Every National Football League coach stamps his brand on his team at training camp; every team establishes its character - and its characters. And the major difference between George Allen and Jack Pardee with the Redskins, in style and substance, is one word:
Not helmets. Hats. What the old Redskin guard - or much of it - wore at practice when not hitting someone. Strange hats, yet colorful and distinctive, possibly advertising a piece of heavy equipment or a beer. Anyone wearing one of those hats here and at Redskin Park knew he was in special favor, almost guaranteed a place on Allen's team.
Old football players are young men trying to stay little boys a short while longer. Although those hats were silly, childish even, they were symbolic. A rational man, after all, does not go around destroying his body year after year.
Allen's Redskins did. Or the ones who wore the hats did. Kilmer and Huass, McDole and all the Redskins Allen brought with him from Los Angeles. They could be arrogant and intimidating, but ever so appealing. Oddly shpaed, like their hats, but close to inspirational at times, especially in important games.
Ironically, the fellow who supplied most of those old hats is the only old-hat Redskin here. He is Diron Talbert - and he looks entirely out of place. One of the reasons is that he laughs, a rare emotion in perhaps the most uptight training camp beyond Parris Island.
"Sully," he yelled the other day to one of the personnel men, Tom Sullivan. "Remember the time me and Hanburger tied you to a goalpost?"
Sully remembered. He had been a practiceperiod referee then - and what got him tied to the post was flagging Talbert and Hanburger more than they felt necessary. Those were the ground rules with the old hats: You either were entirely with them - or got hogtied, or cursed, or thrown at with a football, not always in jest.
Pardee's Redskins have yet to come into clear focus, for the simple reason that no one - including the coach - knows who they are as yet. There is as much uncertainty as there is hope. If the criteria were proven veterans or dazzling raw talent, the Redskins could cut the team to 14 players.
But Pardee's stamp on this team this year is unmistakable. Everybody, regardless of size or shape - and there are a few players here not much larger than Talbert's hat - gets a chance to show his skills. Pardee's unspoken but obvious motto: If it moves, hits it.
In truth, the most time-tested "players" here, with the exception of Ken Houston and John Riggins, are the coach, Pardee, and the general manager, Bobby Beathard. One has a successful history of working with young players; the other has a successful history of finding them.They are operating with unfamiliar tools this season.
Pardee's survival-of-the-fittest method has produced more hitting in a week than Allen's teams did in a month. The reason is clear: Allen already knew who could hit; Pardee doesn't. With Allen, you followed practice with your eyes - and from afar. With Pardee, you can hear practice a block away.
"In years past," said a man who has seen scores of Redskins go by, "you could look out there" - he pointed to the practice field - "and see enough familiar faces to know you could count on X number of wins.
"This year you can't tell."
"This year the shadows are gone," said another veteran Redskin - and Redskin watcher.
He particularly meant that Kilmer no longer will be silently - and sometimes not so silently - lurking near Joe Theismann. Or the other old hats swaggering around the younger players. Now Talbert and his crazy-patterned hat stand alone among all those bare-headed, eager, anonymous defenders during the all-too-brief times helmets are not vital during practice.
Young players with minds realized their training-camp days were numbered under Allen. That is not the mood here, although one tongue-tied rookie became unnerved last year every time he saw Dick Myers, the Pardee aide charged with collecting playbooks.
Y-y-y-you w-w-want to s-s-see m-mine?" he would say each time Myers approached with a list of names in hand.
"No," Myers would say - and the rookie sighed in relief.
Finally, several weeks into camp, Myers again saw the rookie and, before he could utter another stuttering plea, said: "Yes, this time I want to see you."
Football camps never are humor havens, although Allen's Redskins always managed more banter than most teams, possibly because they spent an inordinate amount of time on the field but rarely smacked each other in earnest.
The smiles are even more infrequent here. They come at unexpected times, frequently when backup quarterback Kim McQuilken loses his voice. That is a more common training-camp problem than football outsiders realize, that a quarterback's voice needs almost as much conditioning as his legs.
McQuilken is 28, with a marketing degree from Lehigh and five years of watching other NFL quarterbacks throw passes he believes he should be throwing. Yet under center here, he often sounds like one of those Vienna Choir boys slipping into puberty.
There will be a stern "Hut...hut-hut" and then, all of a sudden, a falsetto "hut."
Players and coaches cover their faces.
"He just comes back to the huddle and shakes his head," said Theismann. "Sooner or later, it'll come around. Happens with me sometimes. What I try to do is not talk a lot between practice." He paused and laughed. "Yeah, I realize that's hard to believe."
What is impossible to believe in this camp is a center named Jimmy Jaye Wells, who when every other Redskin is limp with exhaustion remains strong. And when every other Redskin is near death near his locker or near the shower a half hour after practice, J. J. Wells is exercising vigorously on the field.
"It's really not that bad," Wells said, as all about him Redskins were wilting. "I think part of the reason I can do this is because I'm from near Lake Superior (the University of Wisconsin at Superior to be exact). And the heat is worse than this. And the cold is worse than it's ever gonna get in Washington.
"We've practiced in 95 degrees at school.That was in late August. In the winter the wind-chill factor can get close to 90 below."
Which is even frostier than a Kilmer stare. Or more biting than the grizzly whose number Wells now wears, Hauss. Wells is the most willing Redskin here and, like all the other unfamiliar players, hopeful that will help him survive.