The 1979 Redskin training camp is just a day old and already there is a significant difference from last season. The top two quarterbacks are talking to each other.
Joe Theismann, the incumbent, and Kim McQuilken, the softspoken challenger, did the town up royally Friday night. That's something Theismann and Bill Kilmer never accomplished during five years as teammates.
"Kim and I already have spoken more words in one day than Billy and I spoke in a year," Theisman said today. "But, hey, there is no bitterness on my part.What happened, happened. People had Billy and me feuding.That wasn't so.
"We never exchanged an angry word. We just never talked."
But Kilmer is gone, exiled to Florida, or maybe the Minnesota Vikings, and this is most certainly Joe Theismann's camp. Although he refuses to look at it as a crossroads year in his career, this season does represent perhaps the true test of whether he can finally establish himself a a top-notch pro quarterback.
In a confrontation involving differing philosophies, life styles, talents and eras, Theismann emerged victorious over the man they called "Whiskey." This is Theismann's show now, with no veteran looking over his shoulder waiting to step in after one careless mistake.
"It's different, no coubt about it," Theismann said. "I have a different feeling. No matter what the reason, I always had a feeling inside of me, deep down, that the chips were finally going to fall during the season - and that they would fall the wrong way.
"Now I have a good feeling inside. The chips aren't going to fall badly unless I mess up. There is no looking around anymore, seeing who is watching, wondering about my future."
Theismann says the Redskins are a football team searching for an identity. The same can be said of him. He provides glib interviews, he is a superior athlete and a popular personality. But can be become the splendid quarterback, a team leader the Redskins so desperately need in this post-Kilmer era?
"I don't feel on the spot," he said. "I felt more on the spot other seasons, because I knew it would take the spectacular to make an impression.
"Now I know I have to do the routine right to make an impression. That's a big difference. The big plays will fall in; I have to worry about being consistent. I had bad games last year and I had good games, but I'd say my biggest problem was consistency. I have to be steady.
"Before, the word "competition" was stretched to the breaking point. It went too far. But there was never hostility, and at least from my standpoint, there was a lot of respect for a great athlete."
There is a looseness about Theismann that eventually may become catching among his teammates. Whether it was a appropriate light remark or whether it was carrying an oversized umbrella during a long rain, he seemed to do the right thing at the right time today, at the opening workout.
Without the old guard around to glare at his every move, Theismann certainly sees himself as a team leader.
He has worked hard in the offseason to earn respect. Competition in the Superstars slimmed his body to a firm 200 pounds. He says he has concentrated so hard on learning the plays on installed by Joe Walton, the assistant coach in charge of offense, that, "I feel I can knock on his door and tell him now, "You are sitting here, thinking about Pass 14, aren't you?""
Although he would rather call his own plays, Theismann also has reconciled himself to receiving signals from the bench.
"Last year, I'd be in the huddle, thinking of a play I'd run and then something entirely different would come in," he said. "It would throw me off. I'm not going to let that happen this year.
"I'm also working harder on the plays that Joe likes to call and I think he is more aware of the ones I like to run. Remember, I tried to learn in six months what it took him 15 years to develop. That's not easy."
Theismann has served a long and stormy apprenticeship to arrive at this point. He will be 30 in September, a six-year veteran coming off his best season, statistically, since joining the Redskins.
Yet there is little doubt that if he does not produce as expected, McQuilken will be given every opportunity to win the job. The Redskins are not taking any chances leaving themselves short of talent at this key position.
"I see this as an opportunity for me to get some playing time," said McQuilken about training camp. "I don't consider the job sewed up. Not the way they have treated me. You can tell by the attention you get that they care about you.
"I have goals for myself, but I keep them to myself. It would be stupid for me to go around bragging about them. What's important to me is that this is a good situation and I feel comfortable here."
McQuilken did not feel comfortable with his former team, the Atlanta Falcons. After sitting and watching for four seasons, "getting a lousy feeling in my stomach because I knew I should have been playing," he asked to be traded or release prior to last season.
Now the uneasiness is gone, at least for awhile. He knew last season he was not goint to play ahead of either Kilmer or Theismann. And until he proves himself worthy, he does not expect to move ahead of Theismann this year.
"This is my sixth year," he said, "but considering the lack of playing time I've had, I'm healthy and I feel I am only really a second- or third-year man.
"It's really a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I haven't had the right timing before, but here, things may work out differently.
"If you are in this game, you should be in it to play.I didn't get in for a down last year (and threw just seven passes the previous season) and I'd like that to change."
It will, at least early in training camp. Theismann is not scheduled to play in any of the scrimmages and McQuilken also is expected to receive a heavy dose of minutes during the first exhibition contests. With a 16-game season, the club realizes it must have a competent backup to guard against injuries.
"The one thing everyone asks," said McQuilken, a former star at Lehigh, "is how do Joe and I get along? I guess that is a favorite quarterback topic around here. My answer is "just fine." We have lockers next to each other and we talk. He gave me a guided tour of Carlisle.
"If people are looking for controversy between us, I don't think they are going to find it."
Linebacker Randy Sidler, obtained from the Jets along with Rich Milot in an offseason trade, told the Redskins he did not want to play this year. He walked out of the Jet camp last season...Free agent lineman Mike Gibbons failed his physical because of a bad knee hurt playing volleyball...Four players were hurt either doing timed sprints or running 1 1/2 miles: receiver Frank Collins (hamstring pull), defensive end Tom Milanovich (twisted knee), fullback Harry McCall (pulled hamstring) and tight end Bill Helms (hamstring)...Coach Jack Pardee kept his players on the field more than three hours, winding up with passing drills. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Redskin quarterback Kim McQuilken, left, throws passes as incumbent starter Joe Theismann does knee bends with 315 pounds. Photos by Richard Darcey - The Washington Post