Shoot, man, Lemar Parrish will tell you. Bring 'em all on. Swann and Stallworth. Hill and the swiftest Pearson, Drew. Carmichael, Jefferson and that college hotshot, the one with the afterburners, Lam Jones. Let 'em try me. Shoot.
The special cornerbacks have an attitude that often touches on arrogance. And why not? Theirs is the highest-risk position in football, a crisis every few downs. Coaches spend hours each week trying to create the moment that embarrasses a Parrish and turns the game in their favor.
Of placekickers, Toni Fritsch said: "They either carry you off the field or shoot you." Cornerbacks have it worse. The best ones often are the least noticed, though Parrish this season is the exception.
After 11 games, Jack Pardee has shown there is more than one way to Skin an offense, that the dominant defensive positions need not be the line and linebackers. They can be guys built like sideline markers who leap higher than the prime-interest rate and are filled with legal mean.
The defensive backfield is to the Redskins what the front fours were to the vintage Vikings, Rams and Steelers. Most teams protect their deep backs, especially the corners, with all manner of zones and a wicked rush. The Redskins have turned the defense inside out, or is it outside in?
"I can't imagine how good the corner would be who's better than Lemar," said Fred O'Connor, the Redskin running-backs coach, who spends large portions of his time watching film of defenders. "He's as good as anybody who ever played the game."
For that very reason, Parrish is mentioned by both sides in the long-running debate: are interceptions the most overrated statistic in sports? Parrish's 10-year career suggests yes and no.
His first three seasons, with the Cincinnati Bengals, Parrish intercepted 17 passes. His next six -- or until this season -- he intercepted only 12. Yet he made the Pro Bowl nearly every year.
Simply put, the offense had become bright enough either to throw away from Parrish or run the ball. Against the Redskins, throwing toward Joe Lavender is not a pleasant alternative. And Pardee and the other defensive minds have been concocting ways to force the opposition to throw right into their best hands.
Parrish has nine interceptions and Lavender five. They are ranked first and fourth, respectively, in the NFC, though Oiler Mike Reinfeldt of the AFC has 11. With the Cowboy comets, Pearson and Tony Hill, coming to town, Sunday will be another experience in football's answer to what race-car drivers call "the edge."
"They are great," Parrish said, "but, shoot, I got confidence."
Before allowing the fellow they call Leap -- out of respect for his extraordinay jumping skill -- to continue, readers are advised about a bit of quote tampering.Parrish uses "shoot," or variations of it, nearly every other word, so to keep this from running longer than "War and Peace" all such references will be deleted.
You were saying, Lemar?
"A cornerback has to be born. You can't make a cornerback. He's got to be born with quickness -- forward and back and laterally -- and mental attitude.
"It's something you can't teach. It's inherited, passed down from God. He gave me that ability."
That ability sometimes leaves mildly cynical football watchers slack-jawed. Twice Sunday, Cardinal quarterback Jim Hart tried relatively safe passes, a stop-and-come-back pattern to Pat Tilley and a short over-the-middle play to the same receiver, and Parrish grabbed them both.
"The one over the middle Lemar simply wanted more (than Tilley)," O'Connor said. "He was on offense. It was anybody's ball. From upstairs, I could see Hart walking off the field shaking his Head."
"I've got respect for everyone," Parrish said, "but the way I feel is that I love for the ball to be near me. I feel the quarterback puts it up there for me to get it. And when the rush is right that puts me in even better position."
Hill and Pearson are especially troublesome because they run some of the most dangerous patterns in the league, those deep, across-the-middle routes that can lead to spectacular touchdowns but also spectacular collisions.
And Parrish will be even more vulnerable for the second straight week, having to wear that corsetlike rib protection that extends from the bottom of his shoulder pads to the top of his hip pads.
"Just makes me work harder," he said.
If what God had in mind for him all along was cornerback, Parrish did not realize it until his rookie season with the Bengals. He had been a runner at Lincoln (Mo.), but Paul Brown judged him too small and slender to endure much more than returning kicks regularly.
"It's a lonely world out there," he said. "Nobody to help you most times. But I like it, the pressure and all. Makes me concentrate harder. And the older you get the wiser you get. The one thing you never forget as a rookie is to take the penalty instead of giving the touchdown.
"If you have to hold to stop a TD, you hold. If you let him go, it's seven points.If you hold, it's embarrassing. But it's still just first down. You still have a chance. At least there's hope."