Fresh from Columbia University, a football player but not a football fan, George Starke passed two oddly shaped characters near the Redskins' training camp. They appeared to have been swept in off the streets. A short time later, he was more formally introduced to Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer.
"Never could they have been football players," said Starke, that first glimpse still vivid more than 12 years later. "I thought they were some maintenance guys just hanging around. Probably drunk, full of gin, on their way in. Turned out to be our starting quarterbacks. I thought: 'Welcome to the NFL.' "
Starke is the only man to belong to both the early 1970s Over the Hill Gang and the early '80s Hogs. See the value of an Ivy League education? He didn't plan to be the Redskins' elder statesman on the eve of Armageddon II with the Cowboys in RFK Stadium. A fellow as bright as Starke knows his business is even less secure than week to week. Snap to snap is more like it.
"It never occured to me that I wouldn't be able to play in the NFL," he said shortly before the Redskins' final full-scale practice. That did occur to others, Starke being an 11th-round draftee who played Indians (Redskins, Chiefs) and Cowboys for two years before finding a permanent home here in 1973 and a permanent job at right tackle the next season.
"What you do," he continued, "is give yourself a time limit on how long you're going to play in the league assuming you're going to work out. Which is always an even bigger lie. You say: 'If I make it, Ill only play five years.' "
Starke had planned to play four years before going into something useful. This is his 10th. A cab-squadder for Armageddon I here 10 years and three weeks ago, he again will be trying to keep one of the Cowboys' money players, Too Tall Jones, from being too dominant.
"Has to be something that clicks (with a player and pro ball) or you just can't do it," he said. "It's too strange a business."
If Starke chose to use his documentary training on life with the Redskins the last decade, it would be a riveting film. He's seen most of it, heard even more.
Starke also stared in disbelief when George Allen once tried to break three boards with a karate chop during a full team meeting before a regular season game against the Dolphins. That was to dramatically illustrate his own prowess, should every player become motionless by the fourth quarter and the game somehow reduced to Allen versus Don Shula at midfield. Allen came closer to breaking his hand than that third board.
Allen had his predictable 10 speeches to the team. Included was the checks-to-charity blast after certain losses, about how everyone had played so badly he should be ashamed to pick up his pay that week. Also, Starke admitted, Allen was a brilliant, if bizarre, motivator who had an uncanny way of predicting odd twists that eventually came true and turned games Washington's way. A fumble in the final two minutes; a blocked punt.
George had a man scout the angle of the sun at game time in the Los Angeles Coliseum a few days before that agonizing Super Bowl. Somehow, he failed to sense in advance that a Kilmer pass to a wide-open Jerry Smith in the end zone would hit the goal post instead.
"Hard to remember year to year," Starke said. "Everything gets squished together. And each year is different. I can't even remember 1976 right now. And this has been a very strange year, almost like it's been several years. This preseason seems like years ago.
"I can remember things about '72, but I have a hard time remembering the training camp we had this year. It's like Jack Pardee was here (as head coach), for sure, but it's hard to remember anything he did. Like he was in and out. In fact, it was for three years."
The team Joe Gibbs will send against Dallas this afternoon is similar in many ways to the Allen outfit that won the NFC title by 23 points over the Cowboys in '72, Starke said.
"Not overall dominating talent," he said, "but each player skilled in a very specific area that all put together made a very good team. Like Ron McDole. A big, fat defensive end, he certainly wasn't going to run the 40 in 4.5. But his style of football eliminated certain types of things. That coupled with Diron (Talbert) and (Bill) Brundige went well."
None of those Redskins resembled Bob Lilly; as often as not, they beat Lilly's Cowboys.
These Redskins have lost the last six times to Dallas. Off the field, though, the Hogs would blend right in with the Over the Hill Gang. Russ Grimm, Neal Olkewicz and several others are tough cusses inclined to twist somebody else's elbows during a game and bend their own later.
What an epitaph for John Wilbur: "Born to be a Hog."
A former Cowboy who hates 'em as intensly as anyone, Starke has gone against Jones at least twice a year for longer than he cares to immediately recall. A nice man who can play nasty, Starke sort of describes the left defensive end. As many times as they have collided, as often as they have beaten each other's team and been beaten up here and in Texas Stadium, there is respect between them--but few words.
"Four or five years from now," Starke said, "I might be driving through Dallas, call him up and we'll have a few beers." Certainly no sooner.