Edward Bennett Williams called them "murmurings." One is an issue; one is a man, Jack Kent Cooke, and both are seen as formidable complications in the already hectic life of Washington's two-sport spokesman.
The Redskins' welcome-home luncheon has been an annual forum for Williams to display his wit and wisdom. He was in typically fine form yesterday, although the faithful left a most entertaining -- and intriguing -- show even more uncertain than when they arrived.
They came as doubters, if not skeptics. As usual, they jammed the Sheraton Park ballroom. But there was no lengthy standing ovation when the players paraded to their seats. Or even what a reasonable person might call a warm greeting.
Their applause ended before their team stopped filing to its seats. In truth, they were welcoming mostly strangers -- and they were not willing to offer their hearts just yet to a team perhaps waiting for a adraft to provide real players for several important positions.
And that fellow Cooke, seated next to Williams, with the snap-on smile. Surely, he has come east to publicly assert what has been his for years: control of the Redskins.
Williams met this assumption with his third sentence.
"Ever since Jack came back (from Los Angeles after selling his western sports empire) there have been some murmurings among the media that I'll be a puppet president, a pawn, a mere figurehead, a jackstraw executive, a simple gudgeon, a short-lived ceremonial appendage.
"I want to say to you at this luncheon that I resent these characterizations. I don't deny them. But I resent them."
". . . I went to St. Patrick's and started to say a prayer: 'Is Jack going to vote against me for president (at the Redskin directors meeting next month)?' A light came over the altar and the Lord said: 'Not in your lifetime.'
"Then I said: 'Is NFL President Pete) Rozelle going to throw me out as president of the 'Skins (when he buys the Baltimore Orioles in November)?' And the voice said: 'Not in your lifetime.'
"Then I said: 'Is Jack going to bring George Allen back (as Redskins coach)?' And thunder came down and the Lord said: 'Not in MY lifetime.'"
Williams was at his barrister best. The crowd was his, although countless eyebrows shot up when Williams said he and Cooke had agreed to abide by the Golden Rule of sports.
"The guy with the gold," said Williams, "makes the rules."
Already, this sporting Midas, Cooke, had given the audience a clue to his intentions. His is no second-rate mind, either, or one to defer power or refuse to be alarmingly blunt when that is useful.
The Sheraton Park is undergoing the sort of refurbishing that leads guests into locked gates and through an unending maze of corridors cluttered with dust, beams and hard-hatted workers.
Still, civility demands silence at times, especially when a man makes his first public remarks. Said Cooke shortly after his introduction: "Walking through this hotel, if I was either Mr. Sheraton or Mr. Park I'd hire Bobby Beathard and Jack Pardee to rebuild it and they'd do a better job than is being done presently."
Hmmm. A man who can make two points that forcefully is what coaches call a force. Maybe the Redskins' off-the-field games will be more fierce than on-the-field games this season.
Or, if the Williams Golden Rule applies, perhaps the boardroom games already have ended.
Significantly, no Redskin or Redskin official made more than a quick reference to those on-the-field games, although Father Kane's invocation plea was for a 12-4 record.
Cooke did some dazzling broken-field running after the luncheon, he and Williams each privately anxious for the affair to end, although he was interuppted time and again by admirers.
And one husky and handsome athlete.
"Hi, Mr. Cooke," the young man said. "I'm Joe Theismann." $5"Oh, yes," said Cooke, greeting his quarterback enthusiastically. He made time to show he was not unfamiliar with Theissman's infrequent dilemma, assuming stardom before earning it.
"Remember what Browning said," Cooke told Theismann at one point. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"