Outside of what Joe Theismann calls "the glass bottle we (football players) live in," a strike deadline looms over the Washington Redskins like one of the thunderstorm clouds in the afternoon sky here.
But inside that bottle, Theismann and his Redskins teammates insist the main thing on their minds this weekend is their game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4 p.m., WDMV-TV-9, WMAL-63). Tampa is a 3 1/2-point favorite.
"Ninety-nine percent of our concentration is on the game," said Theismann, who says he will abide by his teammates' decision to honor a strike call, although he is not a union sympathizer. "From the inside, all we are saying is if the strike happens, it happens. We have no control over it.
"But the threat of a strike doesn't distract from our preparation. I didn't see it on the practice field or in the meetings. Why? Because like everyone else, I feel this won't be the last Sunday of the season. There will be a lot more Sundays after this Sunday; I'm sure of that."
Tackle Joe Jacoby: "None of us hope the strike will happen. I won't say it's not on our minds in the locker room, but when we get on the field you can't afford to think about anything else but your assignments.
"No matter what happens, we're going to stay together through all this. This is a close team after all that happened to us last year."
According to Russ Grimm, the team's alternate player representative, the Redskins decided at a union meeting Friday night to "spot picket" Redskin Park if there is a strike. They also will hold informal workouts late next week if the walkout occurs on Tuesday, as expected.
"If management wants to, the players on injured reserve can continue to rehabilitate at the park," Grimm said. "Otherwise, it will be off-limits to players. Everyone is unhappy that things have reached this state, because no one -- the fans, the players or the owners -- are going to profit by a strike. But we are convinced that the owners want to test the union, to see how strong we are. They'll find out."
Coach Joe Gibbs, who has been reluctant since training camp to even discuss the labor problem, said he did not plan to talk to his team about a possible strike before the kickoff.
"It's out of my control so I just don't see the need to bring it up," Gibbs said. "I honestly don't think the players have been affected by it this week. Their preparation and spirit have been excellent and I don't believe it has been a distraction.
"I expect to see the same kind of effort this week as I saw last week. My feeling is this, what if you spend a lot of time worrying about a strike and then it doesn't happen? You've just wasted the time and that's foolish."
Earlier this summer, Gibbs told the Redskins that whatever they decided to do regarding the labor situation, he hoped they would remain unified. That is one reason Grimm and Mark Murphy, the team's player representative, expect near 100 percent strike support within the Redskins.
Meanwhile, the Redskins flew here today after deciding, as expected, to place cornerback Joe Lavender, who has a hamstring pull, on the four-man taxi squad for this game. Joining Lavender are tackle Don Laster, running back Nick Giaquinto and quarterback Tom Owen.
Replacing Lavender in the starting lineup will be rookie Vernon Dean, the No. 2 draft choice from San Diego State. Dean's nickel-back spot will be filled by LeCharls McDaniel, who was signed this week after being cut following a fine training camp.
Dean is sure to be tested by Tampa quarterback Doug Williams, especially after the rookie's poor performance in a preseason-game loss to Tampa in August. Dean had a very long second half trying to defend against the passes of backup quarterback Jerry Golsteyn.
Even with Lavender, the Redskin secondary has been struggling. But so has the Tampa offensive line, which gave Williams spotty protection in a 17-10 loss to Minnesota last week. Injuries to both starting guards have forced Coach John McKay to make changes in that line, with Greg Roberts replacing Sean Farrell and George Yarno replacing Ray Snell.
Still, Williams has the talent to produce many points. Receiver Kevin House, who has been bothered by a chest bruise, has sprinter's speed and emerged as a solid deep threat last year. Tight end Jimmie Giles can be one of the best around when he's motivated.
Tampa Bay hasn't run well, which could be a plus for the Redskins' weak defense against the rush. Jerry Eckwood is out for the season after back surgery, leaving converted receiver James Owens as the No. 1 threat.