Contrary to popular belief, the Washington Redskins did not find any of their nonunion players in a bar -- or in a drug store.
When the team's scouting staff began combing its copious lists of free agents who never quite made it in the NFL, the U.S. Football League, the Canadian Football League or any other football league, they found most of their players sitting at home near their telephones. Many were thinking about getting a nonfootball job before the phone rang. Others had already done so. Being just a year or two out of college, on the average, very few had families or other commitments to keep them from returning to the game for another try at fame and fortune, no matter how fleeting.
Sandwiched between the public relations office and the coaches' offices at Redskin Park are the cubicles, file cabinets and telephones of the men who scout talent yearround for the Redskins. They have lists of thousands of players in their files -- players who have been cut by the CFL, players who played Arena Football this summer, players who were cut by NFL teams several years ago.
When they got word from the league that a strike was imminent, the Redskins' scouting staff, from General Manager Bobby Beathard down, went into action. They first called players or agents for players who were in their training camp this year or in previous years -- players like quarterback Ed Rubbert, running back Lionel Vital, H-back Craig McEwen and defensive tackle Ted Karras. Some, like offensive linemen Mark Carlson, Darrick Brilz and Eric Coyle, already had signed $1,000 strike-option contracts.
"There were so many guys to call," said Charlie Casserly, an assistant general manager with the Redskins. "We had to pick and choose. No one makes 1,500 phone calls."
In addition to calling players on their lists, the Redskins called agents, to see if they had anyone who had slipped through the cracks. This was how they found free safety Skip Lane, among others. Offensive assistant coach Dan Henning, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach, suggested wide receiver Anthony Allen, tight end Joe Caravello and defensive tackle Dan Benish, former players of his who were out of work. Coach Joe Gibbs knew a semipro coach in Richmond who suggested quarterback Tony Robinson and defensive back Joe Cofer.
Some calls netted immediate results, others were just wasted time. Casserly said he called all of the Arena Football coaches, asking about players. "We got no names out of that," he said.
Some players pledged themselves to the Redskins, then changed their minds and went elsewhere. The team never knew how many players would show up, even the day before the first practice.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my career," Casserly said. "It's been challenging. The motivating factor for all of us was that we were told the games would count. We wanted to beat St. Louis, beat the Giants. It was exciting for us because we knew the games these players would play counted."
While some teams dallied, the Redskins hurriedly signed nearly 50 players and had them practicing the first day they could -- Wednesday, Sept. 23. Those early practices helped mold a team that defeated St. Louis, 28-21, in what may have been last week's best nonunion game.
It's no mystery how many of these players came to be here. About half of the nonunion Redskins have been in a Washington training camp, but were cut. Some just weren't good enough to make the final roster; others simply didn't get much practice or playing time. The Redskins like their training camp graduates so much that they signed two more yesterday: free safety Steve Gage, their sixth-round draft choice this spring, and running back Kenny Fells, their 11th-round draft pick in 1986.
The Redskins also signed defensive end Curtis McGriff, an eight-year veteran from the New York Giants. The club released kicker Brendan Toibin and defensive tackle Robert Scott. Toibin, who kicked four extra points but missed two field goals against St. Louis, will be replaced by Obed Ariri, who last week broke a window with an errant practice kick.