There are no secrets in a boat. After a day of close quarters on a rolling sea strangers become buddies and they tell all.

Ricky Harris, who used to make a living running back kicks for the Redskins, is no exception. He is back in town as an assistant coach at Howard University and he took a day off last week for some Bay fishing.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to football.

"Ricky," someone said in a fit of premature intimacy, "is it true that all kick returners are nuts?"

Harris, who remains in excellent shape at 36, had the restraint to refraim from throwing the questioner overboard.

Eventually, he even answered, in a roundabout fashion.

The talk had turned to the legendary Vince Lombardi, under whom Harris played, he admitted, in a state of constant fear.

"I was scared of the man," Harris said.

Apparently not scared enough.

He remembered a game in 1969.

The Redskins were trailing the Giants by a point with a little more than a minute to go. Lombardi told Harris to fair-catch a Giant kick and give Sonny Jurgensen the full minute to work his late-game magic.

Harris was the last man in the huddle. It was his job to let the others know the plan.

He ran in.

"Return left," he told his mates.

"I always like to run toward our bench," he said, "so if some guy takes a shot at me I can punch him out and kno that I've got help."

And he was off. The kick came down and nestled in his arms and he sprinted for the sideline. The blocks were there. He broke through the first wave and found himself scampering down the sideline at midfield.

Suddenly he found an extra blocker, outside the out-of-bounds line, dressed in a suit and running in tandem with him.


Tombstone teeth clenched, the gray-haired coach was keeping pace and screaming at his runner.

"Harris, you better go all the way, because if you don't you're playing the rest of the year - FOR FREE!"

Are kick returners nuts?

Not completely. Harris thought about Lombardi's message and ran as hard as he could. Then he ran a little harder and crossed the goal line, passed the goal posts and gleefully threw the ball to his wife in the stands.

Anyway, that's the way he tells it.