It's a great weekend in a great country. Real pro football is back. Players surely are ready to put aside any resentment they have toward the comrades who defected or the employers who crushed them like grapes. The owners, despite minor quibbles about their hard-line methods, deserve credit for the innate dignity, compassion and justice that make them giants of their century -- the 11th.
In this generous spirit, let's forget the strike and dwell on the virtues that all sport embodies. For a three-team round-robin, start with motherhood, poetic justice and law and order.
New York Giants reserve Robbie Jones recently suggested that superstar scab Lawrence Taylor could "burn in hell." When the team was reunited this week, Jones said, "I say bad things to my mother, too, but it doesn't mean I don't love her." Almost simultaneously, Billy Martin was explaining his latest liaison with George Steinbrenner: "I say bad things to my mother, but . . ." It seems that we are looking at the birth of one of the great cliches of sport. Who cares that a lot of us never say bad things to our mothers? Or that a lot of our mothers are neither scabs nor bosses?
For poetic justice, there was Monday night. The regular Redskins wanted to play that game. The Management Council locked them, and the rest of the striking players, out in the cold. The council often is guided by Dallas owner Tex Schramm. He has assured me that it was only a coincidence that the veteran-laden Cowboys were playing the Redskins Monday. I trust his account as sincerely as the churchgoer who supports his parish lottery even after the priest keeps winning the trip to Ireland. But it still seemed a sonnet of fair play when the Redskins won.
In the law-and-order department, Alonzo Highsmith is suing the owners for conspiracy because they held a draft and then forced him to negotiate with the Houston Oilers. If only because it is simpler, his suit might just damage the owners before the much broader union case gets through the courts. Whatever the merits of Highsmith's claims, it is inspiring to watch any Miami Hurricane having an encounter with the law that doesn't include handcuffs.
With these admirable verities -- not to mention this column -- back in place, it's positively exhilarating to plunge into real football again.
I believe that the Philadelphia Eagles feel the same way. During replacement ball, the Cowboys had their way with the feeble Eagles. Tom Landry even reinserted some veterans into the lineup when the Eagles mounted a minor counteroffensive late in the rout. Meanwhile, the real Eagles stood firm on the picket lines, and Coach Buddy Ryan sent out many signals that he respected them. This pick 'em game offers a banquet of revenge for the Eagles. For dessert, throw in the fact that the Cowboys are coming off a short work week. Eagles at pick 'em over the Cowboys.
The Green Bay Packers are redefining mediocrity. They can play good teams like Denver, bad ones like Detroit. They can play real games or scab games. Whatever the circumstances, they charge recklessly through four periods toward a tie. In five games, they have played three overtimes. In their pursuit of perfect balance, they have won one of those games, lost another and even managed a tie.
Sunday, the Packers are getting five points in Detroit. In the last 10 games between these clubs in Detroit, the underdog has prevailed in nine. I look for those battling Packers to eek out at least another tie. I'll take Green Bay plus the 5.
Seattle's Steve Largent sliced through the Detroit scab secondary like a knife last week. This week he faces the real Raiders on real grass in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It won't be quite as easy. The Seahawks have covered the spread in only one of their last seven tries on grass. This is also a home team series: in the last four years, the home club is 7-0-1 against the spread.
The Raiders also have a revenge motive. They usually win on Monday nights. But when they don't, they become quite aroused. Last year in the Kingdome, they were embarrassed. The last three times the Raiders have been humiliated before that ABC audience, they have covered in the rematch. Take the Raiders minus 3.
Picking this year's Cincinnati Bengals is a little like hosting a dinner party for your boss and his wife. There are nervous moments in the kitchen. Just when the nouvelle cuisine in the microwave seems ready to serve, Cincinnati Coach Sam Wyche starts fiddling with the timer.
But the food smells enticing and the temptation is great. The Steelers, favored by 2 1/2 over the visiting Bengals, destroyed them, 30-9, the last time they met. Yes, revenge is this weekend's snack of choice. The Bengals are 6-1 in revenge games against Pittsburgh. And the underdog has covered in the last nine Bengals road games. Cincinnati and the points.
Finally, hail to the Redskins. Bobby Beathard's masterful personnel maneuvers steered them unscathed through the strike. The veterans reported back unsullied by defections. Now I make the Redskins the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Of more immediate concern, I look for them to crush the Jets this week.
The Redskins have long been solid home favorites: 23-11-1 against the spread since Week 9 of 1981. And while I always hesitate to lay seven against a legitimate team, one factor keeps springing back to mind. Who would you like to have preparing your team in a hurry after an enforced layoff, Joe Gibbs or Joe Walton? The answer: Washington, minus the 7.
Real football record: 6-4.
Replacement record: 8-3 or 7-4, depending on the wildly fluctuating point spreads during that sorry interlude. In any case, my replacement record now will be erased from history. In my stats and trends, incidentally, replacement games will not be counted. He who would handicap on the basis of replacement ball, I fear, would someday end up saying bad things to his mother.