Joe Morris had attempted to work up a good hate for the Washington Redskins so many times, had played so many big games against them that yesterday's irony wasn't lost on him.
He was at Redskin Park for an afternoon tryout, an odd ocurrence for the New York Giants' all-time leading rusher and someone who once considered the Redskins his fiercest rivals.
"It feels different being here in the land of the enemy," Morris said. "Would I like to play for the Redskins? I'd love it. The thing you have to understand about this business is that it's a business, and things change. I don't know where I'll end up."
Six years ago he made his first NFL start against the Redskins and scored three touchdowns as the Giants won, 37-13. That game was the beginning of a long and prosperous run, and over the next five seasons he was a prime-time star in one of the NFL's prime-time rivalries.
Before he was released this summer, he rushed for 5,296 yards, 20 times had 100-yard games and scored 48 touchdowns. He was not only good, but popular in New York, where the cabbies and saloon owners appreciated a 5-foot-7, 195-pound running back trading body blows with 250-pound defensive linemen. He also was personable and it seemed he would always be a Giant.
While he wasn't released until late in training camp, his career with the Giants essentially was over a year earlier when he broke a foot in training camp and was out for the season.
The Giants were forced to give the football to 32-year-old Ottis Anderson, who responded with 1,023 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Giants also had a couple of flashy rookies, Lewis Tillman and Dave Meggett, and when they made Georgia's Rodney Hampton their No. 1 pick last spring, Morris was done.
He got only 28 carries in preseason and was let go on the final cut. Now, after eight seasons, he's the ultimate kind of free agent. The Redskins invited him and six others to Redskin Park yesterday for a tryout that club officials described as "routine and nothing more."
What made this tryout special is that it was Joe Morris and also because someone leaked word of the tryout to the weekend network gossip shows. The Redskins repeated yesterday that they bring in veteran free agents almost every Tuesday (when players have the day off) the first month or so of the season, and that Morris won't be signed unless Earnest Byner or Gerald Riggs gets hurt.
General Manager Charley Casserly said Morris and the rest of yesterday's tryouts, including former Chicago Bears running back Thomas Sanders, were brought in "to help us update our medical files. We want to have some names available if we have an injury."
The players took physicals, then were timed in the 40-yard dash and other tests of skill. Afterward Morris chatted with Casserly about his days with the Giants and what he'd been doing since.
Casserly declined to say how Morris, whose brother Jamie carried the ball for the 1988 and '89 Redskins, had looked "because that's doing scouting for other teams. We brought him in and what we learned here is our information. I will say that I think you'll see Joe Morris in the National Football League this year."
Casserly added that "we do this a lot at this time of year. This is like preparing your lists before the draft. If someone gets hurt, you don't want to be sitting around on Sunday night with no idea of who might be out there."
The Redskins also auditioned five defensive backs, including former Charger Bruce Plummer, former Bear John Mangum and former Jet Anthony Parker. Likewise, Casserly said he has no plans to sign a defensive back.
Morris accepted the uncertainty of all of this, telling reporters he was trying to stay in shape and his first tryout was with the Redskins because they were the first team to invite him.
"I think it would be great to come here, but I looked at this as a tryout and nothing more," he said. "I wanted to show them I could still play football. I've got a lot of good football in me and am anxious to prove it to someone. I'm happy the Redskins had me down."
Morris, having been released only two weeks ago, said he was endeavoring to stay in shape "by working out every day. If I hadn't eaten so much last night, I think I would have run a little faster."
He also said he didn't expect any offers, at least for a while.
"This is the second week of the season and if you bring someone in now, you're panicking," he said. "Teams are going to give their players a chance to perform, and unless there's an injury, there won't be any free agents brought in for a while."
He spent eight seasons with the Giants and was coming off a third 1,000-yard season when he broke his foot during the final preseason game of 1989. He was put on season-ending injured reserve. By midseason he had been given medical clearance "to play basketball and run, but not to play football. That was very frustrating. Those are friends of yours out there and you've been through a lot with them. It's tough to watch."
Morris said he came to camp ready "to put up a fight for my job" but there was no one to fight. The Giants had left him unprotected during the Plan B signing period -- an open invitation to leave.
He didn't get any offers, then when he came to camp "they divided the carries up among so many of us that no one got the reps they needed to get ready. I was in shape and prepared for everything coming in. But they told me, 'This is what we're going to do.' If they were going to have a running-back-by-committee, who am I to disagree?' It was a decision they made a while ago. They decided to go with younger people and they feel that's what's best for them."
In effect, his training camp "was for the 27 other teams. I knew I wouldn't be playing with the Giants and they knew it too. I knew I was going to be traded or released. I just didn't know when it would come."
It came at perhaps the worst time. By the time he was released teams were struggling with whom to let go, not whom to bring in. Almost no team was going to bring in a 30-year-old unless it knew he could come in and contribute.
Now, Morris, who has a Super Bowl ring and has scored four postseason touchdowns, is hoping to be asked to prove he can play.
"It's not the best situation, but if you want to play, you do it," he said. "It was so tough not playing last year that that's why I made up my mind I was going to enjoy camp. I knew I wouldn't stick with the Giants, but I was out playing football again. Sometimes you don't know how much you miss something until you don't have it."