He is the second brick from the right in the Washington Redskins' defensive wall and yesterday tackle Darryl Grant was talking about Chicago running back Walter Payton.
In a emphatic announcement that would have made even Muhammad Ali bow in awe, Grant said of Payton, "He's the allll-tiiiime greatest! Remember the word alll-tiiiime! All-time means that he's the greatest ever since they started keeping records.
"Maybe there was some other guy, who is now unknown to man, who carried a stone for more yards. Or maybe one of those guys who carried messages from city to city covered more yardage. You know the guys in Greece. But as far as we know, Payton's the greatest. You follow that?"
Now the Redskins have to figure a way to stop Payton, without the use of stones or gladiators. The Redskins will play the Bears in a division playoff game Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at RFK Stadium and the word among defensive players this week at Redskin Park has been simple: stop Payton or else!
"He's it," defensive end Charles Mann said yesterday. "Stop him and you'll stop them."
There are many scales on which to weigh Payton's career. He has run for 1,684 yards this season to surpass Jim Brown and become the league's No. 1 rusher in career yardage with 13,309.
Payton, a 5-foot-10, 202-pound rendition of now-you-see-me-now-you-don't, has rushed for 1,000 yards or more in eight of his 10 seasons with the Bears. His only misses occurred in his rookie season of 1975 (679 yards) and in the strike-shortened season of 1982 (596).
Payton has been the most durable of running backs. At 30, he is five years younger than Redskins' fullback John Riggins and has accumulated more than 300 more carries in three fewer seasons.
"Now that tells you something," said linebacker Mel Kaufman.
Above all, the Bears (10-6) have stressed the run this season, which means they have stressed Payton.
Chicago has been forced to use six quarterbacks this season (including Payton), cutting off the circulation of the passing game. Mathematics shows that the Bears, who averaged a league-best 154 yards rushing per game, ran on a league-high 61 percent of their plays. (Even the ball-control Redskins ran on only 52 percent of their plays.)
And yesterday Chicago Coach Mike Ditka was on the telephone from the Atlanta Falcons' training ground, where his team is practicing this week, implying that the Bears aren't about to alter their ways Sunday.
"I don't want to go in and say, 'We're going to completely run the football all day,' " Ditka said. "But we hope we can control the ball and keep their offense off of the field."
Ditka knows St. Louis' Neil Lomax passed for 468 yards against the Redskins 11 days ago. He knows the Redskins have been, over the past two years combined, the best defense against the run in the league. He knows, too, that most teams have attempted to beat the Redskins through the air.
"That's true," Ditka said, "but we feel that we can run the football on anybody. We have done it most of the year. We've had problems at times, but overall we've run the ball very well against everybody.
"We know that it's tough to run on (the Redskins); we've seen that on the films. But you just hope that with what you do and with the way you do things, you can be effective doing it. It's foolish to say you're not going to try. If you try, you have a great chance to be successful."
So, two questions were posed yesterday at Redskin Park: how do you stop Walter Payton? And how good is this guy anyway?
Defensive coach Richie Petitbon: "I hate to use the word perfect, but . . . Walter Payton is not just a running back. He's a complete football player. (Trying to stop him) won't be easy. There's no magic formula. Just 11 guys flying to the football."
Linebacker Neal Olkewicz: "It's unrealistic to think you can shut Payton down completely. What we have to do is keep him from getting the big play, the runs of 20 yards or more."
Coach Joe Gibbs: "I don't think he can be intimidated. He's a mean runner. I'm not sure you're going to stop him. What I see (in Payton) is a guy who can bounce to the outside and make yards after it looks like he's been stopped."
Defensive end Mann: "We have to play our type of defense. What's that? Making tackles. We've missed a lot of tackles this season. Last week, we missed two tackles at the end of the game and let St. Louis get out of bounds to stop the clock. They shouldn't have even gotten a chance to try that field goal at the end."
Linebacker Kaufman: "The Bears are the only team that would rather run (than pass) on third and four. And Walter is their man. When they need a big play, they'll go to him."
Free safety Curtis Jordan: "I think our playing a four-man front (most teams have a 3-4 defense) will help us as much as anything. The extra defensive end or tackle on line is much tougher to run against. Where Payton is really tough is coming out of the backfield as a receiver (Payton had a team-high 45 catches this season)."
And Grant said, "How do you stop Walter Payton? With a helmet and a face mask . . . Their offensive line has opened some big holes for him. I'd say they like running the sweeps. But I expect them to do quite a lot of trapping, too."
Because Chicago quarterback Steve Fuller has made his completion rate rise by throwing so many short passes and because of the success that Lomax had with the short dump-off passes against the Redskins (he had 17 completions to running backs), the Redskins say they are prepared for the Bears to try the dump-off passing attack.
"We'll just have to react faster than we did against St. Louis," said Monte Coleman, the left linebacker on passing downs. "It's possible that they'll throw that type of pass. But let me put it this way: if you were a defensive coach and you got beat on something one week, what would you stress in practice the next week?"
Jordan added, "I think there's no question that those (dump-off) passes are in the Bears' game plan. (But) we've got a couple things that we'll do now to stop those."
Olkewicz, the Redskins' leading tackler for the second consecutive season, said that stopping Payton doesn't guarantee victory.
"But it does mean the percentages for us winning will go up," he said.
Olkewicz smiled. "Yeah," he said, "way up."
Both Riggins (back pains) and wide receiver Charlie Brown (knee sprain) have been running well at practice this week. "I think Charlie is the healthiest he's been," Gibbs said. "I think John feels good, too."
Defensive end Tony McGee did not practice yesterday. He flew home to Battle Creek, Mich., on Christmas Eve due to an illness in his family.