Finally, a witch doctor came to help the Washington Federals.
Perhaps it was inevitable. The team was 1-8 at the time, preparing for a game in Chicago against a formidable opponent. Then, as now, when they are 2-13, the Federals were trying to find themselves and finding only misfortune.
So when a small fellow from New Guinea, calling himself a witch doctor, showed up at the team's RFK Stadium offices asking for General Manager Dick Myers, no one turned him away. A stern sort such as George Allen might not have had time for such foolishness; the Federals did.
Myers says he was in one of his more whimsical moods. "I asked him, 'Are you one of those voodoo guys?' The guy said, 'That's old-fashioned. We don't call it voodoo anymore. We call it joojoo.' "
In any event, Myers was handed an object the size of a quarter, wrapped in ratty thread, and instructed to drop it on the grass of the field in Chicago when nobody was looking. The talisman, he was guaranteed, would bring victory.
"I dropped it out in back of one of the goal posts, near a chain link fence," he recalled. "Obviously, it didn't work."
Obviously. Not only did the Blitz thrash the Federals at Soldier Field as they had on opening day at RFK, but 40 minutes before the game Washington's starting quarterback, Mike Hohensee, announced he was sick and could not play.
"I think I dropped that thing on the ground just before I heard about Mike," Myers said. "We get strange phone calls all the time. I haven't heard again from this one, though."
There's nothing like a losing season to heighten tension, and one afternoon in practice Myke Horton and Don Burrell got into a scuffle that spoke more of frustration than dispute.
"I was pretty annoyed with that and one day I was sitting in my office feeling so angry I thought I could shoot somebody," said Coach Ray Jauch. "And I said to myself, 'That's it. I'll shoot someone.'
"So I went down to the equipment guy and had him fix me up with a big-caliber starter's pistol and some blanks. By this time Burrell and Horton had cooled off, but I told them to just keep starting up in practice and follow my lead. I didn't tell them anything more than that.
"So we got out there, and they got into it again, fighting twice I think. I just broke it up. But some of the other coaches were getting pretty mad. So the third time it happened I went in and broke it up. And then, suddenly, I wheeled around and whipped out the gun and shot them. It was just like those films you see of assassinations. Happened the same way.
"Of course, they just went down and everybody else went wild. Coy Bacon was so shocked he turned and ran off. He didn't know what the hell had happened. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."
Saturday night's 18-11 victory over the Wranglers was, despite the dusty desert winds in Arizona, a breath of fresh air. With a 10-game losing streak and three games left against league leaders, the likelihood of a 1-17 record was there. Arizona, at 4-11, was the best of the last shots.
The losses have been hard on the players, coaches, executives, and, yes, a few fans.
Consider the case of Carol Stedman, no doubt the Federals' most devoted supporter.
Stedman is 40 years old--"The same age as Coy Bacon," she says. A clerk at the D.C. Post Office, she not only has a season ticket on the 40-yard line, she's spent nearly $2,000 accompanying the Federals on their chartered flight (season ticket holders can buy space on the plane) on every road trip but one.
"I wouldn't say I'm a football fanatic, but I like it," she says. "I can't go to the Redskins unless I'm lucky enough to run across a ticket and that hardly ever happens. So I decided I wanted to get in on the new league. I think one day it'll be as hard to get a ticket to the USFL as it is to the Redskins.
"It's been pretty tough. You go back to the plane after they've lost and you really feel for them because so many games were so close. You wish there was something you could have done to help them.
"In Oakland we rode out to the game on BART and we picked up an Oakland fan on the way. Two minutes into the game, the guy came over with the only Feds pennant he could find and started helping us root for the Feds. We converted him. I don't think we'll ever meet another guy like him.
"But this week in Phoenix, it was so wonderful to win. I just can't tell you."
Stedman's investment in the Federals is substantial, but it hardly matches that of the team's owner, Berl Bernhard. Like Myers, he has been open to any suggestion, entertaining phone calls from two psychiatrists, one hypnotist, one man selling "special victory shoes" and another advertising mouthpieces guaranteed to relax the players and make them play better.
"One guy told me before the New Jersey game to take the program out to midfield before the kickoff and stomp on it," Bernhard said. "Of course, I did it and we lost. In fact, I think I stomped on it right about from where they kicked their winning field goal."
So when Bernhard was roused from sleep early Sunday morning to learn his team had won for the first time in three months, he felt almost numb.
"It's one of those things," he said. "It's been so long and you're so used to losing that you feel kind of blank. I didn't know how to absorb it."
Bernhard and Myers said yesterday the Federals would hire a director of player personnel in the near future. Myers said his leading candidate is a top scout in the National Football League.
Myers, who has said personnel is not his specialty, has been handling the job since Mike Faulkiner quit just before the season opener to become an assistant coach with the New York Jets. Bernhard has said the lack of a personnel director is partly responsible for the team's record.
Maryland tight end John Tice, drafted by the Federals and the New Orleans Saints this year, met with Myers yesterday.
"We're talking," Myers said. "John's brother Mike plays (tight end) for Seattle, though, and all things being equal I think John would like to play in the NFL."