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In This Redskins Game, Colorful Characters Can't Be Beaten

Dr. D

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In This Redskins Game, Colorful Characters Can't Be Beaten


In the event anyone noticed it, Daniel Snyder recently appointed a panel to select the 70 greatest players and coaches in Redskins history to coincide with the franchise's 70th anniversary. If one reason Snyder did this was to create nostalgia, he succeeded as far as I'm concerned. Many of my favorite Redskins are nowhere to be found on the panel's list of 102 finalists, which, incidentally, sets up 32 for disappointment (if they're still alive to be disappointed) when the 70 greatest are named June 3.

The reason for the preliminary list of players, instead of choosing 70 outright, is so that the 12-member selection panel, headed by former CNN anchorman Bernard Shaw, could obtain input from fans. But this apparently has made some of the "bubble" candidates nervous. Is it better to be near-great if, ultimately, you're not one of the "greatest"?

My list includes no one on the official list. These players landed on my list either through their own bad luck (which, for some, turned into good luck, as soon as they left the team), a sorry miscalculation by the Redskins in letting them go, or simply by their being on a different wavelength from the team.

Had some stuck around, they might have ranked among the greatest. In any case, Snyder reminded me there's something more to greatness than simply the obvious. So, in no particular order and with no particular ground rules, I give you:

• Otis Sistrunk. A 6-foot-4 1/2, 275-pound defensive tackle, Sistrunk stood out during a Redskins' all-comers tryout in Anacostia Park in 1971, mostly because he was the biggest. Having skipped college, he had played for the West Allis (Wis.) Racers, the West Allis Spartans and the Norfolk Neptunes. The Redskins took him to training camp in Carlisle but, deciding that he still was the property of the Neptunes, George Allen cut him. Besides, the Redskins already had one Sistrunk (Manny). Otis went on to have an eight-year career with the Oakland Raiders, earning all-conference honors in 1974, a Super Bowl ring with the 1977 champions and fame on Monday night television when Howard Cosell and Don Meredith observed steam rising from the top of his bald head as he sat on the bench.

• Ben Davidson. A 6-8, 280-pound defensive end who started only one game in two seasons, he was cut after the final exhibition game of 1964. When he stopped by the team's office to pick up his paycheck, there was a phone call waiting for him. Al Davis was on the line. Mr. Raider invited Davidson to catch the next plane to the Coast, where he transformed into one of the Eleven Angry Men. He grew a handlebar mustache and rode a motorcycle, becoming the icon of the Raiders' avid biker following. His fondest memory of playing for the Redskins? "They used to have good parties after the games," he said.

• Joe Don Looney. He, too, would have been a lock for the official list if the Redskins had been able to tap his potential after he came out of Oklahoma as a highly touted running back. But Looney's erratic behavior ruined his career. The Giants drafted him No. 1 in 1964, but he refused to learn the plays. With the Colts, he said he thought he was an alien. As a Lion, he told coach Harry Gilmer, who tried to send him into the game with a play, "If you want a messenger, go find Western Union." During his 14-game career with the Redskins, he got into a fight during a practice with his roommate, Sam Huff, whose mission had been to rein him in. Later, Looney reportedly joined a religious cult, befriended a swami, adopted an elephant and lived alone without a telephone in West Texas, where in 1988 he was killed in a motorcycle wreck.

• Steve Wright. On the day he was cut by Allen, Wright had the least tenure of any Redskins player who had ever called his own news conference. Asked what he would miss most about Washington, his third of six NFL stops, after his single season of 1970, he replied: "Central Liquor." Teammates acknowledged that he kept the mood light; with Green Bay, he flushed a toilet next to a hushed locker room just as Vince Lombardi reached the high point of a rousing pregame speech. Oddly, Wright remains part of NFL history. Each season, a distinctive "gladiator" statue is presented to the player who "demonstrates outstanding balance between on-field excellence and civic responsibility." The player who posed immortal-like as the caped "gladiator" for the sculptor who molded the statue? Steve Wright.

• Charlie Gogolak. The first kicking specialist ever taken in the first round of an NFL draft, Gogolak felt compelled to keep busy while all the other players worked out in the heat of training camp. The Princeton grad took to kicking a soccer ball up in the air as many as 600 times without letting it hit the ground. A fatigued leg apparently left him susceptible to pulled muscles, marking the beginning of the end of a terribly unlucky three-year stay with the Redskins. His 105 points in 1966, then the team record, included an infamous three-pointer late in a game against the Giants ordered up by Coach Otto Graham, who wasn't content merely to win. Final: 72-41, Redskins.

• Johnny Sample. Often in trouble on and off the field, Sample had played for the championship Colts teams of 1958 and '59 (returning an interception for a touchdown in the '59 title game) before he landed in Washington from 1963 to '65. He was suspended briefly during training camp in '65 for missing a team meeting, violating a curfew and parking his car in the wrong space. He announced his "retirement" before the last game of the '65 season and handed in an empty playbook. But he had plenty of good football left. You may recall him starring for the Jets at the Orange Bowl when they pulled the all-time upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III.

• Don Shula. Near the end of his playing career, the Redskins picked him up from the Colts in 1957 to play right cornerback. But former teammates Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry victimized him in a game that season with 12 completions. The Redskins knew they had an old cornerback, but it didn't occur to them that they might have one of the best coaches in NFL history in their locker room. He left Washington and hooked on as an assistant at the University of Virginia. Shortly, he made it back to the NFL. You know the rest.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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