It has been five years since the Washington Redskins took a Sunday off in the autumn. No game, no practice, no nothing. Yesterday, RFK Stadium and Redskin Park were locked tight and stood empty, except for security guards. There was no picket line. There was no practice. There was no football.
At 1 p.m. yesterday, the time the Redskins were to play the New England Patriots, their stadium was silent. The striking Redskins were running errands, mowing the lawn or playing some other sport; some of the replacement Redskins were sunbathing by the pool at the Dulles Airport Marriott Hotel. Meanwhile, Coach Joe Gibbs, who almost never takes a day off, was taking a day off.
"I'll probably have a fight or two around the house," he said with a chuckle.
Except for days off in 1982 during the last NFL players' strike, Gibbs couldn't remember the last time he took a Sunday off in the fall. With so much work to be done before his replacement team plays the new St. Louis Cardinals next Sunday at 1 p.m., Gibbs somewhat surprisingly decided the best way to prepare his 56 new players was to give them a day off to "freshen up." They resume today with two practices, but most likely will take the day off Tuesday, following normal Redskins procedure for a game week.
Neal Olkewicz, the Redskins' player representative, took the same approach as Gibbs and gave the striking players a second day away from the picket line. He said he will set up shifts of players to man the line this week, leading up to what likely will be a big gathering in front of RFK Stadium next Sunday.
The strikers' numbers on the picket line dwindled dramatically as last week wore on, but Olkewicz said that should not be interpreted as a sign that the players are weakening.
"This is boring," he said. "A lot of guys don't want to do it."
It appears that the striking Redskins will conserve their energy this week to prepare for their demonstration at the nonunion teams' game. Olkewicz said the striking players will "be doing our best to keep the game from coming off."
Quarterback Babe Laufenberg, whose most recent stint with the Redskins has comprised a week on the football field and a week on the picket line, said, "All these games are the NFL's attempt to try to sweat us out."
On both sides of the fence at Redskin Park, jaws are set and serious plans are being made for some sort of meeting at the stadium next Sunday.
"It's something that's been in the back of all the guys' minds -- what's going to happen when we go to the stadium?" said new free safety Danny Burmeister, a graduate of Oakton High School who spent yesterday at his parents' house in Clifton. "We expect to see a show of support for the players at the stadium. But that isn't going to surprise us. Most of us knew going in they would be there next Sunday."
Gibbs is the man caught in the middle. He said putting together a new team in 12 days is the "most different" task he has ever undertaken as a coach.
"It's not the most difficult. The most difficult is losing," he said.
Gibbs said he simply doesn't know what to expect this week. "What we will find out is if it's possible to build a team from scratch. The proof will be in the outcome this Sunday. It's a challenge. One of the hardest things is starting over. That's what we've done. . . . When you start from scratch, it's almost mind-boggling."
But, Gibbs said, "My job is to coach these guys. They have been so good about it, so intent on learning. They've worked hard. It's my job to work with them and make the most out of this break."
The striking Redskins seem to be taking the same attitude, although finding out details of their secret practices and workouts has been all but impossible.
"We've gotten together and gone over stuff," said linebacker Mel Kaufman, "but we don't want to be disturbed or to have any distractions."