Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has been so preoccupied trying to keep a team out of Baltimore that he hasn't seemed to notice that he has virtually lost his own team.
Despite Cooke's prediction of a 9-7 record, the team that now plays at RFK Stadium has started 1-6 for the second straight year and is a pale imitation of the old Redskins.
The old Redskins were a team put together by Bobby Beathard, a team running Joe Gibbs' one-back offense, a team with a quarterback who gained experience on the injured reserve list instead of being thrown into the fray as a rookie, a team with a power running back, a team with a wily veteran defensive coordinator.
Yes, there still is a team like that in the NFL. But it plays in San Diego, not Washington.
The Chargers should be called Redskins West.
Beathard became the Chargers' general manager in 1990 -- a year after he bailed out on Cooke. He brought a couple of key scouts with him and started building an NFC East team -- one that runs the ball, plays tough defense and can throw deep.
Former Gibbs assistant Dan Henning (who's now coaching Boston College) had installed the Redskins' offense with the Chargers even before Beathard hired Bobby Ross as coach in 1992.
Ross kept the offense, and when starting quarterback John Friesz was injured in training camp, Beathard traded for Stan Humphries, who also knew that offense.
"This team was built on the system we had in place," Ross said. "It made for a quicker adjustment."
It helped that, in Ross, Beathard got the same absent-minded, workaholic coach with sound fundamentals that he had in Gibbs. Ross has twice had to pay the $5 parking fee at Chargers games this year because he forgot his parking pass and didn't want to make an issue out of it.
Ross was a winner at the University of Maryland and at Georgia Tech, and it didn't take him long to do the same thing in San Diego.
After starting 0-4 in his first year, the Chargers rallied to finish 11-5 and win the division.
Last year, the team slipped to 8-8 when Humphries was injured.
If they beat the Denver Broncos today, the Chargers will become the eighth team to start out 7-0 or better in the past decade.
With Natrone Means playing the John Riggins role and with defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger filling the Richie Petitbon role, the Chargers are an NFC East team pounding finesse AFC West teams.
Meanwhile, Ross sounds just like Gibbs when he talks about the future.
He doesn't talk about the Super Bowl. He says that's for teams like Dallas and San Francisco.
"Most of the rest of us are thinking in terms of getting to the playoffs," Ross said.
Gibbs used to talk in the same wary way. The Redskins' dynasty is still alive and well -- in San Diego.
Deion Sanders and Andre Rison weren't ejected for fighting last Sunday -- and only got fines of $7,500, which is car fare for them -- but the NFL proved it can get tough last week.
It told the 49ers they can no longer wear their throwback uniforms after this weekend.
The 49ers wanted to keep wearing them because they were unbeaten in them, but the NFL said no team can wear them more than one more week, and the 49ers have a bye next week.
The NFL always gets tougher on the little issues than the big ones.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson quit as chairman of the influential finance committee because he got tired of the NFL ignoring its own rules -- such as allowing H. Wayne Huizenga to buy the Miami Dolphins on a conditional basis, even though he owns the Florida Marlins and Florida Panthers, and allowing the 49ers' owners, the DeBartolo family, to invest in a riverboat casino, even though that's supposed to be against NFL rules.
But commissioner Paul Tagliabue remembers what happened to Fay Vincent when he annoyed the baseball owners on big issues. He will limit his crackdowns to throwback uniforms.
As a member of the national board of the United Way, Tagliabue was supposed to be at a meeting in St. Louis last week. He skipped it. He presumably had a busy schedule, although the speculation is that he didn't want to be seen in St. Louis because the Los Angeles Rams might be on the verge of moving there.
Meanwhile, the handicapping continues. ESPN's Chris Mortensen told USA Today that the Rams "should wind up in Baltimore", and Fred Edelstein said "they'll remain in Anaheim or move to St. Louis."
Edelstein also said that Cooke is more determined than ever to keep a team out of Baltimore because he's annoyed about the Laurel zoning decision.
Edelstein quotes an unidentified owner as saying, "Baltimore's problem isn't the [Laurel] stadium, it's Cooke."
If history is any indication, Gus Frerotte of the Redskins shouldn't be intimidated about facing the Indianapolis Colts in his first start today.
Among the quarterbacks who got their first or only victory against the Colts since they moved to Indianapolis are Buffalo's Joe Dufek in 1984, New England's Tom Ramsey in 1987, New England's Tommy Hodson and Seattle's Dan McGwire in 1991, and New England's Scott Zolak in 1992.
Johnson wouldn't pick a winner of today's Dallas-Arizona game, saying he's a journalist now and has to be "objective."
Ryan predicted Johnson will be back on the sidelines because, "He can't live his life without beating Buddy Ryan."