The players are not quite so anonymous any more, although they still make Rodney Dangerfield appear as a man to whom the world at least nods in respect.
No one is quite sure how to construct what they make up, an offensive line, or even how to judge the breed. But everyone agrees they are much more valuable than game plans and give lie each football day to the country and western lyric: "Nobody wants to play rhythm guitar behind Jesus."
They are satisfied, if not joyful, to play Walter Mondale in shoulder pads, to allow credit for their work to go elsewhere. There are precious few excellent offensive lines anywhere in the NFL this season, although a reasonable good one seems to be coming together in Washington.
To be sure, the opposition in two games has frequently resembled something Chrysler management might concoct. But tackels Terry Hermeling and George Starke, guards Ron Saul and Jeff Williams, center Bob Kuziel and, on certain running plays, tight ends Jean Fugett and Don Warren must be doing a whole lot right, for the Redskins are averaging five yards per play.
The only problem is the opponents are averaging a sinful 5.4.
Scads of thoughtful Redskin watchers are encouraged to see one Redskin line efficient at this point, though, because the team ended last season living the worst of all football nightmares: unable either to block or tackle consistently well.
Quarterback Joe Theismann is alive and completing 60 percent of his passes and halfback Ben- ny Malone has time to work up a gallop before blasting to daylight. And if it were legal to smear John Riggins with Elmer's glue the Redskins would be unbeaten. Although not as dramatic.
"If we can stay healthy, we'll be in pretty good shape," said the offensive line coach, Ray Callahan. "We've made some big strides, especially (right guard) Williams. And we hope to get better. But we're comin' off the football, trying to explode."
Like his peers, Callahan has no exact blueprint for developing an offensive line. He left a potentially fine one, which he had built for the Chicago Bears through unheralded players and two No. 1 drafttees, to join Coach Jack Pardee with the Redskins.
Teams such as the Atlanta Falcons have used high draft choices for offensive linemen and have done well; others such as the Miami Dolphins have signed free agents named Jim Langer, Larry Little and Bob Kuechenberg and done even better.
O. J. Simpson seemed mortal his first few years with the Buffalo Bills because he left a better offensive line at Southern Cal. If Ottis Anderson had arrived in the NFL before the St. Louis Cardinal line began to crack, his production might be measured in acres instead of yards.
Throughout time, offensive linemen not only have suffered without recognition, or at least positive recognition, but a false, wild and mindless image. They are seen as the Joe Bob Priddy character in "North Dallas Forty", when in fact a defensive lineman, say Diron Talbert, is more likely to be spinning a lady over his head during a party.
For reasons few have cared to explore, offensive linemen tend to be among the most intelligent and reflective players on any team. Vince Lombardi was an offensive lineman, as was George Halas, Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant, to scan the upper crust of coaching minds.
Offensive linemen tend to be football's overachievers. They are more likely to wonder about pensions and such. Three of the most recent presidents of the NFL Players Association have been centers.
"Vince Lombardi says he can usually look at a big lineman and tell whether he will play offense or defense," Paul Zimmerman wrote in "A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football," "If his hair is combed and he says 'Yessir' and 'Nosir' and 'I'd really like to become an outstanding professional football player,' he's an offensive man.
"But if he comes in an old leather jacket and a two-day growth of beard, spits on the floor and asks you, 'How much you paying me?' then he's defense all the way."
Experience, and especially experience together, is vital for a blocker and an offensive line. Hermeling was a starter on the Redskin Super Bowl team in '72. Saul has been in the NFL 10 years and Starke, a fine arts major at Columbia, seven years. Kuziel had three operations in one year (back and the same knee twice) before finding himself in the WFL and signing with the Redskins in '75.
Williams is the baby of the line -- and among the largest and hardest hitting guards this side of the Philadelphia police force. From this day forth, he will share the nickname Big Cat with the wild-swinging pro golfer.
"Wonderful potential," Callahan says of Williams, a collegiate and early pro tackle who decided blocking was prefferable to working for a living when he unretired from the Redskins last season. He became a guard last training camp and judges his progress as "reasonably good."
If blocking is rather uncomplicated, a matter of strength and leverage, offensive line play is complex. In addition to the quarterback barking signals, the center often calls blocking assignments just before the snap.
Generally, this is done between the center and the two guards and often to counter a blitzing middle linebacker (known in certain circles as a "big Mac attack"). In the heat of battle, after some Bubba Baker type has rearranged a helmet or dented several fingers, concentration at times is difficult.
"You constantly have to be able to adjust," said Kuziel, "to be able to see different looks and then make the right call in a split second. But you're so well prepared you pretty much know all the possibilities."
Like umpires, the best blockers often are the least noticed. Williams gauges his improvement over last season by the number of reporters who do not stop by his locker and ask: "Ah, about those sacks on Joe . . . ." As the greenest of tackles, Williams had made some ordinary defensive ends appear superhuman.
This year the tendency, as usual, is to scurry to the runners and Theismann and forget who made much of their fine work possible. But Kuziel cannot name all the centers in the NFL, either. And, he adds, "Sometimes you have to run the play over three or four times on film to know how each player is doing."
So far, it has been worth the wait.