For seekers of truth, only Millen will do

MIKE LITTWIN

January 22, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

MINNEAPOLIS -- The query was put to Matt Millen because, of all the Redskins, only he would answer honestly: Are his teammates intentionally boring, or is the condition genetic?

"A good question," he said, and then the ex-Raider, ex-49er and, at 33, maybe soon-to-be ex-Redskin told a story.

Millen recalled meeting Joe Gibbs one morning as the coach emerged from his office, an empty cup of coffee in his hand, bleary-eyed from another all-nighter spent studying tape.

"I slapped him on the back and said, 'Get a life, Joe.' All the guys went [whispering in disbelief from behind their hands], 'He talked to Joe.' "

Millen laughed.

"Hendricks would have eaten him alive."

Ted Hendricks was the Stork, as old Colts fans remember, and is probably best known for once riding a horse onto a practice field. He was a character, if not an actual psycho. When the Redskins talk about character, they mean something else altogether. They do not mean someone interesting, but rather a quality, best illustrated by the willingness to save the squad by diving on a grenade. If the character-driven hero lived, he'd then say, "I want to thank my teammates for making this day possible."

It was picture day yesterday at the Metrodome and the first day of the annual Super Bowl media feeding frenzy (I had just a danish myself). Millen, who probably won't even play Sunday in what could be his fourth Super Bowl, entertained dozens of quote-hungry journalists.

Earlier, in a session with the Bills, many had approached Scott Norwood -- you know, the guy who missed the field goal. By one count, Norwood said 17 times that he was "kicking good" now. He said 15 times, "Past is past," when past is actually prologue, isn't it? Anyway, the highlight of that interview was courtesy of "Downtown" Julie Brown, of MTV semi-fame, who asked Norwood if he walked on hot coals to toughen up his kicking foot. Norwood cleverly answered, "No."

When the Redskins took the field, a Mexican TV reporter asked Mark Rypien to say something in Spanish. To which Rypien replied, "Me llama es Mark."

This is why people go to Millen, who, when asked if he thought the Redskins would put him on the protected list after the season, said, "Maybe the endangered species list."

Millen is what you call good copy, which is understandable, given his deep Raiders roots. The Raiders always wanted guys who could talk that talk -- Tooz and Stork and Lester and Alzado.

Millen, who used to be a fine linebacker, always showed up. And he had some famous moments, too, including the time he slugged former Patriots GM Pat Sullivan while running off the field after losing a playoff game. He's also 3-0 in Super Bowls.

Now, his time is nearly done. In this era of specialization, he plays linebacker against the run. But against a no-huddle, run-and-shoot offense like the Bills', Millen has no role to play, meaning the Redskins are unlikely to suit him up Sunday. Already he has had to sit out both playoff games. Although he'd much prefer to play, he says his feelings aren't hurt. It's just business.

"Believe me, it's not going to affect me," he said. "My kids will still love me. My wife will still cook my meals. Hey, I bet the $H activists will love that quote."

And if the Redskins don't want him back next year, he'll understand that, too. Not that he doesn't think he can still play.

"In my mind, I can still do it," he says. "But maybe I take a benighted view."

He then asked a sportswriter what benighted meant. Surprisingly, the sportswriter got it right, saying overcome by darkness. Millen was a little more succinct: "Ignorant," he said.

Ignorant, he's not. Funny, yes.

Would someone pick him up next year?

"They can put me on a charm bracelet and carry me around," Millen suggested.

"I make better copy at this point, but other than that . . . "

And so it went. The session lasted an hour, and writer after writer eventually headed Millen's way.

"Why don't you guys float over and talk to Ryp and get some really great quotes?" he wondered. "Or Darrell Green. He won't give you any cliches."

Yes, he was kidding. And, yes, this dullness is mostly intentional.

"Joe makes them completely aware of what he wants from the scribes," Millen would say.

So, there you have it. The Redskins are exciting only on the field, where, of course, it matters the most. But not necessarily to Millen. He has to live with these guys, and he wants someone he can goof with. Russ Grimm is it, he says.

But it could be worse. Said Millen: "Winning covers a multitude of sins. Matthew chapter 1, Millen verse 2."

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