HERNDON, Va. -- Jumpy Geathers has an impish sense of humor and a smile that lights rooms, but he can be deadly serious about some things. Two of them are his knees.
"Man, don't write which is the new one," he said of his reconstructed knees. "They'll be taking shots at it."
The 6-foot-7 defensive tackle -- "really 6-7 3/4 , but they don't put those fractions in," he said -- finally got to play for the Washington Redskins in Detroit last Sunday.
The Redskins signed him last March. The Saints had left him unprotected after the second major operation on his knees, and the Redskins were betting Jumpy could be worth $500,000 a year for three years. He may be, said defensive line coach Vern Torgeson, who never overstates a case.
"He was in for about seven plays," Torgeson said of the Detroit game. "He did OK. I don't suppose a big guy like him is ever going to look graceful. Chasing after that quarterback, he looked like a big . . ."
Scarecrow, perhaps, or an angry gander, waving his long arms. In whatever guise, Geathers seemed to intimidate Lions quarterback Bob Gagliano as he rolled left in the fourth quarter. The Lions led, 38-31, with 5:38 to go.
Jumpy got Gagliano at the sideline for an 8-yard sack. Two plays later Washington got the ball back and Jeff Rutledge resumed his amazement. Geathers' one sack in his Redskins debut tied him for third on a team that used to sack its way into the playoffs.
Geathers, 30, whose real first name is James, shuffles his lean 290 pounds onto the field in an old-man gait reminiscent of Jackie Robinson on a base on balls, guilefully preparing to steal on the first pitch. But Jumpy is cat-quick when he is able, which is why the Redskins sought him as a pass-rusher. He had nine sacks for the Saints in 1986.
In 1987, at an age considered an athlete's physical peak, Jumpy Geathers had his knee ligaments sundered. It happened in the last preseason game, in Cincinnati, on artificial turf. Last year it happened in the 15th week, in the Superdome, on artificial turf.
So predictable are injuries on artificial turf, however economical it may be for NFL owners, that there are names for them: Turf Toe is endemic.
Last Sunday the Redskins played in the Lions' Silverdome, on artificial turf.
"I been ready to play for a while," Geathers said. "But you've got to wonder about going back on turf. But they were both freak accidents. Both in the same area, down around the 20 . . . Never saw the guy coming at me.
"It's like you had a total car accident and you're back driving. You've got to get the feel of the game," Jumpy said.
He is not thrilled to be a designated pass-rusher. "In New Orleans I played run and pass both," he said. "I was a starter."
The word was out last week that Jumpy was going to be activated from the "physically unable to perform" category, but he wouldn't allow himself to assume it.
A reporter questioned the classified ad, seeking a fork-life operator, somebody had pasted in Geathers' locker, its only decoration. He realized he had been serious for almost 10 minutes.
"That's a play I do," he said. During preseason at Carlisle, wearing a heavy brace, Jumpy regaled his constituency in the grandstand with accounts of the fork-lift play: "Lift up a guard," he explained, raising his forearms, palms up, "and throw him at the quarterback."
Jumpy speculated that he, "an average player," might be back playing on the scout team (simulating the next opponent) this week. "I played LT last time," he said, referring to the Giants' Lawrence Taylor.
"But if I ain't playing I'm going to need a Saturday job," Jumpy said. "And Tuesday. We have Tuesdays off, usually.
"I can mow yards," he said, "and then sign autographs when I finish. You got a yard to mow?"
Randy Kirk, a free-agent linebacker, was signed and practiced yesterday as a deep snapper, in case John Brandes' sprained wrist limits him against Philadelphia Monday night.
Cornerback Brian Davis, with an injured calf muscle, went on injured reserve to make room for Kirk, a fourth-year man. Kirk was waived by Phoenix in training camp.