A month ago, Greg Williams was ecstatic.
It didn't matter that he was the last man on the Redskins roster. He had survived the final cut.
Now, Williams is frustrated and disappointed.
"It feels funny," he said, "to see your pro career stop at two games."
Williams is one of almost 1,500 players on strike against the National Football League. On Monday, he will miss his first biweekly pro paycheck. That's when the realities of this work stoppage will hit safety Greg Williams, rookie free agent, head-on.
"Gosh, I couldn't believe a strike really happened," Williams said. "I know a little about the issues and I'm trying to find out more. There really wasn't much talk about it (in camp) until the last couple of weeks. I was young and I was just trying to make the team.
"I had second thoughts (about striking) to myself. But we have to do this as a team. I can't feel selfish for myself. Joe Theismann and John Riggins are sacrificing a lot more than me by staying out, so if they can do it, I can, too. I wouldn't come back in unless everyone else does, too."
Unlike veteran players, Williams never had a chance to cushion himself financially to absorb loss of income. Unlike high draft choices, he didn't have a hefty signing bonus sitting in his bank account for strike relief.
"I didn't ask for much money (to sign)," Williams said. "I just asked for a chance."
He signed with the Redskins out of Mississippi State for $35,000 a year, plus a $3,000 bonus. When he made the final roster, he received another $5,000. Before the strike began, he had earned two paychecks that netted him less than $3,000.
"If it wasn't for those checks, I don't know what I would be doing," Williams said. "I can go a while longer, maybe a month . . . Then I'll have to get a job. Maybe I can tend bar. I did that for a while in college. Or I can work for my dad or get a loan from another player.
"I came into this league flat broke. But luckily, I didn't have a chance to spend much of what the Redskins have paid me. There hasn't been any time. I own a car and that's about it."
In many ways, the players are on strike because of people like Greg Williams. The union says its goal is to improve the lot of the average player, not the superstar.
The union's wage scale proposal, the major stumbling block toward settling the walkout, is designed to upgrade the salary of at least 90 percent of the players. Under that scale, Williams' salary would increase this season by $46,000, to $81,000.
Williams also is aware that the strike will be successful only as long as players like him, the union's rank-and-file members, stay out.
"I'm sure they (the league) will open up camp soon and ask us to come in," he said. "It will make it tough for me, for everyone. They can come up and tell me, 'Either you come in or you won't be here any more.' But I just don't think Coach (Joe) Gibbs or (General Manager) Bobby Beathard would do that, anyway."
When the strike came, Williams returned immediately to his home in Mississippi. He thought things would be settled quickly, so he wanted to work in a quick visit. He's still in Mississippi, staying with a college friend in Starkville. He eats his meals at the Mississippi State training table and works out daily.
His father, who Williams says "never has made the kind of money I'm getting," told his son to return to Washington.
"He said, 'Hey, boy, get into camp,' " Williams said. "He doesn't know why we are on strike. He just wants me to play ball again. From where he's been, I'm making great money. He says we are asking for too much. But he also understands it's my decision. There is no friction between us. He just tells me to do something about it."
A starting free safety in college with average speed, Williams appeared to have little chance of making the Redskins when training camp started in July. Already top-heavy with veterans at safety, the team was reluctant to sign him. Beathard did so only on the suggestion of Charlie Casserly, the assistant general manager, who had scouted Williams.
Williams quickly established himself as a talented special teams player. No other player performed better in the four exhibition games, an accomplishment that caught Gibbs' attention.
"When we were discussing final cuts, I said that Greg Williams was going to make this team and that was that," Gibbs said. "He hustled and worked his butt off all camp. He was our best special teams player. Last year, we didn't take special teams in consideration with our last cuts and I wasn't going to make that same mistake again."
The day the final cuts were announced, Williams sat in front of his locker, still in street clothes. He was afraid to change into uniform. Finally, he talked to trainer Bubba Tyer.
"He said he thought if they were going to cut me, they would have told me already," Williams said. "I was speechless. It was a big high for me, because no one expected me to make it. My college coach said he knew all along they couldn't cut me. I told him, 'Thanks coach, but I wish you would have told that to the Redskins.'
"Thank goodness for special teams. I know that is the only reason I'm still around. I'm a special teams player, that's my position. But my time (to play safety) will come. I just have to be patient."
Williams feels particularly close to free safety Mark Murphy, the team player representative and a union negotiator. Murphy, also a free agent, made the team in 1977 because of his ability on special teams.
"Mark said that when he looks at me, he thinks about himself," Williams said. "Mark and I get along really good. He's told me a lot about the strike and what's going on. I do know that the wage scale would mean more money for a lot of us. That sounds good, of course."
When Williams became a pro, he said he had heard about the players association. But he said he didn't realize it was a union.
"I wasn't going to join my first year," he said. "I was going to wait and then join it my second year. Then I was told I had to join. The dues were taken out of my check.
"Now I'm trying to catch up and find out what this is all about."