HERNDON, Va. — Bobby Beathard, distinguished alumnus of football factory Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, strolls into the office in a hooded sweat shirt from Princeton. "Makes me look smarter," he says.
There are guys who leave half-open volumes of Proust on their coffee tables to impress dates, or turn the radio dial from the latest ripoff of a Tommy James and the Shondells song to the National Public Radio station, as soon as someone knocks at the door. Bobby Beathard, though, need not fool anybody as to just how brainy he is.
All the general manager of the Washington Redskins has to do is save his sideline badge or his luxury-box cocktail napkin from the Super Bowl, which will be his sixth. He already has been on the winning side in three of these things, two with the Miami Dolphins (VII, VIII) prior to one with the Redskins (XVII), and Sunday he could be on another, if his team can beat the 45 Amigos.
The Denver Broncos will be favored. Does Beathard believe the Redskins deserve to be the underdogs?
"Oh, I think definitely," he says. "We haven't played all that well this season. We have a quarterback controversy. We have a running back controversy. We have a kicking controversy. I can't see how we should be favored."
Like we said--smart.
As any National Football League front-office executive, coach, player, trainer or flunkie can tell you, you never, never, never insinuate before the Super Bowl that you have the better team. Joe Namath got lucky. Guys who guarantee victory in advance just give the other team's guys extra incentive to make them eat their face masks.
Around the Redskin camp, especially, confidence is one thing, but overconfidence is another. Joe Gibbs, the coach, is the kind of guy who wouldn't predict a Redskin win over the George Michael Sports Machine, much less an NFL opponent. Gibbs chooses his words more carefully than Ollie North did in front of all those Congressmen, which probably explains why Washington's favorite leaders of men hit it off so nicely when the lieutenant colonel dropped by the Redskin locker room here Saturday.
About that kicking controversy, for example--is Ali Haji-Sheikh still the kicker, or will a switch be made to Jess Atkinson? Gibbs cleared that right up: "I think it is resolved, unless I resurrect it. It's resolved, as far as I'm concerned. If something's not going well, there's always doubt. But, I've said if I choose to make that (switch), I'll say so. Otherwise, it stands as it is."
Gibbs occasionally has the ability to make fun of his own caution. The other day, while discussing the 2,000-year-old lineman, Dave Butz, Gibbs made a remark that accidentally turned out to be an anatomical double entendre. After a few seconds, he caught himself.
"Strike that," he said, to a room full of tape recorders and video cameras. "I don't care what the tapes say."
Yes, he's from Washington, all right.
Bobby Beathard, meanwhile, is a little loosier, a little goosier. Maybe this dates back to being the college teammate and roommate of one John Madden, a man who embodies all the shyness and subtlety of, oh, Sam Kinison. Or maybe Beathard releases so many tensions running Boston Marathons or jogging 10 to 15 miles every day, that, when he finally slows down, he becomes easy-going.
Beathard is a guy who looks about 24 years old, but has a son that age. Sunday was his 51st birthday, and a whole lot better than the big Five-Oh, which fell shortly after Washington was whitewashed by the New York Giants.
Another shot at a Super Bowl did not seem likely, so soon. The Giants looked loaded for bear, and the Bears looked loaded for giants. The Redskins, well, they went into a new season wondering how well defensive end Dexter Manley would handle his off-the-field habits, and whether Jay Schroeder's suddenly diminished skill at quarterback was going to present problems to the franchise that gave us Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer and Joe Theismann.
Even as the 'Skins made their way toward the division championship, Beathard was leery.
"I wouldn't have given you a nickel for our chances of getting this far six weeks ago," he says now.
Of late, in fact, the Redskins haven't exactly been tomahawking anybody. In their last five games, they have defeated Dallas by four points, lost to Miami by two, beaten Minnesota by three, beaten Chicago by four and beaten Minnesota by seven. Nobody ever accused the Washington Redskins of running up the score.
Nevertheless, a case is being made for this franchise as the "Team of the '80s." We will, no doubt, have to watch this fertilizer being shoveled in San Diego all week long, even though this claim to fame rests entirely upon the fact that Washington's record during this decade is 90-43, while San Francisco's is 87-43-1 and Miami's 86-44-1. Bigggggg difference.
The 49ers, as it happens, also have won two Super Bowls to Washington's one during this span, so enough with this "Team of the '80s" crud until next Sunday evening, earliest, OK?
"When I hear statements like 'Team of the '80s,' I'm flattered, but I know better than to make anything of it," Beathard says. "If there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's that you can go to pieces in a hurry. We've seen Super Bowl teams slink back to the bottom of their divisions, sometimes overnight. So, I take pride in what the Redskins have done, but I don't get too cocky about it."
By the way, do you know who Ollie North's favorite player is?