Ken Houston, considered probably the best strong safety to ever play in the National Football League, told The Washington Post yesterday that he will retire after this, his 14th pro season.
"I've been planning for this day for a long time," said Houston, who lost his starting job to Tony Peters three weeks ago. "I'm not sad about it, I'm not bitter about it. I've got no complaints.
"I'm sure now that I won't be starting again and I don't want to be one of those older guys who hangs on too long and winds up getting cut in training camp. I feel I have another year (of playing) left in me, but I know it wouldn't be with this team and I'm sure no other team would want me at my age (36 on Nov. 12). It's just time to get out and go onto other things." m
There were two other significant developments on the Redskins yesterday. Guard Jeff Williams was released from Sibley Hospital after five days of treatment for a badly bruised thigh, but said he was not optimistic about being able to play any time soon. Also, linebacker Pete Wysocki resumed his regular duties with the starting defensive unit after being replaced last week by Monte Coleman.
Houston, the most respected player on the team, has played in 12 Pro Bowls since being drafted on the ninth round out of Prairie View A&M by the Houston Oilers in 1967.
Houston joined the Redskins in 1973 in a six-player deal. For Houston, Washington gave up Jim Snowden, Mack Alston, Jeff Severson, Clifton McNeil and Mike Fanucci in what became perhaps the most lopsided trade in club history.
Until he broke a forearm near the end of last season, Houston had played in 183 consecutive pro games. He still holds three NFL records, for most touchdowns on interceptions in a career, nine; most touchdowns on interceptions in a game, two, and most touchdowns on interceptions in a season, four. In all, he has scored 12 touchdowns and recovered 19 fumbles.
His injury last season influenced Houston's decision to return this season. He had considered retirement then, but did not want to end his career in that fashion. He came to training camp in July in excellent condition and repelled a challenge for his starting spot by Peters.
But four weeks into the regular season, Peters was promoted. At that time, Houston, who had been worn down physically, was leading the team in tackles made and missed and had been beaten on three touchdown passes. He said he felt he was playing acceptable football.
"I wasn't playing as good as I am capable, but I wasn't playing that badly, either," Houston said yesterday. "I knew I could still be a decent ballplayer.
"When they first told me about the change, I didn't know what to think. Was it for a game or temporarily or was it permanent? So it was difficult. I never knew exactly what they were thinking."
But Houston said he realized things were permanent when he didn't get in for one defensive play the last three games. "I went from starter to nothing," he said, "not even nickel. It was obvious I wasn't in their plans, that I was on my way out.
"It was a bewildering experience. You don't know what to think or what to do. It's weird. You are in a daze for a long time. I was so disoriented." d
Houston said the decision to retire came after a gradual process over the last three weeks. "You have to have time to think things out and I've had time. My wife and I talk about it all the time.
"Now I won't change my mind, even if something happens where I do wind up playing again. I've thought it out and I will not go through another training camp again. I don't want to go through what some of the other older guys have gone through and get cut in camp. That's not for me. I've stopped worrying about my future. I'm relieved."
As one of the team captains, Houston is a leader on the Redskins and probably their most inspirational force. He is a quiet, dignified man with deep religious convictions. And he has one of those cheerful, friendly attitudes that has made him a particular favorite of the fans. He is in constant demand for personal and charity appearances and has a daily radio show on WMAL.
Houston, who has a master's degree in guidance and counseling, said he has at least two options after he retires. "I can teach or I can accept a very nice job that has been offered to me by John Koons (the car dealer). I'm sure not going to sit and mope.
"I'm not mad at anyone. My only regret is that I have to talk about retirement at all at this point, but it's time. My wife says to me, 'Now, how do you really feel?' and I tell her the same thing. There isn't any sadness or gripes or bitterness. It helps that a talented player like Tony took my place. At least I wasn't pushed aside for someone who can't play."
Houston says he is working hard to get ready for every game. "It's tough, because it's hard to keep yourself into things mentally. I've picked up a lot of respect for the guys who don't play all the time. It's a really tough thing to do. If I have to play, I know I can do the job, I know I can perform."
Houston laughed. "Look at it this way," he said. "If I don't play, I can't get injured, so my body is benefiting from it. I can't be upset about that."
Williams still cannot bend his right leg fully because of the swelling in his thigh. Until he has complete flexibility, he will not be able to play.
"They are treating this bruise quicker than the last one (sustained during training camp)," Williams said. "This one is maybe half as bad as the last one, but the scary thing about that is the last one kept me out six weeks. I hope this one doesn't keep me out three weeks."
Williams, considered the team's best offensive lineman, will be replaced by Fred Dean Sunday against Minnesota, with Dan Nugent as Dean's backup.