The Redskins were midway through a light workout yesterday when the word came: the National Football League Players Association formally had announced a strike.
Moments later, it began to rain at Redskin Park. Coach Joe Gibbs quickly ended what could be the team's last practice for days to come.
"It's a sad moment in all of our lives," said receiver Charlie Brown. "You really don't know what is going to happen. I've never been through something like this before. You just have to hope it gets over as soon as possible."
Brown reflected the feelings of most of the players interviewed yesterday. Nobody welcomed the strike on this strongly pro-union team, especially after the Redskins' 2-0 start. But neither did they quarrel with the NFLPA's decision.
"I don't think it will last more than two weeks," safety Tony Peters said, although Mark Murphy, the team's player representative, has told the players to prepare for a three- to four-week strike.
"But the owners have to realize the players are serious about the strike. If they do, they will try to reach some compromise with us. They should understand this is a new era of players. Things are changing and they have to adjust."
In a related development, the Redskins announced that season ticketholders will receive refunds for any home games not played because of the strike, but that no refunds will be made until the strike is over.
Gibbs was noticeably depressed by the strike news, which he said he was hoping "right to the end would not come."
He said his major concern now was the way the league would handle the resumption of play once the strike was settled.
"With this strike, if we miss a couple of games, we will be one of the teams really hurt by it, simply because we've played both games on the road and now we are returning home for two games," he said. "I'm concerned about what decision they are going to make about how to make these games up. There has to be some adjustment made for teams that were going to play home games.
"The only rumor I've heard about how it would be handled is that the people on the competition committee said if we only miss two games, we'll skip them . . . You better check who is on that committee. There are some obvious reasons why they would do it. I hope there will be some real thought into what is the fair way to start play. There has to be an adjustment made somewhere.
"I'm really depressed, really down. It couldn't come at a worse time for the team. We had something going and this has to hurt us worse than anyone. With two home games coming up, you couldn't have a worse situation. I'm despondent. . . You have a helpless feeling, because you are caught in the middle."
After St. Louis, the Redskins are at home against Cleveland, then travel to Dallas. The members of the NFL competition committee include Miami's Don Shula, Dallas' Tex Schramm, Atlanta's Eddie LeBaron and Cincinnati's Paul Brown.
Gibbs said his staff would prepare for Sunday's game here against St. Louis in anticipation the strike will end soon. He said he had heard nothing from the league about forming a team with free agents.
"Personally, you can't do that," he said. "How in the world can you do that? Would I want to? No. I think it would be a tough situation, grabbing a bunch of people and trying to put a team together, I don't think that is a viable plan. If they tell me, I'll do it, but it's not a viable thing unless you see a bunch of players who don't go out."
According to Russ Grimm, the team's alternate player representative, the players will conduct practices later this week. They already have scheduled weightlifting workouts at a facility near Redskin Park.
"I think we can have decent workouts," Grimm said. "We want to stay in shape and be as sharp as possible. The one thing Coach Gibbs asked is that when we come back that we haven't lost any ground to any other team."
If there is picketing at Redskin Park, it would be because the players feel "they are going to try to bring in a new team," Grimm said. "We might have to show how strong we are. But everyone here wants to get this solved. There aren't any hard feelings."
Grimm expects most players to stay in the area, at least in the early days of the strike. "I don't see a lot of them going home, not at first," he said. "We're encouraging everyone to stay together."
The only players who have union approval to use Redskin Park facilities are those on injured reserve. Otherwise, the park is off limits.
Most players left for a team union meeting at NFLPA headquarters in Washington last night, carrying their workout shoes -- and their paychecks, issued on a weekly basis this season. Usually, the checks come out every two weeks. Players are paid 1/16th of their salary for each game, so they are risking serious financial loss by striking.
"I'm in pretty good shape financially to handle the strike," tight end Clint Didier said. "But I hope it doesn't go on very long. We all want to get back playing."
Dexter Manley: "I'll be okay without a check for a while. I'm not worried about it. I want to do what I like, and that's play football, but we have to do what is best for us as a union. We should have more money and that's what (owner) Jack Kent Cooke says, too. But things sure have changed. When I first got into pro football, it was just football. Now there is so much business involved."
Amid the concern about the strike, there was some levity. Joe Theismann said he was overwhelmed with applications for jobs at his restaurant. A bunch of Redskins sang off key about being out of work. Mark Moseley wondered if management would mind the players taking home their helmets.
"How do you act when this happens?" Brown asked. "I just have a strange feeling in my stomach right now. It's really happened."
The Redskins reported no serious injuries from their 21-13 victory over Tampa Bay. They said tackle George Starke, who bruised his ribs, could play Sunday, if there is a game.