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"Tom has the fastest white feet in the NFL," says Dolphin Guard Bob Kuechenberg. Vigorito also bench-presses 385 pounds, making him the strongest Miami halfback since Mercury Morris. In fact, he's playing the role Morris pioneered in the early 1970s when he spelled Jim Kiick or Larry Csonka in passing situations. "Football is just going the way of the world," Vigorito says. "Everything nowadays is specialized. You can't go to a doctor now unless you go to one for the specific part of your body that's hurting you."
The Redskins' Washington has been seeing a lot of the knee doctor. "We don't think of him as a role player," says Coach Joe Gibbs. "If he's healthy we want him in the game all the time." But Washington, 29, has not been immune to injury; he had surgery on both knees in February, and that could cramp his running style. That style, he says, is based on quickness and the ability to stop and go and change directions. "I don't run over people unless maybe there's a small official in the way who doesn't see me coming," says Washington.
Normally you can hear Washington coming because a steady, low-pitched hum always seems to be emanating from his mouth. "He's just idling," someone once said after espying him seated for a meal. The humming can be traced to his upbringing in Port Arthur, Texas. He'd ride to clinics with his father, a high school football coach, all the while mimicking stock-car announcers and the buzz of the cars' engines. Later, when he played at Oklahoma, Washington painted his shoes silver. Customized-in-chrome cleats are still his trademark.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Redskins' 1982 Super Bowl victory was that they won without Washington, around whom the team had built its offense. He gained 1,474 yards running and catching in '81 but sat out the early part of last season with a damaged left knee. When he injured the right knee upon his return after the strike, John Riggins took to the role of the Skins' single setback like a Hog to slop. But the Redskins aren't going to run over everybody the way they did in the playoffs. Given Joe's versatility, Washington needs Washington.
While Washington is the all-time leading rusher for Oklahoma, Harper isn't the alltime leading rusher even for Kutztown State. But Kutztown, which sits in eastern Pennsylvania not far from Moselem Springs and New Jerusalem, is something of a holy place to Harper. One of his classmates there was Walt Michaels Jr., the son of the former Jets coach. When Harper finished his career at the Division II school, earning honorable mention Little All-America honors, Walt Jr. persuaded Walt Sr. to give Harper a shot as a free agent. Harper made good. In 1977, his first season, the 5'8", 177-pound Harper worked as a runner, receiver, and punt and kick-off returner—and led the AFC in combined yardage (1,867 yards). He led the entire league the following season with 2,157. So much for scouting computers. "Actually, I'm five feet seven and three-quarters," he says. "But don't tell anyone. It's funny. Other guys get beat up, but I've managed to miss only a few games. My size must help. There's less area to hit."
Harper is happy with his new contract, signed after a season of discontent. "I fired my first agent because he was incompetent," says Harper, who's from a family of real estate agents and passed the broker's exam himself over the summer. "His name was Bruce Harper."
Harper may have signed at just the right time. The 49ers' Walsh is one coach who thinks the impact player will soon be on his way out, another casualty of the ongoing arms race between offense and defense. "We've gone to an extreme using three-and four-receiver offenses," Walsh says. "It stereotypes what you can do." Look for a return to two full-time setbacks'. If one of them can run from scrimmage 20 times, catch passes, return kicks and stay out of a hospital bed, the NFL may have to scrap "impact player" and go back to "superstar."