The Washington Redskins already have seen that it is not difficult to tell what emotions are swirling around inside Larry Centers. He plays with drive and fire, and he says what he feels. That's why the veteran fullback almost immediately became one of the team's leaders in his first season with the Redskins after nine years with the Arizona Cardinals.
Centers, however, is taking a low-key approach toward Sunday's game at Arizona, his first matchup with the Cardinals since they let him go during the offseason.
"I'm not that concerned about this game," Centers said last week. "I'm going to try to treat this one like any other game. I'm going to make the overall focus to do what I can to help us win."
He did his best, at least last week, to avoid saying anything that might end up on the Cardinals' locker room wall this week. Asked whether it would be satisfying to go to Arizona and play well and win, he said: "Oh yeah--as it would be for any other game."
He won't even permit himself to say that he has gotten the last laugh by signing with the Redskins, who will take a 3-1 record into next weekend's game, while the Cardinals have struggled through the early stages of the season.
"It won't be the last laugh until we're officially successful here," Centers said. "The only way we can do that is by going out and winning every game we can, and going to the playoffs and maybe even further."
The Cardinals looked like one of the NFL's on-the-rise teams when they reached the playoffs last season, but this season has been a far different story. They had lost three straight before defeating the New York Giants yesterday to improve to 2-3. Centers is not as guarded when the subject is his former team's offseason decision-making.
"I'm not that surprised they've struggled," Centers said. "Whenever you make so many personnel changes when things are going good, you disrupt the chemistry. The front office, they kind of went out of their way to have the type of team that they have."
Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer resembled a young Joe Montana last season, but began yesterday with 12 interceptions and only two touchdown passes this season. "I don't know why Jake is struggling the way he is right now," Centers said. "I know that Jake has confidence he can go out and turn it around, turn it on whenever he wants to turn it on. I haven't had an opportunity to watch that much, so I really don't know why he's struggling."
Centers was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Cardinals who had as many as 101 catches in a season. But after amassing 200 receptions over two seasons in 1995 and '96, he dropped off to 54 catches in '97 and 69 in '98. He turned 31 in June, and he said he wasn't shocked at the Cardinals' decision to show him the door.
"There had been a little talk about it at minicamp, how something might happen," he said. "I wasn't as surprised as I could have been. . . . I think it was money, and they wanted to have a youth movement. . . . I got the feeling like they thought my role had dropped off. I wasn't being utilized in the system as much as I had been in the past. I just try to put it out of my mind right now, and focus on what I can do here to help us be a winner."
Centers is the third-leading receiver for a Redskins offense that's averaging 37.5 points and 412.5 yards per game. But after totaling 10 catches in the Redskins' first two games of the season, he has only five receptions over the past two contests.
"I'm never as involved as I want to be," he said. "But the bottom line is, if we keep winning, it's no big deal."
A big performance by Centers Sunday undoubtedly would suit him and the Redskins just fine.
"I miss the people there quite a bit, the fans and my teammates," he said. "I'm just going back to do a job. I look at it like that. When I get on the field, hopefully I'll just be flowing--doing my job, executing my assignments and not worrying about any outside factors."