For a team with as dismal a season as the Redskins are having, a two-game winning streak should be cause for joy. So why was the town grumbling, and properly so, because Ken Houston did not play a second on the day that celebrated his rich career?
So why was the coach, Jack Pardee, publicly in ill humor a half-hour after the game yesterday? And why is the owner, Jack Kent Cooke, still dangling the coach's job like some Christmas stocking perilously close to the fireplace?
Pardee was testy and Cooke evasive for the same reason: the Redskins won, but it was not the uppercase W they wanted. These days a 16-13 victory over the Giants is not a giant victory -- and at the end Pardee was mumbling, Allen-like, about distractions and Cooke was saying:
"I'm satisfied with Jack, but I'm not particularly satisfied with the way the club has played. But I've had no chance to evaluate, appraise or assess what the hell it's all about here. Would you be satisfied with a 5-10 record? wThat certainly is not worthy of this town.
"Any team worthy of representing this city should be 10-6 or 11-5, at the worst."
The Redskins might be Cooke's hobby, but he follows it with a passion. No one can believe that after nearly a year here as a Virginia squire, and the Redskins' season 15/16ths complete, he does not know what the hell it's all about here.
And what it's all about, very likely, is winning in a hurry. Cooke may preach patience but, at age 68, seems to covet a Super Bowl run as soon as possible. If he was satisfied with the result yesterday, Cooke undoubtedly was distressed by the more than 10,000 no-shows and the 57 minutes of sometimes dreadful and frequently dreadfully boring football that preceded the final drive for victory.
"I don't know," he kept saying to presistent questions about whether Pardee would return as coach next year, whether he would be allowed to fulfill the next-to-last year of the two years he has remaining on his contract. "I don't know. I DON'T KNOW."
Cooke added, "I hope that doesn't derogate Jack's position. It ought not to."
Of course it does.
By being publicly coy, the owner encourages negative notions about his coach. And his coach clearly was frustrated by how the Redskins approached this game and how that carried over to their play in it. Idle minds in practice lead to game-long binds, it says somewhere in the NFL coaches' manual.
And the Redskins, Pardee had been growling all week, were in mental disarray. They were treating themselves as a real football team, one that considered the blowout of the Chargers last week a true estimation of their abilities and the Giants as inferiors, a team they could beat with their chin straps half undone.
Pardee's mind also seemed scrambled. One of his excuses for the Redskins' woeful play was the verbal equivalent of a clip. That was his volunteering that the pre-game honor for Houston altered the Redskins routine enough to be damaging.
"It threw our timing all off," Pardee said, adding that in order to compensate for the 20-minute tribute before the kickoff his players had to eat a bit earlier than usual and vary the usual warmup period.
That Pardee spoke, and warmly, about Houston a few minutes before the kickoff was a thoughtful gesture. And his teammeates coming onto the field near the end of the ceremony to be close to Houston was even more generous. The ultimate would have been allowing Houston to start this final home game, if only to play the first series.
He did not. And Pardee's suggestion that the honor itself hurt the team's performance hardly was consistent with his own history. How hollow had his words to Houston and the crowd been after all? A better question might be: How great is the pressure that would force Pardee to be so out of character?
"I expected it," Houston said of his not playing. "The dime (six defensive backs) situation never came up."
Of his not playing yesterday and very little much of the season, Houston said, "I've blanked it out. I'm not allowing myself to feel anything."
Twice the crowd chanted for Houston to play. The last time he turned on the sideline and signaled them to stop.
"I respect Tony Peters an awful lot," he said later. "I didn't want him to feel slighted . . . It's tough to come to grips that I'm through. I realize in football it happens. But you're never ready when your time comes." r
Then he said he wanted to be a coach. Imagine that. On and off the field, he surely has noticed what is necessary to survive as a coach -- or at least, as a head coach, how it is nearly impossible to be close to any of the players, how it sometimes is impossible to avoid telling a friend he is fired.
Situations such as Houston's are delicate at best, and the one phase of coaching Pardee has yet to handle with ease. To make reality for Houston as comfortable as possible, to slowly phase him out, might imperil Pardee's already tenuous position.
And yesterday's was not a game that established much job security for anyone.