Kenny Houston, on Day Two of Walkout Two, spoke warmly of a time made golden by nostalgia. He spoke of a time long, long ago. "At that time it was a great honor to play football," he said. That gives you an idea of how long ago it was.
It was clear back in 1967 and Kenny Houston, just out of a backwater college, took maybe $500 a month of a millionaire's money to work in the Houston Oilers' defensive backfield.
"Only a select few people could play pro football," Kenny Houston said yesterday. "Maybe it's more of a big business now than an honor. I know I had nothing to argue about back then."
The Oiler owner, Bud Adams, always in his big cowboy hat for games, came by Kenny Houston's locker in those good ol' days and would hand him a whole lot of money, more money than any kid fresh out of Prairie View A & M thought he'd ever see for making tackles.
"Bud would give me $200, $300," Houston said in the excited way of a little boy who finds money on the sidewalk and looks both ways before scooping it up. "I would have $300 to go out partying with."
Well, sure. Oilmen with football-team toys grew wealthier at the expense of little kids who would have played for no money at all. This was a plantation where the help would have paid the massah for the privilege of pickin' that cotton. Wow, Mr. Adams, $300!
Now, in his 14th season, his work having confirmed him as one of the best safetymen ever, Kenny Houston is paid $140,000 a season. The days of his naivete soon passed as they must for a classy guy, whether he be out of Prairie View or Harvard, and Kenny Houston now demands the going price for All-Pro defensive backs. And if Bud Adams shortchanged him, Jack Kent Cooke gave George Allen the approval to do right by Houston.
Kenny Houston's is an infinitely more appealing story than the banditry practiced by the current gang of mercenaries in burgundy and gold.
John Riggins has given up trying to crack Cooke's safe and has stopped making telephone calls to the newspapers, which could mean (a) he is crossing Ohio on his motorcycle headed for Redskin Park, or (b) he has retired to a monastery to atone for the lust in his pocketbook.
In the absence of Riggins' quasi-presence, we now have Lemar Parrish and Loe Lavender on the lam from camp. They are defensive backs, Parrish an All-Pro, Lavender a starter on the other corner. Kenny Houston's desk is in between. Parrish walked out of camp in a huff when he determined that the new man on the job, Jeris White, was being paid more than Leapin' Lemar (as he is identified on the license plate of his Mercedes).
Because Houston is a warm and thoughtful person, he called Parrish yesterday morning. Parrish is 32, Houston 35. They play side by side, they have lockers side by side. "Leapin' and I are pretty tight," Houston said. "I didn't call him to find out why he left. I was just concerned about him as a person and a teammate getting ready for Dallas."
Parrish told Houston his walkout was coincidental with White's arrival, that it was the culminating of a series of niggling circumstances bothering Parrish since he signed with the Redskins two years ago.
"Leapin' wouldn't do this without thinking," Houston said.
That's the problem.
These guys are thinking too much.
The time to think is before you sign a contract. Traded away from Cincinnati as a malcontent whose grousings could poison a locker room. Parrish signed a contract with the Redskins that raised his salary from the Bengal level of $60,000 to today's $141,000.
All Parrish wanted from the Redskins two years ago, he said repeatedly, was a contract in six figures. He was worth it, he said.
And he is worth it. It's a fair deal for both sides. One presumes that circumstance, of course, for one has never heard Leapin' accuse Edward Bennett Williams of torturing him to take the six-figure deal. aParrish's performance for two years has been outstanding, which means the Redskins are happy with the contract, too.
Still, Parrish is pouting.
And Lavender is pouting.
John Riggins, of course, made All-Pout a month ago.
"It's disruptive," is all the harsher Kenny Houston would come down on the fugitives for walking out on their contracts -- and on their teammates.
"In terms of commitment, I'm all for every guy getting what he can get," Houston said. "But once you make a fair deal -- and that is important, that is 'fair' to you under the circumstances at all times -- then you ought to live up to it."
Parrish figured his value at $100,000 two years ago. He has been a very good player who has carried his age very well. But at 32, going on 33, Lemar Parrish certainly is not the classic case of the naive kid who signs for a pittance and becomes a superstar the next season. Nothing, certainly not Jeris White's signing, is reason to think Parrish has been given a raw deal.
Too bad, really, that Kenny Houston is such a nice guy. It might have been instructive for all of today's merchants of commerce if Kenny Houston had screamed into Lemar Parrish's telephone. Something like this . . .
"Listen, Leapin', 'cause I'm only going to say this once: We got Dallas coming up in barely a week and we need your hind end in camp. You and Lavender and Riggins. Sometimes I laugh when people think we're a team. How can we be a team when the only thing important people think about is themselves. Get out here to work out right now, Leapin', and stuff that weepin' and wailin' about money. Talk contract at contract-talking time.Play football at football-playing time."