Looney was astonished. "Joe," he said, "you should take a day off once in a while."
Looney went to Washington for a draft choice. The Redskin coach was Otto Graham, who soon decided that Looney's self-esteem exceeded his performances on the field. For his part, Looney deemed Graham both confused and incompetent. " Graham wasted our time." Looney says. "I could organize a practice better than he could. We would lose a game, and he would come in and tell us he was going to be like Lombardi. He was going to raise hell. Otto was trying to find himself, he didn't know what he wanted to do." Graham certainly knew one thing he wanted; he ordered Looney to keep his mouth closed, especially in the presence of reporters. Looney paid no attention. One day when the Redskins won a ball game, a rare event, Graham came out of his office and found Looney surrounded by reporters. Looney had had a good day, and he was pleased to talk about it at length. "Why don't you take a shower?" asked Graham.
"I've already had my shower," said Looney.
"Then take another," Graham snapped at him.
Looney's Redskin career ended in 1967 when Graham discovered Joe Don was going to play out his option. Looney was not unemployed long. His Army Reserve unit was activated, and off he went to Vietnam. Looney becomes visibly upset when Vietnam is mentioned. He spent nine months guarding an oil-tank farm in the combat zone, and he bears both physical and psychological scars from that experience. The physical scar is insignificant—he bruised a heel while diving into a bunker during a Viet Cong rocket attack—but he is irked that he was assigned sedentary duty.
Upon his return, Looney got in touch with several clubs, but only the Saints were seriously interested. "I know I'm something of a character," Looney says, "but I don't mind. I'm pretty well known—I don't have any trouble getting checks cashed. I hope to make this team. When I work, I work hard. I give 100%. When I play, I play the same way. When I blow, it all blows out."
Tom Fears says, "I hesitated for a while when he asked for a contract. On the one hand, we're getting a first draft choice without giving up anybody. On the other, the boy has a history of creating problems.
"I know the second coach thought he could handle him and so did the third and the fourth coaches. I'm not saying it won't happen here, too, but I've got confidence in the guy. He's trying like hell. I told him we'd start all over, we'd give him a new sheet. When he came to camp he didn't even introduce himself; we just got together, it was a process of osmosis. He's not a pushy kid and I like that."
Fears was influenced by Looney's military experience and, especially, his good record in Vietnam. Contrary to predictions, he wasn't shot for insubordination and he didn't trigger World War III. Presumably, he has matured somewhat and he has the responsibility of a family in his wife, Peggy, and infant daughter, Tara, who live on a 275-acre ranch in Diana, Texas.
Now 26, Looney says nothing about maturity or reform, but there are occasional hints he is changing. "I really wasn't all that bad," he says, "but maybe I was a little strange. My wife doesn't think I'm a character. She just loves me."