Let's start a pro football team, one that will be unique in several ways. It will require very little of our own money to organize and operate and it will play just one game a year -- against the winner of the Super Bowl. It will never lose.
Investors will flock our way, for there is another incentive beyond an unbeatable team and a massive return on a modest cash outlay. George Allen will be the coach -- and who could resist the chance to watch one of the great connivers in sport from the inside?
Oh, yes, the players. First, Sam Cunningham won't be a starter, unless he can somehow become a better fullback than John Riggins. With Riggins in the backfield, we'll use Terry Metcalf. The quarterback will be Vince Ferragamo and his blockers will include Pro Bowl guards Dennis Harrah and Joe DeLamielleure. The front four will have Bruce Clark at one tackle and Jack Youngblood and Bubba Baker at the ends. Jack Reynolds, Tom Cousineau and Robert Brazile will be the linebackers and the cornerbacks will be Mike Haynes and Jeris White.
The Steelers might keep a game against this group interesting until midway through the fourth quarter. No one else will. And there was nothing whimsical about how these players were chosen. They are the NFL mavericks, the ones who in a Network-like burst of emotion have said: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more."
And they haven't.
They either have walked out on their teams or never joined them. The first player picked in the 1979 NFL draft, Cousineau, and the fourth player picked in the 1980 draft, Clark, have opted for Canada. So many veterans either failed to report to their training camp or left for critical periods that the Rams surely considered calling central casting to fill many of their defensive roles.
I'm beginning to admire Riggins more every day. He put a price on what it would take to get smacked by ravenous linebackers about 300 times a season and, when the Redskins became arrogant, quit. He had eaten all the slices of humble pie he cared for in years past and walked away from the NFL long before anyone told him to.
The snit that has resulted between Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard and Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFL Players Association, over whether Riggins' name was put in the proper retired box is petty, unworthy of either man.
The worst thing that could happen to Riggins would be for him to unretire during the season, to strap on the harness and force himself back into the lineup without the proper work. Any 10th-year fullback who fails to suffer through training camp is almost begging for a career-ending injury by playing at all during the season.
Reasons of morale caused the Redskins to put Riggins in a retired category that precludes his playing at all this season. His own good health would have sufficed, except that very few coaches and executives in the NFL consider that a priority. And very few fans, for that matter.
So the Redskins were entirely proper in declaring Riggins out for the season -- and Riggins probably knows it. But because Beathard and Coach Jack Pardee fired some of their best friends and allies, Riggins and Garvey are taking special delight in trying to build a legal mountain out of a molehill-sized issue.
Still, this fuss does raise two serious and fundamental questions: how much do the Redskins care about winning this season? Do they value making a profit more highly than making the Super Bowl?
It is much too early for answers, because the Pardee-Beathard tandem has a history of uncovering and developing excellence with only primitive tools, with seeing potential stars where other scouting eyes see stiffs and giving them the necessary skills to shoot into orbit. So maybe the combination of Wilbur Jackson and Rickey Claitt will be able to offset the loss of Riggins.
This is purely business, you understand. Of course, it was inconsiderate of Riggins to walk out on the team when he did, to make management waste two valuable draft choices on replacing him instead of using them to rebuild the defensive line. It also would be inconsiderate of the Redskins to cut Riggins because his strength had eroded.
And Riggins certainly can be scolded for reneging on a contract, one of the very best in the NFL. But while the Redskins are making a goal-line stand on Riggins' demands -- outrageous as they may be -- the competition is gaining a valuable edge through renegotiation. As Washington and Willie Nelson discovered Monday, Cowboys ain't easy to love and are harder to hold. In large part, that is because they met the renegotiation demands of Tony Dorsett.
Cowboy officials approached Dorsett after last season and offered a new deal before his contract expired. And when Dorsett and his agent of the moment balked at their offer near the start of training camp the Cowboys bent, probably by extending his contract and giving him a handsome signing bonus on the spot.
"We just moved some money around," Cowboy Vice President Gil Brandt told reporters. And Dorsett moved some Redskins around in the first game.Had both Dallas and Dorsett stayed stubborn, a Dorsett-on-the-sideline for a Riggins-on-the-sideline standoff would almost have made the teams even in the season opener.
Dallas had the edge, perhaps just enough to make the playoffs.
And although what Riggins demanded, a $500,000 guaranteed contract for next season, qualified him for player-of-the-year honors in chutzpah, the Redskins could have met it and still made it through the winter without Jack Kent Cooke having to mortgage Idaho to pay the phone bill.
Some simple math is useful about now. If we divide the $5 million each of the NFL teams gets only from television by the roster limit of 45, we determine that the Redskins could afford an average salary of more than $111,000 without taking in a dime at the gate. The Redskins' payroll seems about the NFL norm -- and the average salary last year was $68,500.
Beathard and Pardee are justifiably proud of reconstructing the Redskins sooner than nearly anyone thought possible, and with players scarcely another team in the league would invite to camp, let alone play. Perhaps their confidence got the better of them. Perhaps they thought even Riggins, whose legs were very close to being as valuable as Joe Theismann's arm last season, could be replaced without the team breaking stride.
They may be right. But lots of teams have made hard business decisions about what football players are created more equal than others and guaranteed that they were kept content.Many contracts have been renegotiated over the years, whether the teams choose to call it that or not. When Ram owner Georgia Rosenbloom Frontiere finished babbling to Howard Cosell the other night, it seemed as though the players who many thought had walked out on her in vain might have walked back into a money vein.
If you want to make the playoffs, a club always preaches to its players, you've got to pay the price. If the Redskins are beaten out because they are no better than average without Riggins, it will be in large part because Cooke failed to back his boasts with his wallet. Even in the NFL pride goeth before a fall.
Meanwhile, we will search for a brilliant lawyer to find a way to guide all the troublemakers our way, we will keep Allen on hold to train them, we will finance the team mostly through the astronomical television income the us-versus-the-Super-Bowl-winner will generate. We will not skimp on salaries.