Lemar Parrish remembers the first day that Isaac Curtis strolled into the Cincinnati Bengal training camp with an All-America reputation, bountiful talent and an almost exclusive reliance on his blinding speed.
"If he couldn't beat you with his speed, then he didn't beat you," said Parrish, the Redskins' star cornerback who then was a standout with the Bengals.
But that was seven years ago. The raw rookie end is no longer a one dimensional receiver. No one realizes that better than Parrish.
"He's a monster now, a monster," said Parrish, shaking is head yesterday after a Redskin practice. "The man is the best receiver I'll face all year.He's the best in the National Football League. I know it and he knows it."
Of course Parrish treats all enemy receivers with the greatest respect the week before any game. The last thing he wants to do, he admits, is to upset anyone.
"My job is tough enough without getting people angry," he said.
Still, Curtis is different. When the two face off Sunday at RFK Stadium, it will be a match between two of the NFL's elite players, and between two close friends.
A few days ago, Parrish and Curtis talked on the phone about their matchup. It will be the first time they have ben paired outside of a practice field and both realized the potential problems.
"We talked about it and we realized we are both professionals and we have to do the job," said Parrish. "We both have pride and we have ability. He knows he's good and I know I'm good. $"It will be a test to see who is better, that's all. We'll go at it."
The game will be unique for Parrish. It is the first time he has gone against his old team, which traded him last year to Washington after he had campaigned for years to leave.
"I have no bitterness about anything," he said. "That's all in the past. Things about my contract and such are over.
"I'm happy here and I'm just glad to be going for the playoffs. I'll be glad to see a lot of my friends but I don't want them to do well against us."
Parrish said he wasn't surprised that the talent-laden Bengals are 3-11 on the year. "They've got all those No. 1 draft choices," he said, "a lot of great players. But they don't have the leadership and the organization has a lot to do with it."
Whether Parrish's familiarity with Curtis, quarterback Ken Anderson and the Bengal's offensive scheme will be beneficial to him remains to be seen. He thinks it will, although he's sure Anderson won't hesitate to pick on him anyway.
"Isaac lines up on the strong side most of the time and I should be covering him most of the game," Parrish said. "Kenny might think twice about throwing on me, but how can you ignore a guy like Issac for very long?"
You can't, especially the way Curtis has been playing lately. After a horrendous start -- he caught only six passes in the first seven games -- he has pulled down 21, eight for touchdowns, in the past seven games. He is averaging almost 20 yards a reception.
'Bill Walsh created him," Parish explained. "When Walsh was an assistant with Cincinnati, he would work with Isaac after practice.
"He'd have the cornerbacks stay out and we'd bump him and bump him until he learned how to handle himself.
"I know everything he does, but that doesn't make it easy to stop him, not with his speed. He can turn a short gain into a touchdown with one stop. He's got great hands, too.
"From all that bumping, he learned how to fend off. He's real good at knocking your hands away when you try to bump him and that throws you off."
Curtis is the latest in a line of fine receivers that Parrish has had to handle this season. Considering the competition, and his career-high nine interceptions, this is easily his best season in an already outstanding career. i
"There hasn't been much rest for week to week, that's for sure," he said. "But I never relax even against a bad receiver, so I might as well take on the best, too."
The Bengals traded Parrish and Coy Bacon to the Redskins' for a No. 1 round draft choice. They used the pick to get Charles Alelxander, a second-string running back this season.
"It was a good deal for Coy and me," Parrish said. "It's nicie to be on a winner. I just don't want Cincinnati beating us and taking money away from us."