Three weeks ago, Rich Caster, a three-time NFL all-pro with the New York Jets in the early 1970s, suffered the worst of indignities. Once one of the better tight ends in the league, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Caster dropped a potential game-winning pass against San Francisco and the next day was released outright by New Orleans.
"It was a shocker, but I never felt like I fit in, anyway," recalled Caster, who soon was put to work by the Redskins. "I felt out of sync down there. I wasn't real happy because Houston let me go (in August). But that's no excuse. It was a busted play I got open on and I should have made the catch.
"When that happens, no one feels any worse than the receiver. I thought, after 12 years, this is a helluva way to go out. I know I caught more than I dropped over the years, but people only remember the bad things."
Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs obviously remembered the 316 passes for more than 5,000 yards and 45 touchdowns Caster had caught over the years, and "unretired" him five days after that blue Monday.
"He has speed, range and smarts, and is the type of player you want to keep on the field as much as you can," said Gibbs following yesterday's workout at Redskin Park. "He played more last week (three catches for 47 yards) and is going to help us more. He definitely will play a lot."
Caster surely would have been one of Joe Theismann's targets in the waning moments of Sunday's 13-10 loss in Miami, but he caught a thumb in the eye and had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter.
"I was blocking and just got stuck in the eye accidentally," Caster said. "I hated I couldn't get back in, but I couldn't see. It's still a little blurry, but it should be all right by Sunday."
Washington (1-6) plays New England (2-5) at RFK Stadium Sunday.
Caster, who has caught five passes for 77 yards in the two games he has played for Washington, could be another deep threat for the Redskins. Since they have gone to a two-tight end alignment, Caster should play even more.
"I've run from between the goalposts for 10 years, so starting isn't all that important," said Caster, who has been both tight end and wide receiver in his career. "I've talked with the coaches here and they told me where I would fit in. This is a new system and new people, but things are coming along. I spent all year getting in shape and I'm glad I got another chance to play."
The Jets' second-round pick out of Jackson State in 1970, Caster said this could be his final year, depending on how much he contributes. He will be 33 in November.
"I had originally said 12 was a good number to quit on, but I'll have to see what happens. It's hard to stop when you're coming off a good year," said Caster, who in one game caught six passes for 204 yards, with scoring catches of 80, 79 and 10 yards.
"I still can run and I've always had pretty good hands. If I feel good with what I've done this season here. . . Maybe I'll try to come back another season."
Caster could be an important factor in Sunday's game. Split end Ricky Thompson has a gimpy knee and Gibbs will start either Terry Metcalf or Virgil Seay at one wide receiver.
"Both looked pretty good in practice and we'll make a decision at the end of the week," Gibbs said. "New England has as much personnel as any team in the league. They have a lot of talent. They're explosive, but turnovers have also been one of their problems."
Gibbs said guard Melvin Jones is in Sibley Memorial Hospital in traction for his sprained neck and will not play Sunday.
Tony Collins leads New England with 460 yards on 107 carries. He also has 17 receptions for 162 yards. . . Washington has gone over 300 yards in offense eight consecutive games. In all seven games this season, the Redskins have run more plays than the opposition . . .Theismann's next pass completion will be the 1,000th of his NFL career . . . John Riggins needs 127 yards to pass Leroy Kelly for eighth place among the NFL's all-time leading rushers . . . The Patriots have won two of their last three games impressively, beating Kansas City, 33-17, and Houston, 38-10. They lost to the Jets, 28-24 . . . The Patriots have outscored opponents, 95-68, in the second half . . . Washingon and New England have split two regular season games, the Patriots winning 24-23 in 1972 and the Redskins winning, 16-14, in 1978.