"It is one of the cardinal rules of football," Mark Rypien explained after the Washington Redskins survived the Chicago Bears, 10-9. "You never take points off the board."
Rypien is young. He was in grade school the first time George Allen did what Joe Gibbs was tempted to do last Sunday. He was in junior high the second time George did it.
Rypien didn't know Allen was burned both times. The Redskins lost, in 1972 and again in '75, because George took points off the scoreboard.
The Redskins won Sunday when Gibbs let Chip Lohmiller's field goal stand for a 10-9 lead with 2:14 to go. A penalty against the Bears would have given Washington a first down at the 9 and an odds-on chance for a touchdown.
Gibbs did not "seriously" consider accepting the penalty. "You could be hung out to dry," he said. "The only way to be right was to win the game."
Allen, having made chicken salad out of chicken soup at Long Beach State (6-5 after an awful mauling by Clemson in its opener) in his 72nd autumn, recalled what he decided in those games, and why.
"Gibbs did the right thing," Allen said, "because it was that late in the game. When I did it, we had time left.
"Anyway, I wanted to give our offense confidence. We had great defensive teams, you see, but the offense needed encouragement."
On its way to the Super Bowl in '72, Allen's Over-the-Hill Gang won 11 of its first 12 games and "should have" beaten the Patriots, who yielded an average 32 points a game. But the Pats led, 24-21, in the final period.
After Roy Jefferson was judged to be out of the end zone as he caught Billy Kilmer's 25-yard touchdown pass, Allen had Curt Knight kick a 33-yard field goal. (The goal posts were on the goal line, until 1974.)
Running into the kicker was called, giving the Skins a first down on the 21 if they wanted it. "I took it because we could always make the chip-shot field goal," Allen said.
MVP Larry Brown, who gained more yards that year than anybody but O.J. Simpson, gained 1 on a sweep and Kilmer was incomplete to Jefferson twice. Fourth-and-nine and Knight was wide right from 27 yards.
The game ended with Knight going wide right from 50. The score had become 24-23 when Bill Malinchak blocked a punt through the end zone for a safety. "They blew the call on that," Allen recalled. "Bob Brunet fell on the ball in the end zone so it should have been a touchdown."
Three years later, in what would be Allen's bad year in Washington (8-6), the Skins were 3-1 going into Houston. They led in the third quarter, 7-6, because the Oilers, who would win only three games, missed the extra point.
Mark Moseley's 42-yard field goal made it 10-6, but there was a personal foul on the play. The Skins could trade in the three points for a first down on the 12.
"I had a decision like that with Long Beach State this year," Allen said. "We were a low-scoring team, so I kept the points and we won."
In '75 the Redskins had scored 127 points in their first four games, so George went for broke. "I'd do the same again," he said. Kilmer did, too, and Willie Alexander intercepted him in the end zone.
"Well, we got the field goal later," Allen remembered. They did. Kilmer connected with Frank Grant for a 40-yard gain and another personal foul (no, Jerry Glanville didn't get there until 1985) helped the Skins to the 7. Kilmer was sacked for 10 yards, but Moseley was good from 32.
Leading 10-6, the Redskins put on a goal-line stand, starring the late Harold McLinton, whose son, Kevin, now plays basketball for Maryland. But Houston scored from the 1 on fourth down to go up 13-10 and the game ended with Moseley missing from 47.
It's lonely at the top at decision time. "Yeah, there was a lot of advice on the sideline," Gibbs said. "But it was mixed. I think a lot of guys didn't want to get involved. You leave those things to the head coach."
Cornerback Darrell Green, Gibbs noted, gave him the "way to go, Coach, we'll hold 'em" support. That was easy for him to say, after the decision.
George Allen never needed much advice. And he'll remind you that he wasn't often wrong.
"There was a game in RFK Stadium," he said, "when I took the points off the board and we won the game. No, I don't remember what year it was, but I know it was in RFK.
"You look it up."