HERNDON, Va. COMING OFF the football field sometimes, or even going onEric Williams shuffles along like a model for Thomas Gray's plowman, homeward plodding his weary way.
And Williams wants everybody to remember that this week.
"Don't I always walk funny?" he demanded. "These guys call me The Sidewinder, or The Old Man."
Williams' point is that he is everything a robust, 28-year-old defensive tackle ought to be, including in love with somebody named Kim, except that he has an injured foot, and that's going to get better.
It's getting better already, Williams insisted. "I was on crutches yesterday," he said as he moved his 286 pounds with very short steps around the Washington Redskins' locker room.
"I'll go on injured reserve if that's what they want me to do," Williams said. "But I'm not counting myself out of the playoffs. I couldn't play this Sunday, but if I'm this much improved, in only one day . . ."
It may not matter whether Williams, or the other seven injured Redskins, can play against the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the regular season at RFK Stadium Sunday.
If the Eagles beat the Cardinals at Phoenix Saturday afternoon, the Redskins' season will have ended, for all practical purposes. Philadelphia will have the home-field advantage for the wild-card game and the Skins will have to play on Philadelphia's (artificial) turf the next weekend.
Williams' belief that he can be combat-ready by then is a minority opinion. "The term for his injury is 'foot,' " trainer Bubba Tyer said. "His foot is hurt." Such short answers from Tyer indicate pessimism. It is, he later elaborated, a strain or sprain of a tendon from the instep to the toe.
Williams was determined in his wishful thinking. "I don't get hurt," he said, "Yeah, it happens to everybody, but it doesn't happen to me. I've worked too hard and suffered too long to miss the playoffs."
The "suffering" was six seasons in Detroit, in which the Lions lost 63 games under three coaches. It seemed longer: "I've worked all my life to get to the playoffs," Williams said.
He has played like a winner since being traded from the Lions in September in return for running back James Wilder and a fourth-round draft choice. After missing the first two games, Williams has made 55 tackles and three sacks. Against the Giants in the Meadowlands Oct. 28 he was in on 12 tackles.
"A lot was expected of me," Williams said. "They gave two players for me. They went out on a limb for me."
But Detroit got his full measure of service, too, Williams said. "I don't think I've ever had a bad game," he said. "I love to play. I don't like how I feel during the week, but it's a blast when I'm out there on the field."
Eric Williams gets a basic $425,000 for what he's doing this year, but he is among the minority of professional athletes who do not lose sight of the fact that they are being handsomely rewarded for playing games that can be played by small boys at recess time.
"Lifting [weights] and practicing is work," Williams said, "and I don't enjoy it. But you don't get paid for Wednesday and Thursday.
"In what other job do you get six months off, go on TV, have people look up to you and get paid well besides?
"Besides," Williams said, "I get instant gratification. Guys in some jobs have to wait a year to get a review of their work. When I make a big play on the field I know it, right now."
How many lines of work help a guy launch a television career? The "Gridiron Gourmet" show Williams began in Detroit hasn't sold yet, but it was paraded on a network Saturday. Between halves of the Eagles-Cowboys game, Williams was shown serving Christmas dinner to a group that included Redskins rookies Cary Conklin, Mohammed Elewonibi and Jon Leverenz.
If Williams is placed on injured reserve for the minimum four weeks, he is lost for the playoffs, no matter how quickly he recovers. "The only time I ever went on IR was my second year," he said, "with a cracked neck." It was a fracture of the fifth laminar vertebra. By then, after 12 games, he had 60 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks.
Defensive line coach LaVern Torgeson, who is not counting on Williams, patch-worked through practice yesterday with tackle Tim Johnson working at right end because Charles Mann is absent with a knee injury.
Markus Koch, who used to start at end, remains "questionable" with a knee injury. So there were five able, active defensive linemen for four positions.
One of them is Tracy Rocker, who has been on injured reserve (knee) since Nov. 3. He was hurt in the 21-10 loss to the Giants, the same game in which he jumped offside at a critical moment.
The Redskins also announced that running back Kelvin Bryant (sprained knee) and defensive back Sidney Johnson (concussion) will miss Sunday's regular-season finale. Coach Joe Gibbs said the team could activate running back Gerald Riggs, who practiced yesterday for the first time since spraining a foot arch Nov. 12.