What Redskins fan worth his season ticket could forget a head Hog?
Even before he received the "unsung hero" award at yesterday's homecoming luncheon at the Sheraton Washington, George Starke had earned the one standing ovation given by the crowd of 2,000, following some kind words from Joe Theismann, who had been left in an upright position more times than he can count over the previous 12 Redskins seasons courtesy of Starke.
"It's not goodbye. It's sort of like you're moving into another world," Theismann said to Starke, seated in the long row of Redskins alumni and not the long row of Redskins players.
Of course it was like Starke was moving into another world -- that's the whole trouble for anyone who has been the senior player of a team. It was goodbye.
"I've been around a long time. I just want to say it's nice to be appreciated. Goodbye."
That's all Starke said, maybe all he could say then. It's been a difficult week for him, "to say the least," beginning at Redskin Park Tuesday when line coach Joe Bugel said, "George, I want to talk to you upstairs."
Definitely, it was goodbye.
"We're in such a strange occupation," Starke said yesterday at his MacArthur Boulevard office. "It comes at a particular time in your life. It takes up so much of your time. It becomes your present and your future.
"Then, it's like you've suffered from arrested development. Just when you've matured, it's snatched out from under you and it's history."
One could say that Starke is 37 and was beginning his 13th year with the team, which is almost as long as Sammy Baugh played here, and spanned two Super Bowl eras -- a good run for an Ivy League lineman, a Columbia man. "I saw guys come in, have full careers and leave -- and I was still here," he said.
When he was young, he was on the taxi squad.
There aren't any taxi squads in the NFL anymore.
Still, he says he didn't know the end was near until shortly after Joe Bugel said quietly, "George . . . " The explanation, of course, is because when you've done something so long, sometimes you can't imagine doing anything else.
"The more history you have, the more baggage you carry, the more difficult the break," he said.
He always knew the career of an athlete was a tenuous one. Now he knew soft words could hit harder than Too Tall Jones.
He could have tried to hook on somewhere else, but he didn't make that sound like too serious a consideration. "I'm a Redskin basically," he said.
A natural thought, after 13 years. In the early years, he said, "you just work your tail off and hope for the best. When you've been around, you allow yourself to relax" -- not that you're working less hard, you're simply a proven veteran now -- "and you're into it. That's why it's so difficult when it stops."
But what music, while it still played, all the way back to the George Allen days. That's when Starke said he "learned to be a man" playing in the trenches with linemen dwarfed in size and talent by the modern-day Hogs, but not outdone in heart and toughness. "That's when I learned about the commitment to the team," he said. "Playing with Len Hauss, who did so much, who played in pain. A good lesson to learn."
So when it came down to what would be Starke's own last real game with the Redskins, late last season against Dallas, when Bugel turned to him and asked, "Can you play at all?" could he make it despite torn cartilage in his knee, Starke said, "I can't back up. I can't move to the side. I can go forward halfway decently." The Redskins won.
The Redskins Starke played with always were winning. "In 13 years, I played on only one team that wasn't a winning team," he said.
He played for Allen. Then Jack Pardee. Then Joe Gibbs.
Starke liked them all.
Allen "was like P.T. Barnum." Each Sunday was a morality play. "He'd motivate you somehow. He was good at it. Some days, he wasn't at his best. He'd get up there and say, 'Ah, it isn't working.' "
Pardee, to Starke, "wasn't comfortable around the players. I thought as an ex-player he'd be more comfortable around players." Yet times weren't so bad. "He was coach of the year the year before he was fired. What does that tell you?"
And Gibbs. "He likes to take you into his confidence, tell you what has to be done and what you have to do. Then he likes you to motivate yourself. He's very smart."
Starke liked the coaches, and liked the life of a Redskin. Although he got the unsung hero award, he actually already had been sung. As head Hog, he had been instrumental in making an offensive line celebrated, a rarity. He fitted comfortably into top hat and tails. A bachelor, he escorted beautiful women. Filmmaker, reggae enthusiast, now part of a catering business, general handyman who turned a ramshackle house in Mount Pleasant into his lovely home.
But, oh, for one more crack at the Cowboys.
"I have to find somebody to give me tickets," he said.
Definitely, he had arrived in a new world.