For Donnie Harris and Jeff Brown, the collision was more than only an anguished moment. As the two Washington Federals defensive backs watched Arizona receiver Jackie Flowers fade into the end zone with the Wranglers' 98-yard winning touchdown Monday night, they were watching a microcosm of the team's USFL season.
"That's it in a nutshell," Harris said yesterday before practice. "We can be doing well for 3 1/2 quarters, and then something like that happens."
Neither Harris nor Brown is unfamiliar with the stress that goes with losing and the constant questions from others and from themselves. In 1978, Harris' first of two years with the Washington Redskins, the NFL team won its first six games and apparently was headed for the playoffs.
"We thought we would automatically go to the playoffs," Harris said. "We had to win three of our last 10. We lost eight of the next 10. But nobody was panicking."
Harris said he isn't about to panic now. Neither is Brown, the youngest Federal. Six days past his 22nd birthday, less than a year out of college, Brown has wrestled with self-doubt before. His junior year at Liberty Baptist, the football team was 1-9, and it started 0-4 his senior year.
"You really start questioning yourself," Brown said. "You can get so caught up in listening to the fans, but that's where you have to distinguish yourself. When we were 1-9, I honestly felt, with all my heart and soul, that we were going to win each game.
"At one point, I had to question myself, 'I'm losing, am I a loser?' But that's not necessarily true."
Brown said it would be easy to accept defeat, going into each game with a "let's get it over with" attitude. He refuses to do that.
"It's still early, we have 12 games left," he said. "We're a far better team than 1-5. We caused our own negative breaks. We messed up ourselves."
The Federals, who play the New Jersey Generals, also 1-5, Sunday at the Meadowlands, will have to deal with more than just a string of unlucky breaks. They'll have to make plans to stop Herschel Walker, who has gained 310 yards in the Generals' last two games.
"I've never played against him," Harris said. "But of course I have a tremendous amount of respect for him." And he echoed a sentiment of Brown's: "That doesn't mean we're going to lie down because he's Herschel Walker."
The Federals yesterday waived tight end Phil DuBois and guard Mike Matocha.