Malcolm (Mike) Thomas, the other 1,000-yard runner the Redskins released in a contract dispute, returns to RFK Stadium Sunday as part of the all-star cast of the San Diego Charger team that boasts such sparklers as Dan Fouts, John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow and Chuck Muncie. In fact, Thomas may start in place of Muncie, recently traded by the New Orleans Saints.
Thomas underwent knee surgery in May, but says his leg seems stronger than before the operation. He is averaging 4.1 yards a carry after 83 attempts. In addition to his 338 yards rushing, he has gained 189 yards on 22 pass receptions. He was not activated unitl the sixth game of the season.
Thomas gained 919 yards for the Redskins in 1975, 1,101 in 1976 and 806 in 1977. He played out his option with the team and was traded in 1979 for a No. 1 pick in the 1980 draft to the Chargers.
"I'm happy they let me go," he said yesterday. "I'm happy with my contract here, in contrast to the one with the Redskins. They let John Riggins go, too, didn't they?"
Riggins gained 1,014 yards in 1978 and 1,153 in 1979 for the Redskins. In the aftermath of a contract squabble, he was placed on the "left training camp-retired list."
Sunday will be Thomas' first game against the Redskins. "I'm looking forward to it. I figure a lot of the Redskins will be helping me up after tackling me. It will be a lot of fun. I still have a lot of friends on the Redskins team.
"I have no personal goals against the Redskins, but I do think I will get an automatic lift playing there."
He was not always well received here by the fans in his last season. He may even be greeted by a return of the boo-birds. "I don't know what to expect; I expect they will do it again.
"It will be a challenge for our offense. The Redskins are No. 1 in the league in pass defense. We have the No. 1 total offense and the No. 1 passing offense in the league. And we have been running more this year."
The Chargers rank eighth in rushing in the American Football Conference.
The Redskins rank 13th in the National Conference against the run.
"We can only beat ourselves," said the Redskins' fifth-round draft choice in 1975. "People don't seem to realize that we have a great defense (third overall and second against the pass in the AFC). D.C. falls will see what it takes to win."
Former Redskin Coach George Allen has written him a couple of letters. "He wished me luck."
Would he still be in Washington if Allen were still the coach and general manager of the Redskins?
"Probably. The atmosphere here in San Diego is better than it was in Washington. In the East the teams have been defense-oriented over the years. Here we depend on putting points on the scoreboard. Everybody is involved in the offense -- on evry run, every pass. It's kind of hard for anyone to key on one player.
"There is a relaxed atmosphere, Coach Don) Coryell is very disciplined about mistakes and conditioning, but he is an upfront guy, and honest; nobody interferes with your personal life. He is very easy to work for. He is emotional and gets you excited."
Thomas ran for 109 yards against Kansas City two weeks ago and a sportswriter asked Coryell if he had ever seen Thomas do that before.
Thomas' first 100-yard game, in 1976 for the Redskins -- 195 on 31 carries, to be exact -- virtually knocked Coryell's St. Louis Cardinals out of a shot at the playoffs.