Man of strong beliefs Convincing his teams they could succeed was Allen's greatest asset

Jack Mann

January 02, 1991|By Jack Mann

ETTY ALLEN answered the phone. "He's home," she said, "but can you wait until he finishes dinner?"

George couldn't wait. There was football to talk about: now football and future football.

"I think the guys will do even better next year," George Allen said. "They believe now, you see."

The guys were the Long Beach State football team, the virtually abandoned losers he had taken over at age 72. Allen scraped them off the field after a 59-0 opening-day humbling by Clemson and, making them believe, led them to a 6-5 season.

"You see" was the subtly condescending phrase George used to explain things he could perceive to people who probably couldn't, e.g. sportswriters.

Kicking teams, you see, win games and lose games. George perceived that truth before anybody else and invented special teams.

In 1958 a Giant named Mickey Walker was describing his job as "kicking ass on the suicide squads." In RFK in 1971 the public-address announcer intoned the names of Malinchak and Hull and Vactor and Jaqua.

George Allen was introducing his Special Team, giving the players dignity and pride and the will to win for him.

He told them, again and again, that they were, like Larry Brown and Ron McDole and Jack Pardee, Men of Character.

And they won for him. Behind his back many of them laughed. Up to the last day of 1990 when Allen, quite unwillingly, died, there were ex-Redskins mimicking his slogans: "Losing is like death."

They joked about carrying his liturgy to the table, to the bath, to bed:

"Is what I am doing, or about to do, getting us closer to our objective -- winning?"

Merlin Olsen, the flower salesman, played for Allen as a Ram for five seasons. He was not surprised in 1977 when Edward Bennett Williams declined to re-sign his winning (.690, still the Redskin record) coach. "Five years is about long enough," Olsen said, "to be told that every next game is going to be the most important day of your life."

Yet Allen "could make you feel that way" for those three hours each week, said Mike Hull, a thinking man who gave of his body as a special-teamer in 1971-74, all playoff years.

Part of it was the paranoia George could transmit. The "Us" of his Redskins comprised not only guards and linebackers but CEO Allen's office staff. In the official Redskins yearbook of 1973 non-believers in George were termed "agnostics."

The "Them" he preached of included not only Giants and Cowboys but NFL officials who made rules that restricted Allen's stockpiling and manipulation of players. It also included the press, which he excluded effectually from practice and absolutely from the locker room.

Anyone who has seen wide receiver Roy Jefferson do his children's program on television would have difficulty believing the vocabulary he used coming up the stairs in Redskin Park one day. "So he's got a few more players than the rules allow," Jefferson ranted. "What difference does it make?"

Some "Them" in the league office had caught Allen corner-cutting again and a sportswriter Them (one of those Thems George hadn't mesmerized) had written about it. Can't trust "those guys," Allen reiterated to his team.

There were a thousand laughs about Double-O-Seven, the pleasant little man who was Allen's internal security force at Redskin Park. Ed Boynton, a retired Los Angeles cop, would ride the perimeter fence on his bicycle, stopping to advise peekers-in, mostly children, that, while Coach Allen certainly appreciated their interest, they were "distractions" and should go away.

Everybody agreed that was silly, but George never did silly things. Absurd, yes, but never silly. He didn't really think there were Dallas spies out there, but Double-O-Seven's patrol served to heighten the siege mentality, and motivate Us to win.

And win they did, 67 of the 98 Redskins' games he coached. They did not win the 1973 Super Bowl for him, but in a very real way that "ultimate" game was an anticlimax.

George Allen could never die happily because there were so many things that needed doing, but he must have had happy memories on his last morning because it was Dec. 31. That was the date of George's favorite victory.

The nation's capital has not had a New Year's Eve more gala than Dec. 31, 1972, the day the future was now. In the cold twilight at RFK Stadium the Redskins stomped the Cowboys, 26-3, for the NFC championship.

The Super Bowl two weeks later (Miami 14, Washington 7), like the New York World Series the day after Bobby Thomson's home run, was irrelevant.

Allen had kept the promise he made to Ed Williams on Jan. 6, 1971: "to give this town a team it can be proud of."

Ironically Redskin Park, the spacious practice facility Williams decreed in the Dulles boondocks in 1971, was found obsolete this year. It is, as surely as St. Paul's is to its architect, Sir Christopher Wren, George Allen's monument.

It had to be built, you see, because a team to be proud of needs a modern, completely equipped practice facility, secure and remote, free of distractions. Allen's circle-the-wagons concept has been imitated around the NFL ever since.

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is building the new Redskin Park up the road. It will be necessarily bigger and better, and presumably have higher fences.

What might they name it?

Whatever, Long Beach State is going to have a better season. The kids believe now, you see.

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