HELP WANTED: Redskins player, preferably with star qualities, who is able to speak in front of a camera with clarity, knowledge and humor about the football team. No prior broadcasting experience required. Apply to local television stations.
When the Washington Redskins open training camp today in Carlisle, Pa., most of the players will spend their energies trying to secure a spot on the 45-man roster. The smart ones -- the ones who can afford to talk and tackle at the same time -- will spend some of their energies trying to secure their broadcasting futures.
With John Riggins gone and Joe Theismann apparently on the way out, the Redskins are losing their two most salable spokesmen. Before Riggins and Theismann, only Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff -- both Hall of Famers -- graduated successfully from the Redskins to local broadcasting stardom during the past generation. Theismann and Riggins already had their own weekly shows on local TV before their careers had even ended.
"They're in a class completely by themselves," WRC-TV-4 sportscaster George Michael said.
Theismann and Riggins probably can be replaced more easily in the Redskins backfield than in the broadcast booth. They were among the best players in the league, but more important -- at least for local news operations -- they were camera-ready all the time and fully understood the game's show-business aspect. Theismann was sharp and smooth, if sometimes a little much, with his tailored TV touch, and Riggins could be roaringly funny with a raw, rough charm about him.
Now the four commercial stations with special Redskins programming must search for new Redskins to fill the airwaves. "There's a big hole there," said WUSA-TV-9 sportscaster Glenn Brenner. "There's no personality that jumps right out now."
The problem is simple: The Redskins are a team in transition with a lot of younger players lacking marquee value, and their veteran players -- George Rogers, Mark Moseley, Dave Butz, et al. -- are not show stoppers.
"Go down the Redskins lineup," said Ernie Baur, a WTTG-TV-5 sports director. "Who would command viewership? . . . There aren't going to be a lot of 'Vernon Dean Shows' out there."
WJLA-TV-7 sportscaster Frank Herzog, though, thinks new personalities will emerge.
"There was a time a couple of years ago that Theismann didn't talk and Riggins was unavailable. What it did was make us all better reporters," he said. "Theismann was a stopgap. When it was a slow day at Redskin Park, you stuck a microphone in Joe's face and you had a story.
"We will find the characters now who we missed because Joe was there . . . People are going to start to discover linebackers who can talk."
Herzog thinks Butz, Art Monk or "any of the offensive linemen" might emerge. Brenner mentioned affable Curtis Jordan or unpredictable Dexter Manley, who approached WTTG about a regular spot on "Redskins Playbook."
Right now, the local stations are scrambling to set their fall schedules; only Channel 4 and Michael are pretty much set because they lured Coach Joe Gibbs away from Channel 9 to replace Theismann. Michael said he wanted to retain Theismann, but his superiors wanted an active Redskin for "Redskin Report." (Besides, if Theismann retires, he probably will join CBS as an analyst.)
The question is whether Gibbs, who also will appear Mondays on the early news, and Michael will get along. Gibbs occasionally bristles at tough questioning, and Michael and Theismann had a few tense moments last season over questions. "Joe Gibbs has to advance and move to a new plateau," Michael said. "I've told management that he might get so mad that he walks out and quits. I've discussed it with him. I would never submarine him, and I want him to know that."
"That's like oil and water to me," Baur said of the Michael-Gibbs team. "Opposite personalities. It will be interesting."
WJLA will return with "Redskins Sunday," but Herzog said the station was unsure about its other fall plans and whether another player would replace Riggins on the newscasts.
WUSA will retain its Saturday night "Redskins Sidelines" and will replace Sunday's "Joe Gibbs Show" with a show featuring Jurgensen and Huff. "Otherwise, we're taking a TV timeout right now," Brenner said about deciding whether to sign a Redskin for Monday newscasts.
WTTG will retain Jeff Bostic for the Monday and Thursday newscasts. Its "Redskins Playbook" will move up a half-hour to 8 p.m. on Mondays, and since the show does not use any Redskins regulars, it appears ready to roll.