During training camp last summer, Coy Bacon was told by the Washington Redskins he was going to be pushed hard for a roster spot by a young free agent, who turned out to be less than impresive.
One day, after the youngster had a particularly horrible workout, Bacon turned to a bunch of team scouts watching practice from the stands.
"Youuuuuu knowwwwwww," Bacon yelled, beginning with his favorite expression, "if this is going to be my competition, I'm going to be around a long, long, time."
Off his performance so far this season, Bacon is proving his point. Despite his age (listed as 36) and an erratic performance last season, when he became an unhappy pass rushing specialist, he has become an integral member of Washington's front four. That unit must hold up during the final eight games for the club to have a shot at the playoffs.
The Redskins, through shuffling seven-defensive linemen, are squeezing every bit of talent they can out of such veterans as Bacon, Diron Talbert (35), Joe Jones (31) and Paul Smith (34). Whether age will catch up to the unit before December and expose the weakest part of the defense will depend greatly on how well people like Bacon continue to play.
Bacon is coming off the best game in his almost two seasons with Washington, having had 2 1/2 sacks and recovering two fumbles against Philadelphia. One national publication named him defensive player of the week on the basis of those statistics, which contributed to the Redskins' finest defensive performance in 1979.
And all this by a player who seemed destined to be wearing another club's uniform this year. Bacon wa disenchanted with the team and the team was unhappy with him last season. But after failing to strengthen themselves at the end position prior to camp, the Redskins were forced to give the veteran another shot in Carlisle.
"We sat down real early in camp and had a talk," the defensive coordinator, Doc Urich, said yesterday. "We told Coy that he had to do things our way. We weren't going through another year like last season. If he wanted to play, he would play a team defense.
"He understood. Coy wants to play, he always has. He's much more disciplined this year, that's why we are going with him. He played the run better against Philly than in any game since he's been here. He's also reading his keys better, things like that. There are still breakdowns, but he's changed."
According to Bacon, he had something to prove.
"I can play, I know it and everyone knows it," he said. "I just needed a chance to show it. I want to win, that's what this game is all about."
Bacon began camp as a backup, destined to play only in pass rush situations.
But by the second game of the regular season, he was a starter, having beaten out Jones. Now he is in an accustomed position: No. 1 on the club in sacks with 5 1/2.
"He still can pass rush like a kid," Coach Jack Pardee said. "He's a wonder, one of those ageless players who doesn't slow down with years.
"Coy is better against the run than he's given credit. If he wants to play the run, he can. He always could in Los Angeles. Of course, sacks are more glamorous."
And more rewarding. Bacon gets a bounty, through his contract, for every sack. Reportedly a cool $500. No wonder he gets excited every time he dumps a quarterback.
But Bacon is emotional anyway. He can be loud and overbearing, his piercing voice punctuating the noise of locker room and practice field with biting comments. It took a while for his Redskins teammates to tolerate his motivation, which Pardee says is not malicious.
"Coy may be the best motivator on the club," said Pardee, a teammate in Los Angeles. "He doesn't mean any harm, that's just the way he is.He's loud and he talks a lot, but no one wants to win more than he does. He can get the team going just with one outburst in practice or a game. He hates to lose."
That always has been a problem. Bacon sometimes felt he could win better by improvising than by following orders. When he freelanced too much last season, he was benched.
Now Bacon likes what he sees happening with this team, which is having success using the Pardee concept of specialists and cooperation.
"They are learning how to win," Bacon said. "Before they didn't. We got a ways to go, a ways. But it's coming, you can see it. Look how we played against Philadelphia."
In his younger days, Bacon was a quarterback's nightmare. He had 26 sacks one season with Cincinnati, one of three clubs to have employed him before he joined Washington last season.
Bacon refused to talk to reporters during training camp this summer explaining: I'm here to play football, not be a troublemaker," a reference to his problems the previous year. He has softened that stance since the regular season began, but his statements now are in the "all for the team" category.
"Coy didn't particularly like being shuttled last season," Pardee said, "but he doesn't object to it this season. He knows what we expect him to do and how he should play various situations.
"Coy and the rest of them have to sacrifice their bodies, that's a lieman's role. You can't always make the tackle or the spectacular play. Coy realizes that now, too.
"He's had some highs and some lows. If things don't go well for him, the things he says can affect the team the wrong way. The team has helped him this year. They've helped keep him out of situations that could set him off and cause flare-ups."
This week, Bacon will be going against second-year tackle J. T. Taylor, who the New Orleans Saints believe has All-Pro talent. For the Redskins to control quarterback Archie Manning, Bacon and his mates must apply constant pressure and not allow him time to throw.
Washington also can expect the Saints to run at Bacon. Every other opponent has gone after the right side of the Redskins defense, most times with some success. That's why Pardee uses his shuffle system, trying to cover up acknowledged weaknesses.
"But we also need a consistent pass rush every week from Coy," Pardee said. "That's still his strength. When he gets after it, like he did against Philly, he's one tough person to handle."
Kicker Mark Moseley was in Texas yesterday for the funeral of his sister, who was killed by an intruder Thursday. Pardee said Moseley will rejoin the team Saturday night after the funeral . . . "I'm not worried about Mark," Pardee said. "This was really a tragic thing" . . . Guard Ron Saul worked out briefly yesterday and Pardee said he considered the veteran a "situation player" for Sunday's game . . . It seems unlikely that Joe Lavender will play at all against the Saints.