It could not be creditied as a great decision of the Redskins braintrust. It happened almost by chance, the way the Redskins started substituting for almost every starter this season with the exception of the quarterback and offensive linemen.
"We started substituting a lot in preseason," Coach Jack Pardee recalled yesterday, as his 8-4 team prepared for Sunday's game with the New York Giants. "At that point, it was just a way to get a look at more players.
"And, as we did it, we found they were preforming better. It's a way to use all of them and use more of them. Exploring the idea, watching them in practice, as players had a chance to play and develop skills, we just kept looking."
And Pardee discovered some things that a coach with a closed mind and a set lineup would never be a in position to discover. This team in transition -- 8-8 to previous season and predicted to do worse in 1979 -- had some players whose strengths could be blended into the making of a contender.
And this system had some positive side effects, such as:
Keeping some players, such as fullback John Riggins, fresh and in better physical condition for the tail end of the 16-game season.
Promoting unity and enthusiasm because everyone is contributing.
Gaining experience for some young players in what at least one veteran player called a "slow phaseout" of the older players left from George Allen regime.
"You know," said Riggins, "the thing that's amazing about this whole deal is the fact that we're in it. We're playing 37 guys. The experience the other guys are getting is invaluable to the Redskins. It's a rare case -- and I can't remember seeing it anywhere else -- where management has been able to have their cake and eat it, too. They're winning and they're playing young people. And they're just slowly phasing out the older people. They're doing a heck of a job."
Players like Riggins, the team's highest-paid player (300,000), and strong safety Ken Houston, an All-Pro, are enthusiastic, especially because the Redskins are winners, and a guy like Dallas Hickman, a special-teams' star used in certain defensive situations, is overjoyed.
Hickman: "I've always felt I've contributed on special teams, but to be able to just get on the field, the feeling of being in the huddle and hearing the defense called -- to be able to partake in it -- is just fantastic. hIt's a new feeling for me because it doesn't happen too much.
"I love it on down-and-distance situations seeing three or four players running off the field and three or four more running on. To put it in a nutshell, everyone feels they're contributing."
A reporter sought out Riggins in the Redskins locker room after yesterday's practice and asked him if his pride were hurt by coming out on third down. Riggins, a put-on artist at times, appeared to be in deep thought, then said, "A lot. I'm dying."
A few seconds later, he was laughing and giving his views on the situation.
"I come out a game feeling a lot better. There's a lot of good about it. I've taken a lot less abuse this year. I can't think of any time in the past I've been physically less molested, if you will, on Sundays after the game. That's the good part, because that enhances your career.
"The bad part is if your statistics begin to suffer a little bit and then maybe you don't have a career to worry about no matter how healthy you are. Nobody wants you, anyway . . . It depends on what the Redskins are thinking."
Asked about Riggins' comments concerning negative management views, General Manager Bobby Beathard said: "I don't think of it that way."
Asked for further comment, he replied: "I just don't want to comment on anything contractual. We do our evaluation on that at the end of the season . . . We play the Giants this week. That's a negative distraction."
But everything seems positive now for Riggins, who staged a one-day walkout before the first game in an effort to get the final two years of his contract guaranteed in case of injury or involuntary retirement.
"Like I said," he continued, "it may be a sign of things to come, but the most important part of it is that we're 8-4 and that makes it worthwhile. If we were 4-8 and I was coming out on third down, I might not be so happy, along with a lot of other people I suppose, because everybody wants to win.
"You see, everybody's had to make sacrifices on this team. So I don't feel bad. I'm one of the guys that's been sacrificing. There have been more guys besides myself. Diron Talbert's a guy that's played for years. He's in the position of sharing time. Well, hell, there just about isn't a position on the team other than quarterback and the offensive line that they don't share time."
Time-sharing has brought about an unselfishness unseen in past years. It has even reached the point where players watching special-team films -- even Redskin stars like quarterback Joe Theismann -- congratulate the special-teamers for good plays.
"That never happened before," said Hickman. "They didn't even know what we did."
"The thing that has helped this team most of all is that we realize we are a team," said Houston."The reason we're where we are is that we're such an unselfish team. Everybody wants to play, but if I'm not playing, I'm not going to be selfish and run off in the woods and cry. I accept my role on the team, whatever it may be."
That role lately has been sharing time with Tony Peters, acquired in the preseason.