Owner Jack Kent Cooke may think his Washington Redskins have lost the will to win, but that notion was firmly rejected yesterday by a number of players, all of whom maintained that the club has not quit on itself or its fans.
"He's entitled to his opinion; its' his team and if I owned the team, I'd want the same freedom," wide receiver Ricky Thompson said. "But I don't see a complete lack of spirit around here. It seems good to me. We just need to win some games. Speaking for myself, I know I'm playing as hard as I can every week.
"But we know the pressure is on us, not just the coaches or anyone else. We are the ones who have to run and catch and block and tackle.
Added quarterback Joe Thiesmann: "You can stand up all you want and preach that stuff about enthusiasm and spirit and so forth, but if the guys don't want to do it, all the words in the world won't change the situation. We don't have to be told that things are going bad, we are aware of that.
"I absolutely don't believe we've given in. No way. Maybe the playoffs are out now, but there is too much pride on this team to quit."
Some players thought Cooke's remarks, made during a meeting Tuesday with Coach Jack Pardee and General Manager Bobby Beathard, only added to the problems the team is facing. And they said the fact the Redskins are playing the Eagles Sunday provided more incentive than anything the owner or anyone else could say.
"Just playing Philadelphia will create spirit," halfback Bobby Hammond said. "We owe things to a lot of teams, including the Eagles. We know they don't like to play here and we'd like to beat them.
"No one in this locker room likes to be embarrassed. We don't like to lose. But the spirit is there. These guys don't quit. We're just going throught a phase where nothing is falling into place."
Fullback Clarence Harmon, who is nursing a sore ankle, said everyone still is in a state of shock over what has happened this season. "We have a hell of a team and we can't figure out why we are losing.
"To me, the biggest incentive right now is that we know our future jobs are at stake. What could push you more than that?"
If Cooke made his remarks to spark new enthusiasm from the players, he probably is succeeding. Pardee referred to the controvesy swirling about the team as the penance you have to do for losing. "That's what we are going through now.
"The squad is conscious of it (Cooke's remarks). They don't like to lose, anymore than anyone else does. It's not fun to go out and face people after losses, either. But how do you deal with our situation? You acknowledge it, then you ask yourself as a player, are you playing good enough? If not, can you play better?
"Either you have pride in what you are doing or not. In this case, our pride and enthusiasm have been challenged. So you should go out and prove you have both. I think we have guys who will prove they have pride."
The most pressure is on Pardee and Beathard. Cooke has declined to say whether either will be back next year. He apparently is reserving judgment until he sees how the Redskins perform the last six games.
But he has become a more active owner. Sources say he has been, in talking to Pardee and Beathard, critical of the offense; Cooke admits he believes the offense "could show more enterprise and ingenuity." He says he discusses a variety of subjects with both men, which most likely means he has gotten into such topics as personnel, trades and draft strategy.
Pardee said yesterday that an owner has a big investment and has a right to do what he wants to do. "He (Cooke) is just trying to help; he is concerned and that is how we feel, too.
"Sure it's tough to have all this going on. The hardest part is that you have to spend time doing things you wouldn't have to do if you were winning.
"Everything that has been said doesn't really change the situation. We still have to play our best and figure out how to overcome the negative parts of losing and start winning."
But Pardee admitted he had no secret remedy for what ails the Redskins. "If I did, 27 other coaches would be after me for it," he said.
According to safety Ken Houston, one of five team captains, "There is a big difference between losing and a loser. We don't have losers on this team, least none that I am aware of. It's not like we haven't been trying, no matter what anyone thinks. And now everyone will try even harder. It's a challenge when you lose. You can't sulk about it, it's up to the players to make it happen."
Halfback Buddy Hardeman said he thinks Pardee knows how to win and is trying to instill that within the team. "He has not become accustomed to losing this year and we haven't, either.
"I don't care if we are 3-11 with two games left, we still are going to think we can win. We haven't gone out these last few weeks and said, 'Hey, we are going to lose this one.' We've got basically the same team as last year, and that was a pretty darn good team. So why can't we do good this year? When you are losing like this, it's pretty hard to be motivated. But we are. And we could use more."
Said Harmon: "Let's face it, this is a tough situation. The problems keep building. But Coach Pardee did the right thing earlier this week by trying to stop any dissension right now and I think he'll do right things this time. The majority of guys here are going to play hard Sunday. You can count on that."
Although Pardee had talked Monday about possible lineup changes, none were in evidence yesterday. Monte Coleman remained ahead of Pete Wysocki at linebacker, Paul Smith played ahead of Diron Talbert at defensive tackle and Fred Dean played for Terry Hermeling at offensive tackle . . . Pardee remains concerned about Harmon's ankle. "He might be used only on a limited basis," Pardee said. But Harmon said the injury "isn't any worse than it has been the last three or four weeks. I'll be able to play Sunday." tHalfback Wilbur Jackson practiced yesterday but his bruised shoulder still is quite sore . . . Pardee said he has not ruled out activating either receiver Zion McKinney or tackel Jerry Scanlan for the Eagle game. "I have until Friday to decide," he said. "I'd like to activate them, but I'd have to create roster space and that's the hard part". . . The Eagles hope halfback Wilbert Montgomery, who has missed the last three games with a groin pull, can return Sunday. He is his club's only significant injured performer.