National Football League stars worry about the length of their contracts. Nick Giaquinto worries about the length of his lease.
"I'm a month-to-month lease man myself," says Giaquinto, the little-known Redskin halfback who was selected from the waiver list two weeks ago after he was released by the Miami Dolphins.
"I've learned that much about this league," he said, smiling. "I'm as happy as I can remember being in a long time, well, since I first caught on with Miami last year. But I'm not looking for a house. Not yet."
Giaquinto is part of that group of fringe NFL players whose lives revolve around short leases, waivers, quick tryouts and prepaid plane tickets.
Some Redskins, Giaquinto included, have become all too familiar with that life style this season.
The team has made 70 roster moves, an enormous number for the league, since deciding on its orginal 45-man squad in early September.
A few players, such as quarterback Mike Rae and receiver/defensive back Cris Crissy, have been signed and released as many as three times each. Rae once was signed on Monday and cut on Thursday.
Others, such as guard Robert Woods, were brought in to fill a roster spot while an injured player healed. When the health problem was gone, so was Woods.
"Every time I was picked up, I had to sign three one-year contracts," said Crissy, the former Princeton star who now is on Washington's injured reserve list with a pulled hamstring. "Counting the contracts I signed with New England after they drafted me, that means I signed 12 contracts this season.
"The last time, I told them I was going to change my name to 'X'."
Rae is a particular favorite of Coach Joe Gibbs, who was determined to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. Rae finally left the waiver merry-go-round two weeks ago and returned with his family to his home in California.
Gibbs' persistence kept Rae on the Redskin roster long enough to receive eight paychecks (half his full salary) this season. And he never played a minute.
Rae, like the overwhelming majority of players in the league, doesn't have a guaranteed contract. These players, in essence, are paid on a per-game basis. If they are on the active roster any time from Tuesday to game day, they earn one-sixteenth of their salary. Players on injured reserve are paid as if they were on the active roster.
"I really respect Mike and I wanted him around," Gibbs said. "I hated to keep cutting him and bringing him back like that. I'd explain the situation to him and he understood, but it still wasn't the best. We had so many injuries that we couldn't afford the luxury of three quarterbacks. A spot had to give and it was that spot."
Crissy, a rookie, was cut in preseason by New England after flunking a defensive back tryout. He had been a receiver his entire football career, but suddenly found himself "trying to learn how to run backwards after perfecting my running-forward style all those years."
He didn't learn fast enough for the Patriots, nor did he enjoy a brief stay in the Canadian Football League. He was about to go to Denver, for a banking job, when the Redskins signed him in early October.
Within two weeks, he was waived. "They told me they didn't think I was ready for a game," he said. Three days later, he was re-signed after clearing waivers. He lasted only two days this time, then spent a week staying with a brother who lives in the Washington area, before the Redskins called again.
"Then I hurt my hamstring and they put me on injured reserve," he said. "I was happy about that. I could practice with the team, once I healed, and I could work both at receiver and defensive back. What was important to me is that I found out I could play in this league, just by practicing.
"Now I can get myself ready for training camp and compete from the start for a spot. From a positive side, I think things are working out well for me."
Giaquinto feels the same way.
With Joe Washington recovering from sore ribs, Giaquinto finds himself thrust into a prominent role within the Redskin offense. If Washington can't play Sunday at Buffalo, the former University of Connecticut star will take his place at halfback on passing downs.
That's a significant role change from his last days in Miami, when he barely played on special teams. Before joining the Redskins, he had carried only three times and caught seven passes.
But to Giaquinto, even a taste of the NFL is better than the football starvation he experienced after leaving college. He flunked training camp tryouts in 1977 (with the Giants), in 1978 (with the Jets) and in 1979 with Ottawa. He played semipro ball for a season and was an elementry school teacher before finally catching on with the Dolphins last year.
Yet, even after catching 24 passes as a third-down back, he entered the 1981 training camp knowing he probably would be cut, since the Dolphins had drafted and traded for a bunch of new runners.
"You are the low man on the totem pole when you are a free agent," he said. "You don't play much because they have to give the other guys time. But if you don't get time, you can't impress anyone. They cut me at the end of camp, but I was surprised I made it that long."
He was re-signed before the third game, then released again Nov. 12. The Redskins claimed him for $100 off the waiver list on the recommendation of Dan Henning, a former Dolphin staff member who is Washington's assistant head coach.
"I've really got no complaints about anything that's happened to me," Giaquinto said. "The Dolphins, Coach (Don) Shula in particular, treated me great. But the last few weeks, I was sitting on the edge every day, not knowing how long I'd last. Now coming here is super. It's nice to be wanted.
"I thought I might give Coach Henning a call after the season and see if I could come to training camp. I really never expected them to claim, since no one had last time and it was late in the week when I was released."
When Washington hurt his ribs against Dallas last Sunday, Giaquinto played most of the second half, even though he wasn't completely familiar with the offense. But with help from quarterback Joe Theismann, he managed to catch three passes for 26 yards and run for another 18 on two carries.
Giaquinto, who has learned to appreciate even small successes, thought he had found football heaven.
"My yards per carry," he said with a laugh, "has got to be the best in the league. How about that?"