Humility is having a hotel porter bring the news of your latest football failure -- along with your belongings in an oversized baggie. That was how Mark McGrath was told he couldn't cut it in Canada.
"Thought right then maybe it was time to hang 'em up," he admitted.
Reality is trying to sell season tickets for Seattle Mariners baseball, being told the price is too high by cagey customers and meekly saying: "Hey, I couldn't agree more." That was when Mark McGrath realized he should not give up on football too quickly.
"Couldn't sell firewood to an Eskimo," he joked.
Uncertainty is wanting to keep the ball you've just caught for your first pro touchdown as a souvenir, but deciding against it for fear scouts might make too big a deal about your having not scored before. That is why Mark McGrath spiked the ball after mustering the Redskins' fifth touchdown today.
"They'll know anyway, so maybe I should have kept it after all," he said.
For nearly every Redskin but McGrath, today was routinely familiar. The Indianapolis Errsays were another of those teams that can be beaten while you allow some of your wounded to mend.
The Errsays may not be the worst team with a home dome, yet they are best illustrated by one recurring scene here today: Before first down each time they got the ball, punter Rohn Stark began warming up.
That's proof the offense smells. But then the Errsay offense is quite a bit better than the Errsay defense. With a bump here and a break there, Mike Nelms could have exposed the Errsay special teams as awful also.
To Mark McGrath, the defenders could have been the League of Women Voters and his mood still would have been both joyous and cautious. Those seven catches were two more than the sum of his previous three-year NFL career.
"He (Coach Joe Gibbs) came up to Virgil (Seay) and me just before the game," McGrath said. "He said I'd be starting but that we'd split the time half and half.
"Then the chemistry started to go right (with him and Art Monk and the exceptionally accurate Joe Theismann). If it had been the other way around, you probably would be talking with Virgil instead of me."
McGrath was surprised and also grateful that the Errsay defense treated him and Monk with such respect. Patches of tomatoes could have been cultivated between Redskin receivers and Errsay cornerbacks before each snap.
This is understandable with Monk. Give him an inch and he'll take a touchdown, as he did three times yesterday. Theismann all but sends a mailgram to the defense that he's about to lob the ball into the end zone; Monk still outwrestles his man for the ball.
"Art's still the man a defense has to double," McGrath knows.
"Guys like Art I call heavyweight champs," Assistant General Manager Bobby Mitchell said. "Art and Riggins. They're so big. And you can't beat that."
Guys like McGrath are the feisty flyweights of football. Exuberant but fragile, and also expendable.
"McGrath comes in here," said the team wit, Curtis Jordan, "he's a slow and white guy, but better-lookin' than (old Raider receiver Fred Biletnikoff)." Swinging his hands, as a bearded Ed McMahon, Jordan exclaimed:
"And now this."
The notion that he would attract small waves of reporters surely seemed a fantasy even to McGrath as late as a month ago. He had been released -- again -- by the Redskins.
"The only problem with Mark," Gibbs repeated today, "was the injury factor."
That also was why he failed to survive even a second with Edmonton -- couldn't sell himself to the Eskimos -- after the Redskins released him late in training camp.
McGrath's right knee required ligament surgery four years ago; the Eskimos had six players suffer the same injury, he said. He understood their reluctance to sign him; he thought their failure to tell him before the porter arrived with his equipment tasteless.
"I went right back to Seattle," McGrath said. "That was on a Sunday. The Redskins played the Giants that day, and Alvin Garrett went down. I was on a plane to Washington the next day."
The mercurial life in the NFL remains an alluring puzzle for McGrath. Unemployed one day; hero the next. Able to draw regular pay at all only because of someone else's misery.
"When I'm done, that's what I'll be glad about (putting in his past)," he said. "I hope I can get some kind of job I can count on Monday after Monday after Monday."
McGrath realizes he just might be looking for such work in a few weeks, although certainly not if he keeps performing as he did today.
"This is the most balls I've caught since high school," he said. "Next week, I might end up the fourth receiver, but as long as I'm still on the payroll -- and we're winning -- that'll be fine."
One of McGrath's part-time jobs has been tending bar; he has been beaten off the field enough to imagine himself serving drinks and inside information some Redskin Sunday soon.
Right now, he said, "this sure beats rum and Cokes." So hoist one to him for a change. And the man who keeps him as free as possible on the field, Art Monk.