The scene was ludicrous, but so symbolic: Jack Pardee going into the Redskin dressing room for perhaps the final time as coach today and John Riggins, the man helping to get him fired, coming out. John Riggins was with the Redskins after the last game of the season.
"Hello, Jack," cried Riggins, as the two all but bumped into each other at the door. "How are you? Good to see ya."
"Good to see you," Pardee said. "You're lookin' good."
They shook hands, the coach and the player who made it a terribly difficult team to coach by leaving during a contract dispute. It was as though they were buddies warmly reunited, in public, at least. Jaws drooped in wonderment. Is Pardee's patience really limitless? How could he tolerate Riggins, let alone allow him to act the fool with his players after possibly his last game as Redskin coach?
"He's a good guy," Pardee had said a few moments earlier. "He has some friends in there."
But what Riggins did affected Pardee more than anyone. The owner would not meet Riggins' outlandish salary demand and now is blaming the coach for not winning without him. Doesn't that infuriate Pardee?
"I don't hold that against him (Riggins) personally," Pardee said. "It was a business decision.He didn't do it to get back at me, I'm sure. It just worked that way."
Riggins was here for the weekend, carousing with some of the players last night and, a beer in each hand, greeting them today from a railing 20 feet above as they left the field with a 31-7 victory over the Cards. Photographers snapped his picture and Riggins said:
"I'll pretend I'm watching (the team)."
When Coy Bacon was hit on the head by a half-full cup of beer, Riggins offered, "Tough crowd."
To some players who seemed to be trotting dejectedly off the field, he yelled: "You won, fellas, you can go in with your heads high."
As always after a victory, Pardee's head was high and he puffed a large cigar. It was hard to imagine the coach of the losing team today apparently wallowing in job security and the coach of the winning team possibly being Cooked sometime early in the new year.
This fuss over Pardee's future is largely in the mind of one man, the Redskins' principal owner, Jack Kent Cooke. There is no groundswell of enthusiasm to fire Pardee, no lynch mob forming on Capitol Hill. The most recent sign in RFK Stadium said: "George who?" What we seem to have is an impulse man, who did not hire Pardee, anxious to put his own mark on his team.
Which is right.
And which also would be a mistake.
The only problem with Pardee is an underdeveloped sense of public relations. When he did not play Ken Houston last week and whined that the ceremony distracted the team, he was woefully out of character. But what other coach would even have tolerated such a tribute so close to the start of such an important game?
Most coaches would have honored Houston, if at all, during halftime of a harmless preseason game -- very likely one that Houston could have helped at the box office.
Pardee's teams almost always play slightly above their natural level. If Cooke gives Pardee very good players, Pardee will be a great coach. If Cooke gives him a few excellent players, Pardee will take them to the Super Bowl as quickly as anyone.
"There's no doubt in my mind I'm a better coach this year than I was last year (when he was voted coach of the year)," Pardee said. "I worked harder. The staff worked harder. It's harder to coach a losing team than it is a winning team. It's more frustrating, everything about it. And we didn't cut a corner in doing it.
"Last year everybody was trying to get quotes out of me, but I knew what coach of the year meant. Nothing. They don't spot you a point next season on that."
The major frustration this (6-10) season?
"Fire fighting. Never getting into the swing of a season. Weekly, trying to find a way to move the ball without (good, healthy players). It's frustrating as the dickens when you're (hurt) playing good competition. We just weren't that good early in the year with guys out. I made a mistake saying that, got everybody mad. We weren't very good then. But we could get better -- and we did.
"There aren't any mirrors, magic methods. We'll open up as much as anyone, when our personnel will let us. In fact, we'll do it more than most clubs. But if we don't have that capability we won't try it. The last three weeks are like how we played last year.
"But we're playing the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night (in the season opener) without a starting tight end on the team, without (middle linebacker) Neal Olkewicz, (left linebacker) Brad Dusek and John Riggins. A first (round) draft choice doesn't compensate for all that."
His feelings this week and today? Pardee could have beaten a bad team badly today, thrown a high-40s or low-50s number at Cooke in defense of his ability. He did not. That is not his style.
"Guys were in control enough so we just wanted to have a good time," he said. "What else are you gonna get out of the last game of the season besides fun? We were in a situation where we could have fun.
"I had a good time. I enjoyed the last week of the season. I was doing what I wanted to do -- and won a game the way I wanted to. So I enjoyed the week."
Is he being judged fairly?
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "Your record judges you. No one particularly cares about who you had hurt. That part of it. The record's the judge. I don't know why it's that way. But it's still fact."