Tom Flick likes to tell the story on himself, and he laughs every time he does. But the incident reveals a lot both about Flick, the Redskin quarterback of the future, and the team's new coach, Joe Gibbs.
Gibbs was working out Flick just before the draft, trying to decide whether the University of Washington star or Neal Lomax, the more publicized Portland State athlete, was the better quarterback.
Flick thought Gibbs still was an assistant coach. All during the workout, he called Gibbs by his first name, bantering with him on very informal terms. Gibbs never said a word and probably didn't even notice the change in Flick when a University of Washington official asked Gibbs how he liked being head coach of the Redskins.
"When I found out who he was, it went from 'hey, Joe' to 'yes, sir,'" Flick said. "I guess I was worried that Joe would hold it against me. But he's not like that at all, no pretentions about his importance. He just goes out every day and coaches us and keeps it all loose."
Gibbs also came away with a very positive impression about Flick. "He's better than Lomax," Gibbs told General Manager Bobby Beathard. "If we have a chance, let's draft him."
Flick may not be a bona fide NFL quarterback yet, but he already has a big-league personality, much in the style of Joe Theismann. He looks the way Hollywood thinks the quarterbacks should look. Now it's up to Gibbs to see to it that Flick also reflects Theismann's on-the-field talents.
"Tom's really coming along fine, just as we had hoped," said Gibbs, who thought enough of his prospect to waive last year's No. 2 quarterback, Mike Kruczek, before training camp began. "He's doing everything we ask of him and doing it well. We're very happy with him."
Today, Gibbs was concerned about Flick's arm, which gets plenty of use in these two-a-day workouts.
"How's the arm feel, is it getting sore?" Gibbs asked.
Feels fine, but maybe it's a bit tired," said Flick, rotating it as Gibbs watched. "Maybe I should pull back some this afternoon."
Just let me know," Gibbs answered."There's a long way to go and I don't want anyone getting worn out."
Of course, Gibbs would rather not have to use Flick as a starter right now, one reason it's essential Theismann stays healthy until Flick improves. Until that happens, the Redskins are vulnerable at quarterback, a situation that really hasn't changed since Theismann stepped into the starting role and Billy Kilmer was released two years ago.
Barring the unexpected, however, Flick most likely is settling into a long apprenticeship. Theismann, almost 32, should be around for another four or five years, especially if he thrives under Gibb's new offensive system.
But Gibbs and Beathard were so convinced Flick eventually will replace Theismann that they engineered a trade on the first day of the draft so Flick would be available when the Redskins picked in the fourth round. Now, more than ever, they are sure he should have been chosen far higher.
"Never figured I'd go much higher than the third or fourth round so I wasn't surprised at all," Flick said. "I'm used to being at the bottom of the totem pole and fighting my way up. I learned how to do that growing up in my family."
Flick has three brothers and two sisters. And his current athletic venture perhaps is he tamest in the group. Between skate boarding, sailing, racquetball and skiing, the Flicks have held all types of regional and state titles.
"All my brothers were quarterbacks," Flick said. "It was just something everyone in our family seemed to get into. But my other brothers went on to other things. One of them was part of an 18-man group on skis that did a simultaneous back flip, so they could get into the Guinness Book of Records."
And what does Tom Flick do for excitement? "Well, I juggle a little and play the guitar, but nothing like back flips on skis."
Flick has been too busy playing quarterback to develop many hobbies. Since he was 8 or 9, he has wanted nothing more than to be where he is today, playing quarterback in the NFL. He can remember staying inside Sunday afternoons, watching pro games, while everyone else in the family was outside playing.
"I couldn't get enough of football," he said, wiping the sweat from his curly, blond hair. "One of my brothers would get outside with me and we'd throw passes. He'd make me stay out until I tossed a certain number of spirals. I hated it, but I always came back for more. I even gave up baseball when I was a sophomore in high school so I could use my arm just for football."
Although Flick doesn't answer to the nickname, he was known as the "Bellevue Bomber" (he is from Bellevue, Wash.) while playing at the University of Washington. He led the Huskies to 13 victories in 16 starts, including a Sun Bowl victory and a Pac-10 title. Even in a 23-6 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan, he had an outstanding game: 23 of 29 completions for 282 yards.
Things have gotten better since that Rose Bowl defeat. Thanks to a bid from the Canadian Football League, he got an upgraded contract from the Redskins, part of which he used to set up scholarships at his high school and college. A local television station already has talked to him about doing some sports broadcasting. And his major competition for the backup spot was eliminated after only two face-to-face minicamp confrontations.
"My reaction when I heard Kruczek was waived? I was happy," he said bluntly. "I wasn't happy for Mike, because he is a fine person. But I knew it had to help my situation.
"It just seems like everything is falling into place for me. Now it's up to me to make sure I don't mess it all up."