Except for an appearance in the Super Bowl later this season by his Houston Oilers, Jack Pardee would enjoy nothing more than beating Jack Kent Cooke's Washington Redskins in RFK Stadium Sunday.
That's because Cooke fired Pardee as Redskins coach after a 6-10 season in 1981, and it took Pardee almost a decade to get another head coaching job in the NFL.
But Pardee proved he's a survivor throughout his distinguished career in football, both as a player and a coach. He beat cancer with a risky, 11-hour operation in the middle of his All-Pro career as a linebacker. Later, as a coach, he survived two leagues folding under him. He has been Coach of the Year in the WFL, the NFL, the USFL and the Southwest Conference.
After he lost a bitter power struggle to young and ambitious Bobby Beathard with the Redskins in the early '80s, Pardee drifted from job to job before joining the Oilers in 1990. The odyssey took him to Houston in 1984 as head coach of the USFL Gamblers. After two seasons, the Gamblers merged with the New Jersey Generals, and for a very brief time, Pardee had quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Herschel Walker in his backfield. But they never played together in a game because the league soon folded.
In 1987, Pardee accepted the head coaching job at the University of Houston, where he fell in love with the run-and-shoot offense the Oilers employ. Criticized in Chicago and Washington for being conservative, he now operates one of the NFL's most potent offenses. At 7-1, the Oilers are tied with Buffalo for the best record in the AFC. They get their toughest test of the season Sunday in RFK, when the memories will come flooding back for Pardee.
When he was fired in 1981, Pardee's resentment for Cooke was evident. "A fish stinks from the head, not from the body," he said. "Mr. Cooke always said that and I agree with it."
But he didn't tell any fish tales yesterday. Asked if it was tough the way his Redskins career ended, he said, "It was. I don't know how you get fired and leave happy. [But] that's history. I'm worried about the future, not the past."
To win in RFK would be special, he admitted. "When you're playing a good team, with the things that are at stake, to go back there and win, nothing would make me happier. I'd hate to go to RFK and be embarrassed. I still have a lot of friends and family back there."
* DR. LONGBALL: On Dec. 16, 1990, in the second quarter of ((TC 13-10 victory over Atlanta, Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar was intercepted by Deion Sanders. That was 262 passes ago, and that was Kosar's last interception.
Kosar goes into Sunday's game at Cincinnati just 32 passes behind Bart Starr's NFL record of 294 passes without an interception. Kosar's streak almost ended in last week's 17-14 win over Pittsburgh, but the Steelers' Carnell Lake dropped a certain interception.
How significant is a streak like that? Browns vice president Ernie Accorsi said, "It's like a pitcher going half a season without giving up a home run. It's the same devastation that occurs. If you don't give up the long ball, they've got to pick at you with singles."
* TWO-MINUTE DRILL: Thirteen players on the Saints defense become free agents after this season, including linebackers Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson and Sam Mills. Said Swilling, who will earn $775,000 this year, "If I'm not a million-dollar linebacker, I want to know who is. I want to know why Lawrence Taylor makes twice as much as me and Rickey. You tell me that." . . . How bad are the 0-8 Bengals? They've given up 35 points three weeks in a row, and have given up 30 or more in six of their eight games . . . Noting Redskin Ricky Ervins' second-half exploits (215 yards rushing) against the Browns and Giants, Accorsi said, "It's like [the Celtics John] Havlicek off the bench."
* PARTING SHOT: Buccaneers safety Harry Hamilton, on injured reserve with an elbow problem, doesn't care for defensive coordinator Floyd Peters. Said Hamilton, "Harry Hamilton is not going to let the mouth of the defensive coordinator decide the course of his career." To which Peters responded, "He feels he's special. Well, he's not special. He can make all the threats and statements he wants. They don't bother me. I could care less. That to me is exactly why this team has a hard time winning. Players have put themselves above the team."