They call it a numbers game. For 14 years, Coy Bacon has been the denominator, a constant that has been unchangeable. For more than 100 career sacks, his number was the one no sensible quarterback or roster-cutting coach would call.
But two weeks into his fourth season as a defensive end for the Washington Redskins, Bacon knows people are saying nasty things about him. He knows people think his 37 years may have been too much of a drain on his talents. He knows they feel that he may become a victim of subtraction, which comes in the form of the second team or, worse yet, the guillotine called The Cut.
But Coy Bacon still believes in Coy Bacon. It is a confidence that comes from three Pro Bowls and an NFL-best 26 sacks in 1976. Bacon remembers. He also forsees.
"I want to prove myself. They say I am an old man. The fans do, the coaches do, the newspapers do," said Bacon, moments after the Redskins had defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 27-13, in a preseason game at RFK Stadium last night. "But you saw tonight that I can still do it."
Bacon had one tackle, two assisted tackles and one sack, a 12-yard loss.
"I felt good out there tonight," said Bacon, who came to the Redskins from Cincinnati with Lemar Parrish in 1978 for a first-round draft pick. "Everybody tells me about my age. Age is only a number. My body feels great. There are no injuries."
Richie Petitbon, Redskin defensive coordinator, knows Bacon has no injuries. He simply feels there is just too much bacon in Coy.
"He is out of shape. He needs to work on his conditioning," says Petitbon, the safety for the Over-The-Hill Gang. "He should be at 265. He is 12 pounds overweight. He is a great athlete. We will see if he has the determination and discipline to work back into shape."
Bacon, who is 6 foot 4, did not play in last week's exhibition opener here against Kansas City. He was late for a practice and missed a team meeting. He was in uniform on the sidelines, but he just didn't play. It used to be that if Coy Bacon was in uniform and on the sidelines than you knew the offense must be on the field.
The doubts are increasing.
"There was a lot of commotion about all that stuff last week," said Bacon. "It's over, and I don't want to talk about it."
Petitbon says, "It's too early to tell yet which of the guys we will keep. We will probably keep either seven or eight of those guys."
Petitbon was speaking of the players who are trying to become 25 percent of the front four. Right now, Bacon is starting along with Perry Brooks, Karl Lorch and Dave Butz. Wilbur Young, Fred Cook, Matt Mendenhall, Dexter Manley and Pat Ogrin are also in position to take a position. It is a rugged battle.
"The coaches will have to make one hell of a decision. We're all good," said Cook, a 6-4, 252-pound end the Redskins acquired this year from Baltimore for a ninth-round pick.
Cook understands Bacon's situation, inside and out. "I respect Coy Bacon. He has been a great player. Down deep, I would never want to move in on Coy Bacon's position.
"I think we should have a front eight. It would be a legendary situation. We all are good enough to start."
Bacon says, "The job is open right now. It would be good to keep switching everybody in and out. That way everybody would be fresh always."
Petitbon says, "We will wait and see."