldn't give him the grade of a top quarterback.
"If Billy was in college right now, playing exactly the way he plays now, he'd be one of those guys who probably wouldn't start, but a guy who would come in and move the team whenever he was asked to play.
"Our scouting-evaluation sheets list ability as rare, exceptional, outstanding and good. As far as the arm, a Bert Jones or a Terry Bradshaw would be rare. Billy's would be good.
"He's not quick to set up. He has a pretty good release and very good anticipation and timing. He doesn't rate high avoiding the rush.
"As far as play-calling, he's right at the top. Poise, leadership, team player, attitude, coachable, toughness, ability to hit secondary receivers - Billy is at the top level in all those areas.
"His shortcomings are out-and-out arm strength, avoiding the rush and quickness to set up. But he has so many of the other things you look for, especially that physical and mental toughness. I'd say Kilmer's a prospect."
Bobby Mitchell agreed.
"I don't think it matters how well a guy can throw or hand it off, there are just certain people around who step into that huddle and command instant respect. Years in the game have a lot to do with it.
"I remember going to the Pro Bowl a few years ago and it was Y. A. Tittle who walked into the huddle. There was just a feeling you had about him. This was a guy who always got the job done, and you really wanted to play for a guy like that.
"Billy's physical skills are all in the eye of the beholder. Is skill throwing a beautiful pass or is skill getting the job done? To me, the skill is being able to complete the play. So as long as Billy Kilmer executes, he's beautiful. When he doesn't, he's bad. But that doesn't happen much."
For six seasons, Charley Taylor was on the receiving end of Kilmer passes. "Sometimes they weren't always where you wanted 'em," Taylor said. "Sometimes he hung you up out there for you to get killed, but Kilmer got it done, and what else can you say?.
"Billy's the kind of guy who knows his own limitations and doesn't try and hide them. And when you realize that as a player, it makes you work that much harder for the guy. Players know they have to work twice as hard to make it come off.
"Kilmer goes out there and gives you exactly what he's got. He doesn't hold anything back, and he doesn't expect you to, either. He's not a screamer in the huddle, but he has his own little traits.
"When I dropped one, he'd give you that look and gives you those hand motions like, "What's going on out there?" He gets a little upset, but it's almost like he's upset with himself, too, for not getting you the ball in a better position for you to catch it. He jumps on the linesmen. sometime, especially when they jump offside or hold. But he's supposed to do that.
"The man gives you everything he's got, and that's all you can ask."
Quarterback Joe Theismann and Pardee spoke for 20 minutes after practice in the middle of the field, and while neither would comment specifically on the conversation, Pardee said, "I think he's accepted it (the benching) well, and he's handling it just fine. Everybody wants to play or they wouldn't be here. He's interested in the team winning and he'll be ready to go when we need him." . . . Tackle Jim Harlan missed another day of practice with a sore knee and Pardee said, "He's not in as good shape as I was hoping he'd be. I think he'll be available to play. I was just hoping he'd be.able to respond a little better" . . . Harlan said he would try to practice today. In his absence, Fred Dean worked at right tackle with the first-team offense . . . Injured cornerback Lemar Parrish said he might be able to recover from his broken right arm in time to play the last two games of the regular season . . . Mike Thomas spent a good part of the workout teamed with John Riggins in the first-team backfield, and while Pardee would not name him as a starter, he said, "We definitely will play him."