Russ Grimm, the striking center of the Washington Redskins, didn't watch any of the game between the replacement Redskins and St. Louis last week. He was outside RFK Stadium picketing, and caught only the highlights on the late news.
"I saw all those touchdown passes," Grimm said yesterday. But he didn't pay much attention to the blocking. "It's kind of tough to watch the offensive line. I imagine they did fairly well," he said.
Grimm barely knows Eric Coyle, the man who has replaced him during the NFL players strike. They met at training camp in Carlisle, Pa., during the summer. Grimm was first string, Coyle was third, behind Jeff Bostic. Veterans and rookies have little in common. Grimm, a 28-year-old in his seventh season, and Coyle, a 23-year-old free agent fresh out of college, were no exception.
"You don't get to know the young guys," Grimm said. "Rookies kind of keep their distance."
During the summer, Coyle spent a lot of time watching Grimm. "I have a great deal of respect for Russ Grimm," he said yesterday at Redskin Park. "He is a great player."
Yesterday, Grimm was at home and Coyle was playing football. A month ago, it was the other way around. A month from now, it probably will be back to normal. Circumstances being what they are in the NFL, they might not meet again. But, if they did, theirs would be the strangest kinship. They couldn't have more in common, being the center of the same football team now split in two. Yet they likely will never consider the other a teammate, much less a friend.
"It's unrealistic to hope for him not to hold a grudge," Coyle said. "But I hope he understands my position. If he got cut, I guess he would try to play somewhere else. That's what I'm doing. I perfectly understand his position, and I understand why they've been negative toward us. But I don't know if they are trying to understand ours."
Asked if he is angry at Coyle for crossing the team's now nonexistent picket line, Grimm said simply, "No."
"I don't blame him," Grimm said. "It's probably his only shot, the only shot for some of them. I'm sure they wish they could get into the NFL under different circumstances. But, for most of them, last week and this week are the only two games they may ever play in the NFL. I can understand it, but it makes it tough on us."
Grimm and Coyle probably would like one another if they ever became teammates. They are big guys who like to hang out with the guys. They walk alike, with a slow, stocky, side-to-side swagger. They are not very impressed with sophistication. Grimm is from Pittsburgh, Coyle from Colorado. "I'm a country boy," Coyle said. His trip to New York this weekend will be the first of his life there.
Coyle, who was released by the Redskins Aug. 31 but is regarded as a good blocker and center, was playing golf and not doing much else in Boulder, Colo., when the Redskins called to ask him to join their nonunion team. His handicap is four or five, he said.
Told that Grimm plays golf, Coyle said, "I'm sure Russ isn't going to be looking for a golf partner any time soon, at least in this direction."
Informed of Coyle's comments, Grimm laughed. "He'd have to give me about nine a side," he said.
For the past week and a half, life has been easier on Coyle and his teammates. The striking Redskins have not picketed since a week ago Monday, so there has been no interaction between the Redskins' two teams.
While Coyle practices with the replacement team, Grimm works out with other offensive linemen in local weight rooms, "wherever we can find one," he said. They have not scrimmaged or even practiced as a line because they have no equipment, but Grimm said this won't be a problem when the strike is over.
"You figure we have a veteran offensive line now. We know what to do. We could take off the whole offseason and then, say in July, go out there and run 50 Gut against a 4-3 defense and not have one guy miss an assignment," Grimm said.
Grimm stays in touch with Joe Bugel, the assistant head coach/offense who coaches the offensive line.
"We know he misses us," Grimm said. "He's in a tough spot and we realize it. We want to see him do well. You'd hate to see the strike go another week and have to have the offensive line go up against Dallas' defensive line with all their people back."
Coyle is as much the leader of his offensive line as Grimm is of his. "Surprisingly enough, we have achieved a pretty cohesive unit in these two weeks," Coyle said. "We're real tight. We spend a lot of time working together and a lot of time with each other when practice is over, maybe because there's not too much else to do."
Grimm, obviously, is eager to return to the game he left. The minute he comes back, it's very likely Coyle will be gone.
"I'm dealing with that," Coyle said, "by not thinking about it."
When he leaves, when the Washington center once again is wearing No. 68, not No. 56, what does Coyle hope Grimm and the other union Redskins will think of him?
"As long as we're winning, I don't think they can be too upset with us," Coyle said. "We're trying to win for them. It's a lot better than losing."
Player representative Neal Olkewicz said the striking players are considering sending representatives to picket outside Giants Stadium Sunday for the 4 p.m. game between the nonunion Redskins and Giants. But striking New York Jets plan to join the regular Giants outside the stadium, so they might not need reinforcements from Washington, Olkewicz said.