After a 16-year NFL career spanning three decades, St. Louis quarterback Jim Hart could be playing his last game today against one of his most persistent nemeses, the Washington Redskins.
Hart, 37, wants to continue for one more season. Whether Cardinal management wants to continue to pay him a hefty salary while denying Neil Lomax, the quarterback of the future, needed playing time is something Hart won't find out until the season is over.
"I'll have to sit down and talk with (Coach) Jim Hanifan later on and see what he wants to do," Hart said. "But, sure, one more year would be nice."
Hart has been around so long that his name has to be more familiar to many Redskin fans attending the 4 p.m. game at RFK Stadium (WDMV-TV-9) than some of the newer Washington players.
"We know him very well and he knows us very well," linebacker Brad Dusek said. "I don't think either side has many secrets; not after all these years."
During Hart's career, St. Louis (3-5) has played the Redskins 26 times, losing 17. The Cardinals have had particular problems since 1976, Washington having won nine of the 11 meetings. The Redskins are favored by 3 1/2 today.
But that doesn't mean Hart has slipped noticeably from his peak years. He still remains one of the league's most dangerous quarterbacks when he slips into one of his characteristic hot streaks during a game.
"That's what he'll probably be remembered for the most," said Richie Petitbon, the Redskin defensive coordinator who once intercepted Hart three times as a Washington safety. "He's streaky. He can be really bad, but he also can be really good. And when he's really good, watch out. He's uncanny. He's been around so long and he's so smart, he can pick you apart."
Hart was particularly effective against the Redskins six weeks ago. Joe Theismann passed for a career-high 388 yards that day, but Hart needed only 12 completions to cover 226 yards and score four touchdowns in a 40-30 St. Louis victory.
Those scoring passes covered 58, 34, 27 and 6 yards, an impressive output considering his two best receivers, Mel Gray and Pat Tilley, were injured and did not have a reception. The Cardinals unleashed Roy Green, a defensive back who played enough wide receiver to pull in four passes for 115 yards.
Hart loves to throw long. And the Redskins have every reason to expect him to continue that today, since Washington has given up 19 passes for at least 15 yards each the past two games. And that's not counting three pass-interference calls that resulted in major gains.
"With Tilley and Gray playing and Green still a receiver, he's got a lot of people to throw to," Dusek said. "We know we have to put a lot of pressure on him. That's always been successful for us. The days we've not allowed him to sit back there and have time to pick us apart, we've handled him."
Pressure has been a major problem for the Redskins. Their pass rush has been spotty at best, and nonexistent in some games, particularly when teams negate Petitbon's blitz calls.
Petitbon is benching tackle Wilbur Young, who hasn't had a sack, and replacing him with Perry Brooks, a starter until he broke his thumb early in the season. But Dusek is hobbled by three major injuries and may be replaced by rookie Mel Kaufman, who will play a lot even if he doesn't start. And Monte Coleman, the other outside linebacker, still is below par after coming off a shoulder fracture.
To take some pressure off the defense, Coach Joe Gibbs wants to control the ball and put together some long drives, relying heavily on the running of Joe Washington and John Riggins. That same approach has helped his team win two of its last three games.
The Redskins ran well for a half against St. Louis in September, with Wilbur Jackson picking up 96 yards behind Washington's first use of a two-tight-end blocking scheme. Gibbs will continue to use two tight ends, despite the absence of the injured Rich Caster, but admits "we'll have to mix in some imagination. Besides, we passed well against them the first time and I'm sure they will defend the two tight ends better."
The Cardinals started three rookies in their new 4-3 defense last week in a 30-17 upset of Minnesota: linebackers E.J. Junior, the No. 1 choice from Alabama, and Dave Ahrens and cornerback Jeff Griffin, who is bothered by a sore leg. Green, who has caught 18 passes for a 23.4-yard average, still doubles as an extra defensive back.
St. Louis also beat Dallas earlier in the season, but just as with Hart, the Cardinals haven't played with the kind of consistency Hanifan would like. Still, Hart continues to add to his passing records, and now ranks fourth in career passing yards (33,344), only 160 behind No. 3 John Hadl.
Hart, who has connected on 96 of 175 passes for 1,190 yards and seven touchdowns this season, also is third in career completions (2,483), ninth in touchdown passes (200) and third in attempts (4,879).
"I just hope that for this one, maybe he'll show his age a bit," Gibbs said.
Kicker Mark Mosely, bothered by a new leg pull, did not work all week but will play today . . . Virgil Seay again will start at wide receiver, but Gibbs says he expects to give ex-Cardinal Terry Metcalf more playing time.