George Rogers and Kelvin Bryant met in 1980 at a sports banquet in Charlotte, N.C. Bryant was a sophomore at North Carolina who looked at Rogers as something of a hero. Rogers was a senior at South Carolina who had just won the Heisman Trophy. These are Bryant's recollections. Rogers barely remembers the banquet, and doesn't remember meeting Bryant.
"How could he?" Bryant asked. "He was at the head table and I was just out there somewhere in the crowd."
The next time they saw one another was August 1986. They both had become Washington Redskins, Rogers the year before, Bryant that month. One job on the football team was about to become theirs to share. So was one friendship, which would thrive despite the pressure of an unusual sports competition.
They became roommates until Bryant got his own house -- four doors down from Rogers' in Fairfax. They share chewing tobacco, warm-up suits and a passing disdain for public attention. In fact, as they enter their second season together, it has become quite clear that about the only thing Rogers and Bryant might never share is the Redskins backfield.
If you ask them, both will say they don't mind Coach Joe Gibbs' one-back philosophy. When one is playing, the other is sitting, they know. Neither Rogers nor Bryant is a particularly aggressive man who would go to his coach and ask to play more. Although both have been stars elsewhere, they appear content to share stardom here.
"It's good that we're friends," Bryant said. "I don't think we're ever going to let this football get involved in our friendship."
On the field, Rogers and Bryant are easy to figure. When his left toe gets well, Rogers again will be the workhorse of the Redskins offense. He has gained 6,563 yards in six National Football League seasons, four with New Orleans, the last two with Washington. He led the NFL with 18 touchdowns in 1986 and inched his way to 20th place on the list of all-time leading rushers.
Bryant, who has been injured in each of his college and professional seasons, is the team's long yardage and third-down back. If Rogers replaced John Riggins in Redskins lore, Bryant is the new Joe Washington. He ran 69 times last season for 258 yards, but his forte is receiving, which he did 43 times for 449 yards.
Off the field, they are more mysterious, Bryant especially. He has made a career out of avoiding the public eye and revealing precious little about himself in interviews. It is known he held Dominique Wilkins to six points in a high school basketball game, and is one of 10 children of a factory worker and a maid from tiny Tarboro, N.C. Now a millionaire several times over, Bryant recently bought his mother a new dark blue Lincoln Continental.
Rogers, who grew up in the projects of Duluth, Ga., and built his mother a house when he became rich, always calls Bryant by the wrong name: "Calvin."
"He still has not got it right," Bryant said. "I'm tired of getting on him. He's from Georgia. Maybe that's the explanation, with his accent. I'm starting to call him 'Georgie.' "
"Calvin, Kelvin," Rogers retorted, laughing. "What's the difference?" Rogers also calls Bryant "Bones" because he is so wiry.
"They're both good old guys from the South who like to chew and hang out together," said guard R.C. Thielemann. "That pretty much explains them."
While Bryant dashes past reporters, loathe to discuss another injury, Rogers always stops and talks. The difference in their personalities is Rogers' willingness, even eagerness, to discuss his problems. Bryant almost never reveals his feelings. Rogers wears his on his sleeve.
"George is just right there, right out front, for everyone to see," said running backs coach Don Breaux. "Being introspective is one of the things that makes George tick. He's tough on himself. He'll admit it if he's not doing what he should do and he'll correct it."
Twice in the last four months, Rogers has been brutally honest about himself with the media. At the team's May minicamp, he said Bryant deserved to play more this season, and wondered how that would affect him. He said he would lose playing time, perhaps lose confidence and maybe start fumbling, something that happened in 1985 when he shared time with Riggins.
Last month, discussing his sprained left toe, he answered one question with a rambling two-minute answer that made him appear confused and upset.
"I worry about not playing and fumbling," he said later. "I want to play well. I want to play on a winning team, not like the New Orleans situation. I don't want problems to keep coming up."
Rogers' life is a series of highs and lows. Moments after a serious chat, he will be seen laughing and telling stories with teammates. He has the broadest grin and readiest smile on the team. "George is always putting somebody on," Breaux said.
Often, it's Bryant. "I listen to a lot of his jokes and laugh," Bryant said. "You can tell by the way he laughs how he likes to have fun."
Bryant is much more cautious. He said he is "tired of talking" about his injuries.
"I'm shy. When I first came here, I was making a whole lot of money. The players looked at me, saw how big I was. I'm sure they thought, 'This guy is getting all this money and isn't that big.' So I'm not the type of guy who talks too much."
Bryant arrived at the Redskins' training camp with a four-year contract worth about $3.7 million and immediately was whisked into the equipment room to get his jersey. He wore No. 44 in college and in the U.S. Football League. Someone told him that was Riggins' number, recently returned to the closet. A few players started grumbling at the thought Bryant would wear it. So Bryant pointed to No. 24, a number he wore in a college all-star game once, and that became his.
"I didn't want any problems," he said. "Besides, the number doesn't make the person anyway."
Rogers and Bryant are competitive types, their coaches say, but they don't compete with each other. Breaux said he sensed Rogers itching to return in preseason because of the strong performance of rookie Timmy Smith, a runner more in the Rogers' mold. Bryant, who certainly can and will run the ball, is so different in football style that he and Rogers rarely get jealous of one another. Plus, Bryant was injured, too, so he wasn't playing either.
They often are seen walking to the practice field together, or leaving for the day, side by side. When they roomed together, they drank a few beers and watched television in the evenings. Bryant preferred Home Box Office or renting movies; Rogers watched cartoons.
"Ask him about any kind of cartoon character," Bryant said. "He'll know." Said Rogers: "I rent video tapes of cartoons. 'Thundercats,' 'He-Man.' I watch all of them."
Bryant shook his head. "He watches cartoons too much," he said.
Some things, these two running backs cannot share.
"It's a good thing I have two TV sets," said Rogers.