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The end is near. For LaVar Arrington’s Redskins career, that is.

Winning football is pretty novel around here. But all season, even going into the Denver game with the Skins among the few undefeated teams remaining, the big story among fans has been LaVar Arrington.

Even before he sat out Sunday’s entire game, sports-talk-radio callers weren’t buying the public stories coming out of Redskins Park, which held that the team’s highest-paid, best-known, and most beloved player was pinned to the pine because he was working his way back from injury or—put this in the “How Dumb Do They Think We Are?” file—because Arrington’s skills are best used in “packages” that haven’t been put on the field much lately.

On his paid weekly appearance on WTEM-AM, after the Denver game, Arrington said he’s been healthy and eager to play for weeks and, for the first time, slammed the coaching staff for spreading misinformation about his situation. “If you’re not going to play me, just say you’re not going to play me,” he said. “Don’t try to make things up about why you’re not going to play me.”

For some reason, the three-time Pro Bowler is headed toward oblivion. Not only does he not play in games anymore, he doesn’t play chess with team owner Daniel M. Snyder on plane rides home, either. He’s even been replaced by running back Clinton Portis as the lead Redskin in the darling Eastern Motors commercials.

How did everything fall apart?

Well, one underexplored theory starts with the legend of blues icon Robert Johnson. Johnson, according to the myth he promoted, was just another Delta bluesman before he went down to the crossroads and made a deal with the devil. His talents, as the story goes, quickly swelled and his career took off. Next thing you know the mysterious Mississippian was being covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Arrington’s tale, meanwhile, is Johnson’s opposite.

Arrington’s reputation with the team suffered irreparable damage—and his playing time began disappearing—when salary renegotiations with Redskins management turned sour at the end of the 2003 season. Rather than celebrate what was billed as an eight-year, $68 million contract, Arrington very publicly claimed the team had screwed him. He said the hard copy of the contract that he signed differed from the one he and agent Carl Poston had negotiated. The main difference between the bait contract and the switched pact, Arrington told interviewer after interviewer, was a $6.5 million bonus. The Redskins, from the start, denied fudging any numbers or removing any promised money.

But in March 2004, Arrington filed a grievance against Snyder et al. through the NFL Players Union, trying to get the bonus clause reinstated.

And in an interview on Sporting News Radio shortly after filing the grievance, he explained to host James Brown that the crossroads of his career came when the Redskins wanted him to make a deal with the devil. A transcript of that interview on the Fox Sports Web site has Arrington saying that the original contract he negotiated, which included the bonus, was against his religion.

“[M]e and my agent, we are Christian people and we were alluding to the fact that there were three sixes in the total of the contract,” Arrington said. “Three sixes, I think if you are a Christian you know what three sixes means. It is the mark of the devil.”

He had asked the team to tweak the numbers in the pact to “get those three sixes off,” Arrington told Brown. They did some tinkering and sent him, and not agent Poston, the reworked version. He signed it without talking to Poston, then later found out the three sixes were removed by removing the $6.5 million bonus.

Hokum, perhaps—but as heavy-metal and horror-movie fans know, Arrington’s not alone with his fears about 666. The “Mark of the Beast” legend can be traced to a centuries-old interpretation of Chapter 13, Verse 18, of the Book of Revelations. Here’s one translation of that passage, taken from somebody who should know—a poster on an Iron Maiden fan site: “Let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

Mainstream theologians have never parroted the scary interpretation of 666.

“I think [the fear of 666] developed out of the movies of the ’70s, the Exorcist and Omen movies,” says the Rev. William Sullivan, O.SS.T., the rector at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. “The church doesn’t get into that at all. I know I wasn’t taught that.”

The 666 rigmarole picked up plenty of steam during the Ronald Reagan reign. Reagan ended up on both sides of the mythology; when he was running for office, some Christian zealots took the position that he was the Antichrist. The smoking gun of these theorists was that his full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, was made up of three six-letter words. (Cue scary organ music.)

Reagan eventually bought into the theory himself. During his second term, Reagan’s friends bought him a home at 666 St. Cloud Road in Bel Air, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Somehow, the official address was changed to 668 St. Cloud Road before Reagan moved in.

Those in high places on the dark side would have advised Arrington that he had nothing to be afraid of in the original Skins contract, 666 and all. Peter H. Gilmore, high priest of the New York– based Church of Satan, says he finds such fears “entertaining” and that he believes Revelations was “written under the unintentional influence

of hallucinogenic mold.”

“Fearing a number is superstitious to us, and so Satanists might use this as a way to tease Christians,” says Gilmore. “We are happy to have the feared address or feared phone number, just as we have no worries about using the number 13. Being able to wield such numerical boogeymen without fear can be empowering, when all about, you are cowering in fear of something which is in fact harmless.”

An April report in National

Geographic also came a little late

for Arrington. Biblical scholars at Oxford University poring through papyrus uncovered a century ago near the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus announced that there had been a mistake in the previous translations of Revelations. After further review, the scholars said, the new Mark of the Beast wasn’t 666. It was 616.

So 6-1-6, eh? Guess that lets

Reagan off the hook. But Daniel M. Snyder?

That explains it.

—Dave McKenna