Glory Days: George Allen

Washington's passion for winning started 30 years ago--when George Allen took over. Since then the Redskins have played in five Super Bowls, winning three, and built an expectation that made it tough to ever accept losing again. Here's another look at the great times enjoyed by the Redskins. This story is excerpted from Hail to RFK! 36 Seasons of Redskins Memories.

The stories are true. All of them. Those who knew the late George Allen can rattle off half a dozen in no time. They talk about his milk and his love of spending other people's money. Especially the Redskins'. They mention his rah-rah tactics; his breakfast habits (oatmeal, raisin bread and grapefruit every day); his offseason dinner conversations (football only, please); his constant phone calls, drawn-out practices and trades. And everything else that defined the man.

Like his hatred of Dallas. He seemed to take losses to Tom Landry's team personally.

Or did you never hear Allen's one wish? Both teams would gather near the 50-yard line. He and Landry would step forward and duke it out. The last one standing would be the winner.

Yes, George Herbert Allen stories are endless. There's even one about him hiring a security guard to make sure no one spied on his practices.

But football in Washington hadn't been much of a story before Allen arrived in 1971 after five successful years with the Los Angeles Rams.

From 1946-1970, the Redskins posted four winning seasons and captured no division titles. In Allen's seven years, they always had a winning season, made the playoffs five times, finished first three years and reached the Super Bowl once. At RFK, Allen was 40-10-1, including 2-0 in the playoffs.

''George turned this city around completely and unified it,'' said general manager Charley Casserly, who was hired by Allen in 1977 as an unpaid intern. ''I think the great enthusiasm that we have for football in Washington now is that in the 70s people really got fired up about the Redskins.''

After beating Dallas for the 1972 NFC Championship, Allen said, ''Winning in Washington means more than in other places. The fans here have had enough losers. Now they have a winner.''

When he was hired, Allen quickly worked the phone lines. Within three weeks of being hired, he pulled the trigger with the Rams: Seven draft choices, plus linebacker Marlin McKeever for six ex-Rams, including linebackers Maxie Baughan, Jack Pardee and Myron Pottios, defensive tackle Diron Talbert, guard John Wilbur and special teams ace Jeff Jordan. Oh, yeah, and they got a fifth-round pick. Eventually, Allen acquired 10 former Rams. Soon, people jokingly called the team the Ramskins.

But Allen wasn't done. He made 19 trades involving 33 players before his first training camp.

''If they want another draft choice, give it to them,'' Allen once said. ''What do you care as long as you get the player you want. The future is now.''

The last sentence became his motto. During his tenure, the Redskins traded every first round pick. But he didn't stop with just the first choice. Only once in his seven years did he not trade each of his first four selections. That came in his first season when the team picked receiver Cotton Speyrer in the second round. Before camp opened, Speyrer was shipped to Baltimore for Roy Jefferson.

In seven years, Allen made more than 80 trades. In 1973, he even traded the same picks twice. The Redskins were fined and the anti-establishment Allen was lectured by commissioner Pete Rozelle.

Allen's philosophy was to stack the lineup with veterans while grooming younger players. It's no wonder his teams were called ''The Over the Hill Gang.'' But Allen was loyal to players who had helped him win. And he liked adding players whom other teams had abandoned, such as the five players who had previously been player representatives.

''George saw those guys as leaders,'' said safety Brig Owens. ''I remember going to a [players-owners] negotiating meeting one time and they were saying Astroturf was the worst thing to happen to football. And one of the owners said [no] George Allen was the worst thing to happen to football. That was probably because he paid his players well and took players nobody wanted.''

That's why most of his players loved Allen. What they didn't like was his three-hour practices. But Allen believed in repetition. If the team was running a 22-minute defensive drill and a player messed up -- and Owens said Allen saw everything -- Allen would start the drill over.

''I remember times we'd go back to calisthenics,'' Talbert said. ''He also wanted a good huddle break and if it wasn't good, he would say, 'Get back in there, that's not the way a championship team breaks the huddle! Let's break the huddle right!' We'd practice breaking the huddle for a few minutes. It seemed like high school stuff, but it makes you do things better. We won games when we were outmanned.''

Speaking of high school, Allen believed in creating an atmosphere better suited for teenagers. That can be difficult to sell to a bunch of older players, especially those unfamiliar with Allen. Like center Len Hauss. Hauss, a Redskin since 1964, was one of the best centers in football, having made the Pro Bowl from 1967-70.

At first, he frowned at Allen's antics. After the Redskins beat St. Louis in their 1971 season opener, Allen gathered his team in the middle of the locker room.

''Let's have three cheers for the Redskins!'' he shouted.

Hauss was amazed.

''[Offensive tackle] Walt Rock and I were at our lockers and sat there and looked at each other and our thought is, 'Is this ridiculous or what?' '' Hauss recalled. ''The next week, we did it again. Walt and I are saying, these are grown men.''

But it was hard to defeat Allen's enthusiasm.

''By the fourth week, we were right in the middle of it and getting caught up in it,'' said Hauss, who earned two more Pro Bowl berths with Allen.

Allen captured the city as well and would often get standing ovations at Duke Zeibert's after victories. Washington's most important resident, President Richard Nixon, suggested plays that his friend sometimes used.

Defense was Allen's forte, however. He an innovator -- nickel backs and audibles were his creations in the 1960s. Both are standard these days. Richie Petitbon, one of the NFL's best defensive coordinators from 1981-92 who played for Allen in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, said Allen was, ''the best defensive coach I have ever seen.'' But he wasn't a control freak. Linebacker Chris Hanburger said he respected Allen because he let the players call the plays on the field.

The offense knew where it stood under Allen. Last. Defense and special teams ranked first and second.

''We'd be driving down the field and he would [ask] me, 'Where do you want [the ball to be]?' '' said kicker Mark Moseley.

Offensive tackle George Starke said, ''He didn't care if we scored points. As long as we didn't give any away.''

But that caused problems as well.

Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen clashed with Allen for the four years they were together, partly because of the way Allen alternated between Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer.

Conflicts also stemmed from Allen's offensive philosophy. He liked conservative plays; Jurgensen, of course, loved to throw. In one 1973 game against San Francisco, Kilmer got hurt and Jurgensen entered on third down. Allen ordered a draw play, setting up a field goal.

''My thinking is, '[Screw] the draw play,' '' Jurgensen remembered. ''So I audibled and threw a [an 18-yard] touchdown. He asked me, 'Why didn't you run the draw play?' I said, 'Well, I came to the line of scrimmage and they were hollering, 'Look out for the draw!' He wouldn't put me back in the game.

''He would always say, 'You're not going along with the system.' That was part of my conflict with him. I wouldn't go along with the system.''

But nothing revved Allen more than Dallas week. The Cowboys were one of the best teams in football, winning the 1972 Super Bowl after losing in that game the year before. From 1966-1970, Dallas compiled a 63-19-2 record and was 8-2 vs. Washington in that span. But under Allen the Redskins finished 7-8 against the Cowboys.

''Evertyhing was focused on beating Dallas,'' Casserly said.

Trainer Bubba Tyer, who joined the team in 1971, said, ''It was a passion. It was fun, though. But [the rivalry] was brought on by George Allen and his passion for beating [coach] Tom Landry.''

Football mattered most to Allen, who was the first to conduct offseason minicamps. Tyer remembers annual offseason dinners for the team doctors, trainers and their wives at nice restaurants where Allen spent the evenings drawing plays on napkins. Allen's wife Etty once joked that her husband liked ice cream because it doesn't take any time to eat and ''chewing would take his mind away from football.'' Those dinners, by the way, were always billed to the Redskins. That's one of the many ways he exceeded that ''unlimited budget'' bestowed on him by owner Edward Bennett Williams.

Another was by looking out for his players. Allen thought they deserved a first-rate facility when he came to Washington so by June of 1971, construction of Redskin Park in Herndon had begun. That allowed them to leave a practice site next to RFK that was better suited for a high school team.

But Allen -- who considered sleep his leisure time -- wanted to win more than anything else. Players on the 1972 squad saw how badly. After winning their first two games, the Redskins lost to lowly New England, 24-23. Two days later, Allen was still steamed.

Brundige recalls Allen shouting, ''I would have cut my arm off if it would have made us win that game. No one should get paid. How can you eat? I wish we could play tomorrow. My God! This is losing!''

This is also the same man who once said, ''Losing the Super Bowl is worse than death. You have to get up the next morning.''

So he worked countless hours to give his team the best chance to win.

''We were in the playoffs once over the holidays,'' Hanburger recalled. ''And he was always trying to get extra film from teams to find out about who we were playing. We were practicing on Christmas Day, and he would say 'Can you believe I called so-and-so today and they didn't answer their phone?' ''

Allen's family wasn't immune from his fire.

''One time [Allen's teenage son] Bruce was on the sidelines giving the officials a bunch of crap,'' Owens said. ''The referee finally told George he would give us a 15-yard penalty if we didn't get him off the sideline. He asked George, 'Do you know who he is?' George said, 'I don't know. He's not part of our organization. You can't penalize us.' George denied his own son. We were all laughing.''

Eventually, the Redskins became exasperated with Allen's autocratic ways and propensity for running up expenses. He left Washington after the 1977 season -- both sides decided to explore other options after an apparent contract extension fell through -- and returned to Los Angeles. The Rams wanted someone who could help them beat the Cowboys. But Allen became locked in a power struggle and was fired after six months.

His NFL days were over despite never having had a losing season. Winning, it seems, wasn't worth it to the owners if they had to deal with Allen.

But Allen coached in the renegade USFL and later in college. And, as usual, talk of Allen returns to winning. Even in death. Allen died Dec. 31, 1990 after a bout with pneumonia. It was brought on earlier that year when he coached Long Beach State to its first-ever winning season. After the last game, the players doused him with water.

Maybe he didn't win a Super Bowl, but Allen set standards that made such victories all that could be accepted in Washington.

''His record is unbelievable,'' Casserly said. ''He should be in the Hall of Fame. This franchise owes George Allen a lot and the city owes George Allen a lot.''


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