For 45 of the Washington Redskins, tonight's preseason game at Tampa Bay is nothing more than a logical ending to another summer of football. For five other Redskins, it is something more: the sometimes seemingly illogical ending to a Washington career.
You won't find a list of who the 45 are. Or the five. Officially, the names haven't been separated yet. But after tonight, on a field that brings back bad Super Bowl memories (of a 38-9 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders), decisions will be made, then announced Monday.
Perhaps the Redskins player who has the most to worry about against the Buccaneers (1-2) is top draft choice Tory Nixon. He was beaten deep twice two weeks ago against the Raiders and, although he has improved somewhat in practice, he still appears not to have caught up to the other members of the secondary after missing two weeks in a contract holdout.
What's more, it's apparent he never quite has fit in with the other defensive backs, usually standing alone on the sideline in practice, several feet from his teammates.
If he doesn't play well tonight, it appears he may be waived (or traded or placed on injured reserve) Monday.
"To say it's important for him would be an understatement," said assistant head coach-defense Richie Petitbon. "We'd love to have him have a great game."
Coach Joe Gibbs repeatedly has said he has no obligations to owner Jack Kent Cooke or General Manager Bobby Beathard to keep any player based on his draft position or the money he has been guaranteed.
The Redskins (3-0) plan to keep seven defensive backs, and they have eight now. All indications are Nixon, the 33rd player chosen in the 1985 NFL draft, ranks eighth. If he goes, so does a signing bonus believed to be worth $200,000.
Cooke refused comment when he was asked about the possibility of losing that money in addition to the $150,000 signing bonus that went to highly regarded kicker Tony Zendejas, who was traded to Houston this week.
Two other Redskins possibly facing release are running back Michael Morton, considered the fifth running back, and tight end Rick Walker, considered the fourth tight end. The Redskins hope to be able to keep both, but that depends on whether they keep two or three quarterbacks.
At the team's 24th Annual Welcome Home Luncheon yesterday at the Sheraton Washington, Cooke counseled reserve quarterbacks Jay Schroeder and Babe Laufenberg: "You must be patient. Remember, Ronald Reagan didn't get to be president until he was 69."
Laufenberg went up to Cooke after the program. "I hope I don't have to wait that long," he told Cooke.
There has been no word on who will follow starter Joe Theismann tonight, but Schroeder apparently still ranks No. 2 in the coaches' minds.
"Maybe I'm the people's choice," Laufenberg said as he was crushed for autographs on his way out of the hotel. He certainly is an emotional choice based on his two-touchdown, 200-yard performance last Friday against New England, one that some within the organization say persuaded the coaches to keep him another week and at least consider keeping three quarterbacks.
There also has been no indication who will start at running back: George Rogers or John Riggins. Either way, Riggins is expected to play more than he did against New England, when he ran five times for 19 yards.
Morton, meanwhile, returns to try to win a job where he left one a month ago. After playing three seasons with the Buccaneers, he left in a huff over his contract.
"They gave me an ultimatum (on the contract) and said take it or leave it. I left it," Morton said. "It was a scary decision, but, I think now, it was a good decision."
James Wilder, the Pro Bowl back who kept Morton out of the Buccaneers' starting backfield, is expected to play quite a bit tonight.
"They run one running back 100 percent," Morton said, overstating the case. "Naturally, it bothered me a lot. It bothered the fans a lot, too. I think they wondered why I didn't play. I did, too."
Wilder rushed 407 times for 1,544 yards; Morton, 17 times for 27 yards. He also returned 38 kickoffs for 835 yards last season.
"I think the Redskins know I can return kicks," Morton said. "They're really testing me at running back."
The grass under his feet may be soggy. Tropical Storm Elena is churning through the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans, but is turning Tampa gray. Rain and gloom are forecast.
Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley was told he might be playing in a hurricane.
"I don't think I want to go."
He went anyway.
You can hardly blame the Redskins for not wanting to see Tampa Stadium, though. The last time they were there was Super Bowl XVIII. The time before that, just before the players' strike in 1982, Washington won, 21-13, and that game was played in a monsoon.
If the Redskins win, it will be the first time in at least 25 years that they will have gone through a preseason undefeated. Records going back to 1961 show no unbeaten preseasons . . . Wide receiver-punt returner Gary Clark (sprained right knee) said he probably will not play tonight. "There's a chance, but there's no need to rush it," he said. Rookie free safety Raphel Cherry is expected to get his first opportunity as a punt returner in Clark's place. Defensive tackle Tom Beasley (injured toe) also is questionable for the game . . . Guard R.C. Thielemann is expected to be activated for the game. To make room for him, tackle Mike McClearn (two dislocated fingers) likely will go on injured reserve . . . Cooke, speaking at the luncheon, said of the Redskins' schedule, "Too bad we can't play Buffalo 16 times this year." He also mentioned Dallas and Coach Tom Landry. "Tom is a fine coach and normally a truthful man. Who does Tom think he's kidding when he says the Cowboys are probably going to finish fourth? Don't believe him . . . But I do credit him when he says the Redskins probably will win the Eastern Division. I credit him with some astuteness there."