On a gunmetal-gray afternoon, with only a half-dozen spectators present in the Gator Bowl, 84 men played in an intrasquad scrimmage today with their salaries, jobs and dreams at stake.
Federals Coach Ray Jauch, like the rest of the USFL's coaches, must trim his roster to 70 by 4 p.m. Monday, and that knowledge was on each player's mind as he boarded the double-decker bus to the stadium. Some chatted quietly about the scrimmage or the circus that has been in town all week. Most talked not at all.
As a new team, the Federals have only one player assured of a starting position--Southern Methodist running back Craig James. "There's no doubt about it, everybody knows today could mean their job," said defensive end Bob Barber.
Barber is typical of the players here, not only in his hopes of success with the Federals in the future, but also in his peripatetic past. After graduating from Grambling, Barber played with Shreveport in the World Football League, Pittsburgh and Green Bay in the NFL and Edmonton in the Canadian Football League.
Barber, like many others here, has been in this position before, working in a crowded training camp with employment a day-to-day question.
"This is the opportunity for me," said Barber.
Barber's opportunity came on the first drive of the day, and he seized it.
On the fifth play from scrimmage, quarterback Kim McQuilken set up a screen, but Barber closed in and batted the ball to the ground.
On the following play, he helped sack McQuilken for an eight-yard loss.
"I had some butterflies before the scrimmage because we ran so much this week. I was hoping my legs would be ready," said Barber. "I don't know what will happen but just a few plays can make a difference. You know the coaches are watching."
Fullback Don Testerman knew the coaches were watching when he dropped a pass that hit him square in the chest. He stared at the soggy turf and cursed the world at large as if he'd blown a touchdown chance in the Super Bowl.
Because the team has been practicing together only a week, the quality of play was generally ragged and confused. Still, there were standouts.
Running backs Bobby Hammond and James gained 25 yards apiece on four and six carries, respectively. Tight end William Wall made an impressive 23-yard touchdown catch. Former Redskins defensive end Coy Bacon had a sack.
"Not bad, not too bad at all," said Mike Faulkiner, the team's director of player personnel.
Although the Federals showed a two-back, single-tight end offense, the offensive coordinator, Dick Bielski, said the offensive alignments would depend on the coaches' evaluation of the team's talent.
"You can only play this game with what you have," said Bielski. "I guess Amos Alonzo Stagg said that first, but he was right.
"If we find out we can run, we'll run the hell out of it. If we can pass, we will . . . Usually, in the beginning, the defense has the edge. They don't have as many critical timing moves to get down."
The Federals will face the Tampa Bay Bandits in a scrimmage on Feb. 19 at the Gator Bowl and will cut the roster to 58 players the following day. On Feb. 26, the Federals will scrimmage against the Boston Breakers at the Gator Bowl. Then the team will break training camp and cut the roster to 40 players and a 10-man developmental squad for its 18-game regular season.