Edward Bennett Williams, chief operating officer of the Redskins for the time being, made a rare visit to practice yesterday and said the team's success this season was "a big, big surprise to me."
The team's president usually cannot find time from his high-powered law practice to travel the Virginia countryside to Redskin Park. So Thanksgiving was the perfect day for him to come out and see for himself why his players are not a bunch of turkeys.
Everyone expected them to be this season. That the Redskins are 8-4 going into Sunday's game against the New Ork Giants has stunned Williams as much as it has the rest of Washington and the National Football League.
"I thought he was on the way," Williams said, referring to Coach Jack Pardee. "But you don't believe you'll win this much when you're rebuilding. I think Jack and Bobby (Beathard, the general manager) have done a superb job getting this thing done."
This was a fun day for Williams.
He joked with team physician Stanford Lavine -- "That play won't work," he quipped to the former Maryland quarterback as the team ran a goal-line offense.
He tossed a football around with his son Tony, one of three Williams boys at practice. (Ed Williams throws more like a Theismann than a Kilmer.)
He said he would go hme and watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Houston Oilers -- "I'm looking for Houston to win that. Three (losses) in 11 days. That would be nice."
But the one thing Williams wouldn't discuss was his situation as the team's chief operating officer. Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, wants Williams to relinquish his control of the Redskins because he now owns the Baltimore Orioles.
Rozelle said Sunday that he and Williams were in the process of reaching a resolution in their dispute over the cross-ownership policy of the NFL in which Williams would step down from the position he has held since 1965. Jack Kent Cooke, the team's majority owner, would replace Williams.
Sources say that Williams was upset by Rozelle's statements because he thought they had an agreement not to discuss the situation publicly.
According to the sources, only the final details have to be worked out and the commissioner would let Williams make the announcement at his pleasure.
Rozelle's acknowledgement that the resolution to the cross-ownership problem involved Williams' relinquishing control of the Redskins came at a press conference Sunday in Philadelphia.
Asked to comment yesterday about his status, Williams replied. "You have to ask Pete about that. He's been the one talking."
Williams later got in a dig at the commissioner when he was asked whether he had made reservations for the Super Bowl in Pasadena. The last time the Redskins got to the Super Bowl was 1972 and the Redskins were headquartered in Anaheim for the game in Los Angeles.
"If we make it," Williams siad, "Rozelle would try to put us in Baja Mexico."
But, before the Chicago Bears lost yesterday, Williams was not even conceding the Redskins were sure shots to make the playoffs. In fact, he sounded more like a coach than a fan.
He said that the Giants were always a tough team for the Redskins to play and that one couldn't chalk up automatic wins against Green Bay and Cincinnati, the next two opponents before the regular-season finale at Dallas Dec. 16.
"They have to play the way they did Sunday (in a 34-20 win over Dallas) to make the playoffs." Williams said. "I feel they have to win 11 games to make sure to get in now, maybe 10."
Pardee said yesterday he has sensed no letdown in practice this week.
For Bob Hammond, the Redskins' newest player, there is even more reason than playoffs and division rivalry for motivation. Hammond, a running back-kick returner who played high school football at Bayside, Queens, is returning to play the team that recently put him on waivers.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Hammond gained 1,466 yards rushing, receiving and returning kicks in 1977 and 1,174 yards in 1978.Each season he gained more than 550 yards rushing. With a new Giant regime installed this season, he injured a shoulder in training camp and was not activated until the seventh week of the season.
Hammond was used only as a kick returner and said the only offensive plays he ran were the opponents' against the Giants defense. Hammond said he sensed that he was never on solid footing with Ray Perkins, the new coach.
"I felt maybe he wanted to change the atmosphere and everything," Hammond said yesterday, after another crash course at learning the Redskin offense. "Maybe he felt I wasn't going to be his starting halfback. rI wasn't concerned with starting. I just wanted to contribute. A little back my size, you don't want to be starting and taking that pounding every week. But I feel I can contribute."
He felt wronged on two counts: that he was the Giants' best running back and that he deserved a place this season off his performance the past two.
"There was no way they had a back in New York who was better than me," he said, "They still don't to this day. They can talk about their big backs all they want.They can talk about whoever they have up there. They still don't have a back who I felt was better than me in output, and it'll be quite a while before they get anybody, too, unless they get him through a draft choice.
"I felt that (for) someone who had contributed so much to the offense in the past two years, how could you just come in and say you don't have a spot for the guy? Even if the guy does get injured, you still make a spot for him. fYou don't ake a spot. You feel the guy has contributed enough to the organization to help them win and everything."
So Hammond was unhappy. "Happiness is a definite factor in a ballplayer playing his game," Hammond said. "If he's happy at what he's doing, he can make the best of everything. The Redskins are working me into their offense and I feel I'm a part of the team because of the coaches, especially Jack Pardee."
In his first game as a Redskin, Hammond's best play was not in returning a kick, but in blocking the key man on Ike Forte's 38-yard kickoff return.
"Well," said Hammond, simply, "I wanted to play."
Forte, released from the hospital Wednesday, after back treatment, did not practice again yesterday, but Pardee still says he expects him to be available Sunday. If not Hammond will replace him as backup to Benny Malone . . . There was a need to rerun four or five offensive plays yesterday, but Pardee attributed this to Hammond's learning and the installation of new plays for this game, not a lack of concentration . . . Thieves apparently climbed the Redskin Park fence Wednesday night and stole two sets of goal-post pads.