The Redskins became unique in the National Football League yesterday, the only team without a victory five weeks into the season, the only team that suggests Pete's Parity ain't gonna work without even more fudging. To give the little locals a chance in their next 11 games, the league had better consider such Redskin Rules as:
When Washington has the ball, the field is 75 yards long; when the opposition has the ball, the field is 150 yards long.
After the opponent gets 17 points, its quarterback must play middle linebacker.
When Joe Theismann throws into anything less than double coverage, it counts as a completion, whether the receiver catches it or not.
Redskin receivers are allowed to wear stickum; opposition receivers must dip their hands in crankcase oil before each play.
Opponents must punt on second down, because returner Mike Nelms is the only Redskin who knows how to get into the end zone regularly.
Washington defenders are allowed to carry lassos and billy clubs.
Mark May can set the right defensive end's jersey on fire before each pass.
And so on. The Redskins were so bad in losing to a mediocre team yesterday that the few thousand customers still in RFK Stadium at the end didn't bother to boo. A groundswell of apathy is building. Bumbling baseball has a chance to dominate our thoughts. Lord help us all, but this might be a hockey town in a month or so.
During and after what seems the weekly humiliation, the fans did care enough to go after General Manager Bobby Beathard and majority owner Jack Kent Cooke. They only hurled invectives, such as the sign that read: "Go Back Home (presumably to California), Cooke! We want EBW," a reference to minority owner Edward Bennett Williams
"My first reaction is to get ticked off," Beathard said in the parking lot a few minutes after the game. "Then I think: 'We're 0-5. What am I mad about?' "
Probably just about everybody but Nelms, one of the few players performing well enough to honestly be called a leader, keeping his wits under pressure. Most of the rest react to adversity so poorly that matters can only get worse.
We hesitate to insist nothing later in the season will be more absurd than Joe Lavender scooping up a 49er missed extra point and dashing downfield with it -- and Redskin fans starved for anything positive cheering madly. Gang, that may never have been legal.
The most obvious sign of coaching panic was the decision to hustle Joe Washington into the game, with 12 minutes left in the first half and the Redskins behind, 17-0. Sonny and The Over The Hill Gang in their prime might not have been able to overcome such a deficit, so why risk Washington's mending ankle?
"Maybe I could have rested it another week," Washington said. "But this probably is what I needed, to know what I can do and can't do. I had a little problem cutting; the ankle was weak and not holding. My own concern was situations where I'd really have to react and couldn't do it. I didn't react well on short routes sometimes."
But he got into the end zone once. Like Nelms, he qualifies as a leader. His absence the last two weeks cannot be overestimated, for the offense has no one earning his pay at the moment.
We measure players as much by how they react in special moments, when the heat of pressure is most searing, as by game-long numbers. They call the yardage inside the 20 "tough territory" in the NFL; a quarterback who wants to be immortal, who wants to be remembered for anything more than fancy numbers had better find ways to survive there, to thrive there.
Theismann has tried there, and died there.
He hardly is totally responsible for the Redskins' sins, but neither is he blameless. Two years ago Theismann was wonderful, confident and accurate. Once again yesterday, when the team needed one of the in-the-chest fast balls once so common he was accurate only to somebody from San Francisco.
Why is '79's sensation '81's error-maker?
Is Theismann the robot so many thought, comfortable only in structured, restricted situations when his options are limited? Was the Joe Walton, rhythm-and-timing offense the only one he can run? Has Joe Gibbs failed Theismann by asking him to execute too much? Is Theismann too much the glory seeker, determined to risk impossible passes instead of cutting his losses?
"The personnel now is as good as what we had in '79," he admits. "But '79 was our second year in something of a system. Everybody understood everything about it. We're still learning; we're still learning as a football team."
Most players are learning that no prior experience has prepared them for such a season of sadness.
"Never experienced anything like it," defensive tackle Dave Butz said. He praised the 49ers for their enthusiasm and added: "Once the center cut me and the tackle ran over my back. And that was on a play away from me."
"I was awful," said linebacker Brad Dusek, returning to action for the first time since the last preseason game. "I was hesitant, did a lotta guessing, didn't read keys too well, especially in the first half. I used to get this out of my system in preseason. Today I learned, from one half to the next. But when things go bad you should look in the mirror instead of pointing to someone else."
Probably, most everyone except management realized yesterday that Theismann deserves to remain the regular quarterback. Rookie Tom Flick moved the team, but most of his yardage was misleading because the 49ers were in soft defenses. With Washington again available, most of those safe passes worked, for decent yardage. Both Joes, the coach and his quarterback, should learn from that.
Theismann is in a big-play slump; he also is tough enough to pass his way out of it. One problem with Cooke and Beathard, perhaps the major one, is that they assume that because someone is not playing as well as expected the immediate replacement is better.