Clarence Williams is at an eerie point in football. He knows he still can run, but he doesn't know where he stands with the Redskins. If nobody but the lawyers for both sides won during the National Football League strike, some lost far more than others. Until yesterday, lots of players like Clarence Williams could have been on strike for eight weeks and then fired -- without pay -- a few days after reporting back to work.
What a kick in the pants that would have been: Welcome back! We can't use you anymore.
That still could happen, but not, in most cases, without a small going-away gift.
Whatever the game, on the field or at the bargaining table, great KEN DENLINGER This Morning players thrive and marginal ones scarcely survive. In this Heinz of a strike -- a different issue each of the 57 days -- Williams has come very close to losing all of what he's wanted this season: a chance. But because even that lousy settlement wasn't totally bad, he came closer to missing at least $140,000.
Even a football strike takes funny bounces.
For five years with the San Diego Chargers, Williams was a tough, squat back who averaged 3.3 yards for 400 rushes, caught 93 passes and only fumbled once. Figuring his useful days were over, the Chargers cut him just before the regular season.
What he knew, the sophisticated San Diego offense, and who he knew, former Charger aide Joe Gibbs, got Williams to Washington before the Tampa Bay game. Joe Washington had been hurt and estimated out for perhaps half the season; Wilbur Jackson had gone down the week before. Although he did not play against the Bucs, it seemed certain that Williams had several weeks to show he belonged in the NFL. That and a regular check, plus another year for the pension fund.
A week later, he was losing money--and time.
"Finally got back with a team," he was saying in the dressing room at Redskin Park the day after Peace in Prime Time. "A home."
A football home. He had spent the strike days with his wife and children in San Diego, not working but working out with his former teammates. All the while Washington and Jackson were mending. They may be activated for Sunday's game against the Giants. If one or both play, Williams may not.
"Really, it's not up to me now," he said. "Hey, I can play the game. No question about that. Some kind of circumstance. Nothing I can do."
His spirits brightened.
"I don't know whether the guys off injured reserve can join the team right away," he said.
"What does that leave for guys already on the team?"
Very little sleep Wednesday night for many. Somebody goes up; somebody goes down. Miserable luck. A sad song about the football mines. . . "You strike 57 days and what do ya get? Deeper in debt, and that ain't the worst yet . . . " Damn! Eight lost checks--and maybe gone.
Yesterday was brighter.
The NFL decided that although marginal players such as Williams could be bumped off the active roster by injured players now recovered, they would be paid for two games, even if they got no closer to them than a television in their living rooms. The addition of an uninjured player -- say, a free agent -- means the player dropped would not get the two-weeks compensation.
"Can't stop nobody from getting well," he had said Wednesday.
He leaned against a wall, uncertain again, thoughts coming in small bursts.
"That's the game . . . my life. . . how I make a living . . . not like it hasn't happened before. It happened in San Diego. Thought I did a real good job for them. Thought I was the best back in (training) camp. . . didn't make the final cut."
If Williams had not caught on with the Redskins, however brief his stay may prove to be, he would not be eligible for the major obvious benefits the settlement provides: $60,000 immediately and $80,000 if he never plays another down. He insists there will be many more downs, either here or elsewhere in the league.
"Where there's a will there's a way," he said. "I can play this game a lot better than people think. It's in God's hands now. He'll dictate my future." Williams laughed and said:
"Let Him worry about it."
Of the modest gains by the players, severance was the most significant. It gives a man who has devoted most of his life to football time to find a second career. So many have had to settle for anything they could quickly grab. Lots of them never adjusted.
Anyone who now lasts an average NFL lifetime, four years, gets $60,000 when he turns in his playbook that final time. It increases by $10,000 for each year of service, to a maximum of $140,000 after 12 years. Used to be a man didn't even get a gold watch at retirement.
George Allen was thoughtful in that regard. A player's coach, he often would keep a pet around an extra year, let him sample retirement while still on full salary. The league now has almost caught up to George.
That hardly seems something cosmic enough to shut down an industry for eight weeks. Realizing they cannot get anywhere near 55 percent of the NFL's money pie, the players will settle for a small slice of dignity.