The Future Is Now

The future was on Draft Day, January 28, 1971. <br><br> George Allen had hinted that it was coming, expressing a belief that "the future is now." He had indicated that the draft wasn't a big part of his plan to rebuild the Redskins, who hadn't been involved in postseason play since 1945.

"I plan to win in 1971," he said when he was hired as Redskins coach and general manager on January 6. "I have never believed in long-range programs of six, seven or eight years."

There was also foreshadowing of the way that Allen would transform the Redskins in some deals made prior to the draft. He sent fourth- and eighth-round draft picks and linebacker Tom Roussel to New Orleans in exchange for the 31-year old quarterback Billy Kilmer.

Still, here wasn't much in Allen's history with his previous employers, the Los Angeles Rams, to indicate that he would swing a huge draft-day deal. In fact, in 1970 he had three first-round picks and used them all. Incidentally, one of the firsts had come from the Redskins in exchange for the rights to Hesiman Trophy winning quarterback Gary Beban, a textbook example of a Hesiman bust.

Regardless of clues one way or the other, the trade was stunning. In all, 15 players and draft picks changed hands between the Rams and the Redskins. In the history of the NFL, there has never been a bigger trade involving two teams.

To the Rams went linebacker Marlin McKeever, first and third round picks in 1971 and third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and, seventh-rounders in 1972. In exchange, the Redskins got linebackers Maxie Baughn, Jack Pardee, and Myron Pottios, running back and special teams ace Jeff Jordan, guard John Wilbur, defensive tackle Diron Talbert, and a fifth-round pick in 1971.

The fifth-round choice that came to the Redskins didn't stay in DC for long. Allen immediately dispatched it to Green Bay for the rights to tight end Boyd Dowler. The former Packer tight end had already come to the Redskins as an assistant coach, but Allen wanted to be able to activate Dowler should the Skins need him.

Nearly forgotten in all the hoopla over the trade of the first and third picks was the fact that the Redskins still had a second-rounder to use. Allen was on the phone trying to trade the choice for a veteran, future picks he could use to trade for a veteran, anything, right up until the clock was about to run out on the selection. Washington took Texas wide receiver Cotton Speyrer. "I don't want Sprayer or Sprirer, or whatever his name is," spat Allen. He took care of that as before training camp he dealt the Longhorn along with, what else, some future draft picks to the Colts for receiver Roy Jefferson.

"This is great, terrific for the Redskins," Allen said. "We've upgraded our defense at least 25 percent. It's worth at least two victories. Our goal is now nine or ten wins."

Some agreed with Allen, others doubted him. Talbert, Allen maintained, was his number one pick, but at age 27 with four years and 44 NFL games on his body, he was hardly the spry youngster that one might get with the tenth overall selection. The three linebackers Baughn, Pottios, and Pardee, were all were looking at the age of 30 in the rear view mirror.

When the draft was over, Allen immediately began ensuring that there would be no such drama on draft day for the next couple of years. He traded away selections in the '72 and '73 drafts for defensive ends Verlon Biggs and Ron McDole, safety Richie Petitbon, and kick returner Speedy Duncan, among others. McDole and Petitbon were well over 30, a status that rapidly became a badge of honor among the members of the team. Nobody is quite sure who, but someone dubbed the Redskins the Over the Hill Gang, and the moniker stuck.

The skeptics were out in force but, given the Skins' long postseason drought, even they were willing to give Allen an opportunity to validate his methods.

Everyone, true believer and cynic alike, had to be impressed with the early results. The Redskins got out of the gate in 1971 with a 5-0 start. They weren't just the toast of the town; they owned the town.

The critics came out of the woodwork, however, during the 1-3-1 midseason slump that followed the red-hot beginning. Too old; everyone should have known that they would wear down as the season wore on, they said.

Allen righted the ship, though, and a comeback Monday night win over, of all teams, the Rams, gave the Redskins their ninth win of the season and clinched their first playoff berth in a quarter of a century.

The future had arrived.

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