Pete Wysocki has spent four years with the Washington Redskins earning glory as a reckless leader of their famed special teams, but whenever he was asked what position he played, the answer always was the same: linebacker.
"It's been a recognition problem, no question," Wysocki said after another intense training camp workout today. "I've always considered myself a linebacker, not just a special teamer.
"The special teams were nice. I loved them. I know that people got to know me that way and it helped my career, but I don't want to finish my career just as a special teamer."
Now Wysocki finally is receiving the chance he has wanted since joining the Redskins from the Canadian Football League in 1975.With Chris Hanburger selling cars in College Park, Md., Wysocki is beginning camp as the starting right linebacker.
In case he stumbles, Washington hopes it has insurance in Ken Geddes, a solid veteran who played with the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Dallas Hickman, that large crane of a man, also is nipping away in practice, hoping to get a piece of the action for himself.
Wysocki is aware he has to prove himself. He has to show he has sufficient quickness to cover his spot correctly and that he has enough discipline not to be burned by overaggressiveness, and he has to demonstrate that infrequent playing time at linebacker since leaving Canada has not dulled his talents.
"I know people will probably expect me to go out there and try to demolish someone on every play," he said. "I'll get my hits in, for sure, but I'm not out to go crazy on the field.
"While I've been sitting these years, I've been studying. Learning from guys like Hanburger and Jack Pardee has to rub off.
"I want to be like a dancer, dazzling them with my footwork. I want to get a proper mixture of finesse and being physicla, so they don't know what to expect. One time I will outthink them, the next pop them one."
The end result, he hopes, will be respect, the kind he earned on the special teams in those heady days of the George Allen era.
"If I can get them to think about me like they did when I was on special teams, it has to affect their play," he said. "It's important for them to know, when they come to my side, I'll be around to greet them."
After sitting so much and grinding out a job covering punts and kickoffs, can he suddenly turn into the solid linebacker he once was in Canada?
"Pete has sufficient quickness, he has ample strength and he certainly has the tools," said George Dickson, Redskin linebacker coach. "He's been here long enough, working with George Allen and now this staff, to know the position.
"But I'm believe in seeing how he can perform with people in the stands. Anyone can look good in practice, and that is no knock on Pete.
"Sure, the preseason games are big for him, just like they are for anyone on this team. We've got to see what he can do play after play in game conditions. That's the test."
To Wysocki, every day at this starting spot is a test. He understands there is pressure involved, the kind always associated with replacing a longtime starter. And he understands he must hone those special skills of his employment enough to hold this position.
"I've got cobwebs from sitting," he said. "No question that there are things I have to refine, plays that I once made that I haven't had to make for a long time.
"But this is exciting for me.
"I probably didn't prepare any differently for this camp than any other, but now I am here and I'm getting the feel of being a starter, it's great.
"You get more attention on the field. You are in the drills longer and they are more concerned with what you do and how you are doing it. That makes you realize what this means to your future."
No one ever questioned Wysocki's dedication or intensity. From the day he walked into camp bulging with muscles, he seemed destined to become a key member of the squad, even if he wasn't starter.
Those were different days, when Wysocki and Rusty Tilman and Bob Brunet and Bill Malinchak, with their work on the special teams, gained almost as much fame as higher paid regular performers. To Allen, they were the guts of his squad, reckless and determined to control every aspect of the crucial kicking game.
"In this town you could profit by being on the special teams," said Wysocki, who has done well in commercial ventures. "Other cities, it's different, but Washington really embraces these players. It makes what you are doing out there worthwhile.
"For awhile, just being here was enough. I think that is the way for almost anyone trying to become part of a team.
"But then professionalism takes over. You want more. You want to start. I've never lost my desire to start, but I had to realize that guys like Chris Hanburger and Brad Dusek were ahead of me.They aren't bad players.
"I guess if George had stayed around, this opportunity would never have happened. He had me pegged as one kind of player, period. But, hey, the last four years have paid the rent, so I'm not complaining."
As for questions about his quickness, Wysocki had a deadpan answer. "I ran a 4.85 [40-yard dash] and that is an advantage to being slow."
Coach Jack Pardee, himself a former linebacker, has seen enough of Wysocki to be impressed.
"He's been here the longest (of the competing linebackers) and he's playing like he wants to keep the job," Pardee said. "I don't think he is going to give it up without a struggle."
Perhaps the biggest test for Wysocki will be whether his sense of humor, perhaps the best-leveloped on the team, will remain intact, despite his new role.
"All I know," Wysocki said, "is that as soon as I put on the pads, I'm happy. Its fun being a football player.
Benny Malone, heir apparent to Mike Thomas' tailback spot, had a couple of outstanding runs in the afternoon workout, showing good quickness and cutting ability . . . Mike Curtis is still sidelined with a stomach problem that Pardee said "is probably a virus, although we aren't entirely sure. He probably will be out a few more days until he is really feeling good" . . . John Riggins is driving a high-powered motorcycle to and from practice . . . The Redskins will scrimmage the Colts here at 2 p.m. Saturday . . . The team is plagued by what Pardee called "a lot of sore legs," but only a few players have not been able to work out, notably back Don Testerman and guard Dan Nugent. Both have sore backs. CAPTION: Picture 1, Pete Wysocki, left, pushes away would-be blocker Stan Winfrey. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Pete Wysocki