Waller attributes Thomas' success to Allen's respect for the individuality of his players, so long as they adhere to team rules. Thus Thomas, a loner and vegetarian, rooms by himself and concocts his own training-table diet from the salad and fruit trays. (Actually, a number of Redskins live alone, some because they snore. "We have a singular togetherness," says a team spokesman.) By the same token Thomas was fined like any other player for missing breakfast. He didn't realize that the Redskins are obliged to show up for breakfast whether they want to eat it or not.
"This is the perfect place and time for him," says Waller. "If he's ever going to make it anywhere, it's just got to be here. The way his mind was, he probably wouldn't have played for anyone a year ago. This year he probably would have given it a good shot wherever he went, but no place would have been as conducive as here."
"People say you have to treat everyone alike," Allen says, "but that's not necessarily true. You don't treat Diron Talbert the same as you'd treat Verlon Biggs. You don't treat Jerry Smith the same as Roy Jefferson. Everyone is an individual. If a guy has ability, I'm willing to tackle his problem. That's the coach I've tried to be, not a guy who would turn his team into a bunch of trained seals or something."
Thomas has been observed smiling and even chuckling at his teammates in practice, which may come as a shock to the nation, but whether he has found happiness as a Redskin is still questionable, because of "the stare." Thomas utilizes a laser-like look of pure malevolence toward those Washington writers who have the gall to try to chat with him. He can also turn off a teammate's conversation by the same device if the mood suits him.
"He can sometimes act like he didn't hear you," says Charley Taylor, the All-Pro wide receiver. "Or he'll give you that stare of his. He got that from his father. His father could go around the house for two weeks and not say anything. But he's friendly. He even went out and got some sandwiches for the linemen one time. I think he relates to the talent on Dallas quite a bit. We don't have people comparable to Rayfield Wright as blockers and this upsets him a little. He has to get used to the personnel we do have. I know one thing for sure and that is that he definitely wants to be a Washington Redskin and he's working hard to be one.
"Duane is a very religious person. He's not a God-squadder, but in his way he is religious. I think Duane realizes that he has a God-given talent and he can't let it go to waste. You can tell."
"He's not an easy guy to confront, with that stare of his," says Guard John Wilbur, like Thomas a disenchanted ex-Cowboy, reinforcing Taylor's opinion. "He's a powerful personality. He's got the power of his philosophical convictions and he's got a great football mind. You know, he tapes Charlie Waller at meetings. I think he's got a lot of Dallas left in him. Down there, you're brainwashed to believe you're superior to everyone else in the league. I was the same way for about a year after I left there. They make you believe that theirs is the best system there is, and with the personnel they have you've just got to be better than all the rest."
Either as a reaction to his disenchantment with Dallas (which began when he and the Cowboys couldn't come to terms on the renegotiation of his three-year contract, after an outstanding rookie year) or out of gratitude to Allen, Thomas is pushing hard to be better than the rest. After three exhibition games in which he has played three halves he leads the team in rushing and pass receiving and has scored two touchdowns. He has carried the ball 39 times for 166 yards and has caught nine passes for 89 yards.
But "the rest" may be a problem. " George Allen has built his whole program on togetherness," says a rival NFL coach. "If he's not getting it because of one guy, that can hurt his program. And for every down that Duane's running the ball, Larry Brown isn't. You can say it isn't a problem, but over the long haul it is."
Allen refuses to speculate on how he plans to use his two premier ballcarriers. "The worst thing I could say," he says, "is that three weeks from now I'm going to have Duane and Larry in the same backfield. We haven't advanced that far. Larry Brown is still No. 1. The only thing I count on is today. Your only future is the one you have now."