Defensive tackle Tony Suber lumbered into the offices of the Washington Federals yesterday morning. For the past three weeks the Federals have lost games to Arizona, New Jersey and Tampa Bay by a total of nine points, but Suber was undeterred.
"I'm coming back here next week with a smile," he promised Susan Sullivan, an assistant to Jim Gould, the team president.
Suber's optimism typifies the mood on the team. Though they might be on the way toward securing a place in the trivia books by compiling the worst record in the first year of the U.S. Football League, the Federals betray no overt signs of remorse.
On the day before the Tampa Bay game, players told jokes and walked through their paces with an air of slow-motion confidence.
Coach Ray Jauch looked on at his assemblage and said, "I guess nobody will ever call this team uptight."
After losing games, George Allen radiates grief.
Jauch, on the other hand, has tried to emphasize that the establishment of a roster is more important in the long run than individual games. After his seventh loss in eight games Sunday, Jauch denied there was anything called a "losing syndrome."
"I'm still standing," Jauch said. "We'll make it."
If the Federals do make it, if they do begin to win, it will be with the players now on the roster. General Manager Dick Myers said that the team will have fewer players coming to practice for three-day tryouts.
"If we were getting kicked around, it would be a different story, but we've been so damn close lately," Myers said. "We're through running guys in and out of here. There might be some minor changes as we go along, but not many."
Against the Federals' secondary and linebackers, Tampa Bay quarterback Jimmy Jordan threw to open receivers at will, finishing the game with 30 completions in 45 attempts for 345 yards, including three touchdown passes to Eric Truvillion.
And Jordan, who started only because John Reaves was injured, appeared to have at least five seconds to find an open receiver on most passes.
"I think the offense is on track," said Myers. "What we have to do is quit giving up so much yardage. We need more big plays from the defense. (Defensive back) Mike Guess has upgraded us in that area considerably, but we need more of it."
Running back Craig James said, "For three weeks we've been getting everybody on the ropes but we keep letting them off. I think we have the players now. We just have to get to the fine points."
The fine points include James not fumbling on the opponent's 13, Joe Gilliam not throwing three interceptions in a half, defensive backs not allowing a receiver to catch three nearly identical touchdown passes in a half and guards not allowing opponents to limit Billy Taylor to six yards on seven carries.
All these fine points contributed to the seven points separating the Bandits and the Federals Sunday. "We seem to go along pretty well and then do some silly things," Jauch said. "I'm not sure the team is where it ought to be mentally."
As the season nears its midpoint, the Federals management is getting concerned about the future. Dismal weather at three of the Federals' four home games has been a factor, but a losing record, especially for a team that has no tradition, can be a promotional disaster whether the sun shines or not.
The Federals have sold 19,000 season tickets, but many of those people have stayed home. There were 12,545 no-shows Sunday. Yesterday the Federals held a meeting to figure out ways to get season ticket holders back in the stands.
"The weather's been bad, but if we'd been 4-3 we'd have had bigger crowds. So it's a combination of things," said Myers. "We have to worry about remewals (of season ticket subscriptions) for next year. I hope we can do something to get them. All we can do, though, is start translating the way we've been playing into wins."
Defensive back Doug Greene (bruised left thigh) and tight end Vince Rogusky (sprained left wrist) are listed as questionable for Sunday's home game against Birmingham. Taylor (bruised right hamstring) and guard Dave Pacella (bruised right knee) are likely to play.