The mood of the Redskins was set yesterday by Coach Jack Pardee during the morning team meeting. He talked about Dallas frequently in his speech. But he never mentioned John Riggins.
"I really haven't heard anyone talking about John today," linebacker Pete Wysocki said. "It's a dead issue now. But I think a good decision was made (on Riggins).
"Things like this linger in the air. You devote energy to it even though you can't do anything about it. It's a corporate decision; it's out of our hands."
The players long ago had reconciled themselves to playing without Riggins. But at the same time, many held out hope, as guard Ron Saul put it, "he would come back some time before the season started.With John, you always expected him to change his mind. He's so umpredictable."
Now Riggins won't be back. He was placed on the league's retired list Sunday by the Redskins, so he can't play this season. His teammates weren't critical of that decision. Instead, most of them accepted the fact that Riggins, tired of football, made the choice on his own to retire.
"John wanted it this way," kicker Mark Moseley said. "He said he had lost his desire. He probably wouldn't have been the same if he had come back and his heart wasn't in it.
"John had the biggest heart you could want. That's what made him the player he was. Without it, John probably was smart to get out.
"No one is talking about John today. We know what happened, but now it's time to move on and think about Dallas."
Focusing on Dallas has been a problem for the Redskins. First there was the Jeris White holdout, then Riggins left camp and, finally, Lemar Parrish and Joe Lavender walked out. The players kept saying it was still business as usual, but Pardee could sense a strain he didn't like.
The coach had envisioned a tranquil camp, where he could mold this team into what he considered to be a strong playoff contender. While the squad has progressed nicely, injuries and the holdouts still have slowed his projected schedule.
"We expect our attention to be on the game ahead," he said. "But it's been hard for everyone. There have been so many distractions. We can't afford even one distraction for Dallas. They are too good for that."
Now, said halfback Buddy Hardeman, "there will be nothing but talk about Dallas. To tell you the truth, we've been preparing for them since the start of training camp. The real distractions for me have been the four preseason games. They interfered with thinking about the Cowboys."
Yesterday, Riggins' friends mourned his retirement over a few beers after practice. "He could have really helped us," Saul said. "We'll miss him. I'll tell you this, when he suited up, you knew he was going to give you everything he had.
"He was really popular with everyone. He was a likeable guy. I kept hoping I could talk him into coming back. 'john,' I'd say. 'we need you here.' But he had his mind made up."
This has been a tough camp for the older Redskins. Along with Riggins, they lost friends such as Mike Bragg, Kim McQuilken and Dan Nugent. This is a younger team than even last year's, but Wysocki says the inexperienced players "have made it easier for everyone to absorb what's happened.
"The younger guys played so well in camp, especially the running backs," he said. "I think other defenses will have a hard time against us, because they won't be able to key on just one runner."
Ten newcomers made this Redskin team, twice as many as Pardee had envisioned. Some are veterans, like fullback Wilbur Jackson, center Dan Peiffer and cornerback White. But it is the younger players, such as rookies Art Monk, Zion McKinney, and Rickey Claitt and return man Mike Nelms, guard Gary Anderson and punter Mike Connell who have enriched this club with a much-needed dose of extra energy.
Another youngster, snapper Jeff Bostic, symbolizes much that has happened with this team. Who would have thought in July that the Redskins would be playing the Cowboys Monday without John Riggins and with a rookie making his pro debut replacing the much-respected Ted Fritsch?
Bostic, the man in the middle of this whirlwind, probably doesn't realize the spot he's in. Fritsch was the heart of the club's Wild Bunch special teams until he slumped this training camp, one of the Redskins' most reliable performers.
"I don't feel any pressure." Bostic said yesterday. "You create your own pressure. I've been doing this for so long I know I can do it well. I've never had a bad snap in my life.
Bostic began snapping as a singlewing center in high school. He started 3 1/2 seasons at Clemson, and then tried to make it as a free agent with Philadelphia before being cut last week.
"He's good and strong," Pardee said. "We could have gone with some veterans who were available but we liked what we see in Jeff."
Even though he practiced for only a few minutes yesterday, Bostic already had been scouted by punter Connell and kicker Moseley. Both gave him an early stamp of approval.
"He's going to be all right," Connell said. "He looks like he is really strong." Said Moseley: "I like what I see from him so far. But it's going to seem strange adjusting to a new snapper."
So much of what the Redskins do this year could depend on players like Bostic, Jackson and backup quarterback Mike Kruczek, who weren't even on the roster two weeks into training camp. But, at least, Pardee said, things finally have settled down.
"You know there will be another crisis somewhere down the line," he said. "For now, I just hope we can focus on the Cowboys. They are good enough to take up all our worries."