The Washington Redskins had just broken from a morning meeting yesterday when running back George Rogers went up to Coach Joe Gibbs and said the words Gibbs had been waiting more than a month to hear.
"I'm ready to go and now's the time," Rogers said.
"Okay," Gibbs replied. "Let's see what you can do."
In the afternoon, Rogers was back on the field as the Redskins' first-string running back. Gibbs said he looked "pretty good." If all goes well, Rogers will start Sunday against the Bills at Buffalo.
If all goes well . . .
Haven't we heard this somewhere before?
The curious story of George Rogers and his injured left big toe took another turn yesterday. Eighty-six days ago, on Aug. 4, Rogers hobbled off the practice field at training camp in Carlisle, Pa. He had a pained look on his face. He said he had stubbed his toe, and it hurt.
But, he vowed, "I'll be back tomorrow."
Yesterday, many tomorrows later, Rogers said, "That was a lie, wasn't it? I was trying to be a man about it, but it turned me into a coward."
Rogers, one of the friendliest, most likable men ever to put on a Redskins uniform, has been turned inside out emotionally by this injury, which once seemed so silly and insignificant. Rogers is known for having a tendency to undervalue his worth to the Redskins, to worry about his future, to see teammates take his place and wonder if he will ever get it back.
Yesterday, in a long, rambling chat with reporters, his worst fears came bubbling to the surface.
Although he started the first game of the season before spraining his shoulder and going on injured reserve, Rogers talks like a man who hasn't played in months. He said he is "haunted" by replacing the legendary John Riggins. And he wonders if he can't play this week, will he be able to play at all this season?
"There is pressure on me because of the fact that I was starting from last year and I've been hurt this year," he said. "Everybody is saying I'm not the type of running back John Riggins was . . . I've got to play well. Being in the position I'm in, coming here in a big trade and everything, people were looking forward to things working out well as far as me coming in and taking John's place.
"I think I'm still haunted by the shadows of playing to the expectations like John did. I think that's something everybody's still trying to hold over me."
Rogers, the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner at South Carolina, came to the Redskins from New Orleans for a No. 1 draft choice in 1985. He shared playing time with Riggins in 1985, but still gained 1,000 yards. (In his six NFL seasons, Rogers has gained 1,000 yards four times.) Also in that season, Rogers had trouble with fumbles, something he attributed to not playing all the time.
With Riggins gone, Rogers clearly was looking forward to being the team's sole running back in 1986. But then the U.S. Football League disbanded and the Redskins signed Kelvin Bryant. He originally played only on passing downs, but the Redskins realized what a threat Bryant is when he is healthy (which hasn't been often) and began to expand his role this summer.
"People want me to play like John did," Rogers said. "I'm not John. First, it was John and me, then Kelvin and me and now Kelvin and me again this year. It's not like I got the whole thing by myself."
Rogers has placed an incredible amount of importance on this weekend's game, which will be played on artificial turf.
"I've just got to put the injury behind me," he said. "If I don't do well this game, it would be kind of bad for me as far as coming back next year."
Rogers said yesterday his left big toe actually was dislocated, not sprained as was reported at the time. The injury occurred when defensive end Dexter Manley landed on his heel in practice, forcing the toe to bend backward into the natural grass of the Dickinson College field. Rogers tried to play 3 1/2 weeks later in a preseason game at Tampa Bay, but reinjured the toe on a wet field when he was wearing the wrong shoes, he said. The bottoms of the shoes were too soft, and his toe was bent back again, he said.
So he was out again until the season opener, when, not yet 100 percent healthy, he tried to play. He carried the ball seven times for 15 yards before he sprained his right shoulder and had to leave the game in the first half. Last Sunday, against the New York Jets, he was in for one play, a five-yard gain.
"My shoulder is better than my toe," he said. "Both are well enough to play. At this point, this is probably the healthiest I'm going to get. This week, next week, it's not going to make much difference. If I can't play this game, surely I can't play the rest of them."
He continued: "I don't want to wait no more. Now it's time for me to play. I don't want to be around if I'm not going to help this team."
What bothers Rogers most is how long this has taken. Nearly three months, and he still is talking about his left big toe.
On Aug. 25, he said, "It's going to hurt all year. It's not well yet, but it's well enough to play . . . I want to play . . . But if I play and get hurt again, the same way, that would be too bad for George."
On Sept. 9: "It's time to play. I've got to go now. I can't be worrying about it now. It's too late."
On Oct. 28, Rogers was pulling on his sweat socks, getting ready for practice. "Now's the time," he said, smiling. "It better be the time."