It was football season, and Edward Bennett Williams was uncharacteristically depressed. Edward Bennett Williams is a famed lawyer, a celebrated mouthpiece, a legend in his time. Among his clients have been Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Costello, the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep., Wis.), Congressman Adam Clayton Powell (Dem., N.Y.), Dave Beck and Confidential magazine. It was Edward Bennett Williams who dug up the evidence that Aldo Icardi did not put potassium cyanide in his commanding officer's minestrone. It is Edward Bennett Williams who is defending Bobby Baker.
It is also Edward Bennett Williams who last year took on what may prove to be his most troublesome client when he became president of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. "I have some kind of a crazy notion that I'm a winner," says Edward Bennett Williams now, "and, by God, I'd go out there and the Redskins would get shellacked every Sunday! I didn't believe it!"
When the Redskins lost their fifth straight game his wife, Agnes, asked if any team had ever lost all 14 games. His seven children stared at him with youthful skepticism as he tried to find something glorious in each defeat. When the Detroit Lions beat the Redskins 14-10, Williams informed his kids, "The defense didn't give up a point. The offense did!" After the St. Louis Cardinals walloped the Redskins 37-16, the children said, "Gee, Dad." To which Williams replied, "We scored more points than in any game thus far." Such rationalization did more harm than good. When Williams asked his son Joby, who has trouble with math, how he had done in a test, Joby brightly replied, "I got the highest mark of all the kids who didn't pass."
At D.C. Stadium fans hung out signs saying COACH BILL MCPEAK MUST GO and WE WANT LOUIS NIZER, and eventually McPeak became so desperate that he asked Williams to speak to the team. Williams obliged, while McPeak and his assistants stayed outside. "It was a seance, an exercise in dianetics," says Williams. "It was a psychiatric session in which everyone sat around a table in group therapy. Everyone puts out on the table those things which are bothering them, which, when made visible in the aggregate, don't seem as bad as when invisible. I spoke for 20 minutes on what was bothering me. Then the players spoke. All kinds of emotions came forward. Laughter. Anger. It was great."
July 24, 1966
After this unveiling of the invisible, the Redskins won six of their last nine games and ended the season with eight defeats and six wins. But Williams had decided that McPeak must go, and last winter, in what promises to be a new deal for Washington, he hired Otto Graham, the former great Cleveland Brown quarterback, as coach (see cover). Getting Graham was not easy. In many ways it was a bigger coup for Williams than springing Jimmy Hoffa. For years Graham had rejected big-time coaching offers, preferring to stay at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Otto had a home for his family near the shore, a commission (he was a regular captain) and no pressure. Yet when Williams offered him the job as general manager and coach, with powers comparable to those of Vince Lombardi at Green Bay, Graham accepted.
Graham's credentials are impressive. At Northwestern he was an All-America football and basketball player, one of the few athletes in collegiate history to be so honored. He played pro basketball with the Rochester Royals one season, and the Royals won the league championship. With the Cleveland Browns in the old All-America Conference and later in the NFL, he was All-Pro quarterback year after year. Indeed, there are many who consider him to have been the greatest quarterback of all time. In 10 years of play he gained more yards passing than Sammy Baugh did in 16. In 10 years of play Graham never missed a game, and in that time the Browns were in the playoffs 10 times, winning seven championships. "When Paul Brown talked contract, the championship game was part of it," says Otto. "We took the championship game for granted."
In 1959 Graham became football coach and director of athletics at the Coast Guard Academy. In 1963 he coached the team to its first unbeaten, untied season, a considerable feat inasmuch as cadets are admitted only on the basis of competitive examination. In his seven years at the academy the biggest lineman Graham ever had weighed 215 pounds. To Graham, football at the academy was fun. "If we got one touchdown ahead I'd put in the second string," Otto says. "People would get upset, but I'd say, 'No, no, if the other team scores, they score.' If the gamble backfired and we lost—and this is the collegiate level—I wouldn't lose any sleep over it."
Between 1958 and 1965 Otto kept his name before the public by coaching the College All-Star team in Chicago, and there were at least a couple of occasions when he passed up possible victory because a player had not earned the right to play. For the past two years Graham also did the color commentary for the broadcasts of the New York Jets of the AFL. He had a high regard for the American Football League even before its merger with the NFL, stating publicly that the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers could give any team in the NFL a battle. Ed Williams says, "I want Otto to be honest. He is honest. He says what he thinks. You always know what he thinks."
Williams and Graham are similar in a number of ways. They are hefty 6-footers, almost the same age—Williams, 46, is a year older—and they both grew up during the Depression in homes where money was tight. Williams' father was a floorwalker in a Hartford department store; Graham's father taught music at Waukegan (Ill.) High School (Otto played the piano, violin, cornet and French horn and majored in music and education at Northwestern, while an older brother, Eugene, played in the Redskin band while serving in Washington with the U.S. Marine Band). Williams and Graham both like to play paddleball—which Graham always wins, to Williams' groans and screams—but there all similarities end. Williams is witty, urbane, worldly, at home with high life and low life. By contrast, Graham is a great big Boy Scout in the best sense of the term. A former president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Otto's only close look at crime came when a Cleveland neighbor and friend, Dr. Sam Sheppard, was accused of doing in Mrs. Sheppard with a blunt instrument. Otto's idea of a big night on the town is to eat a dish of chocolate ice cream. In Washington, Williams favors such sporty hangouts as Duke Zeibert's, but Otto, to Zeibert's heart-clutching dismay, heads around the corner for a tray at Scholl's Colonial Cafeteria. Graham was upset when a Washington sportswriter wrote, "Otto Graham is the highest-paid coach in the history of the Redskins, but he is so frugal he eats at Scholl's cafeteria." Otto says, "Gee, I like the place. Sure, the food is cheap, but it's good." At Scholl's, Otto gives a big hello to Mr. Fajfar, the manager, signs autographs happily for busloads of kids from Toledo and Omaha who pack into the place after seeing the White House, and jokes with the 83-year-old lady cashier. Otto has no airs at all. Otto is just folks. Otto believes in the Golden Rule. Otto is Jimmy Stewart in the old movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Graham's involvement in football is easy to understand. Williams' entry into sports was roundabout. When he was 8 he was bat boy for the Hartford Senators in the Eastern League. The big battery then was Van Lingle Mungo, pitching, and Paul Richards, catching. Ever the extrovert, little Eddie congratulated Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon his election to the presidency in 1932, and F.D.R. wrote back, "I was glad to have your picture for it helps to know you better." Williams had to hustle for a dollar. At 16 he ran a gas station during the summer for a chain. He earned $17.82 for an 84-hour week. (Years later the company sought his counsel on an antitrust suit. Williams never let on that he had once slaved in its employ, but he derived a good deal of pleasure when he later presented his bill.) After graduation from Bulkeley High School in Hartford, he got a scholarship to Holy Cross, where he was graduated first in his class. "I was supposed to finish first, so I finished first," he says. He enrolled at Georgetown Law School, then enlisted as a cadet in the Army Air Force, where he received a medical discharge following an airplane crash. He returned to Georgetown and, with still a year to go on his degree, went to work for Hogan & Hartson, one of the biggest law firms in Washington. He spent five years with the firm, most of the time defending a transit company against personal-injury suits. Trial law excited him, but he became saturated with negligence cases, so he left in 1949 to form his own firm, now Williams and Wadden.
Williams taught law at Georgetown for 10 years—he is general counsel to the university—and on occasion he has lectured elsewhere. "I'll talk about the law all day long," he says. "I have long felt that the law schools, the really fine law schools, were not putting sufficient emphasis on courses dealing with human rights rather than property rights. There are courses on real property, personal property, taxation, wills, damages, contracts, business associations, corporations, partnerships, estates. The result is that, slowly but surely, the student is getting the idea that it is far more important to be concerned with property rights than human freedom, and that there is something déclassé about standing at the bar with some unfortunate that society is trying to put in a cage. The student gets the idea that the ne plus ultra in law is to go to a Wall Street firm and work on a fragment of an antitrust action in some cubicle."
Because of the notoriety of some of Williams' clients, the adjective "controversial" is usually affixed in front of his name, and he says, "I suppose that means I have innumerable detractors." Within the profession Williams is held in the highest regard, and in writing the introduction to Williams' book One Man's Freedom, a bestseller in 1962, Dean Eugene V. Rostow of the Yale Law School commented that Williams has been a leader in "a refreshing movement to make the defense of criminal cases once more a respectable branch of the modern profession."
On occasion Williams has wielded his legal knowledge on behalf of the Redskins. Last May he heard a report that George Wilson, coach of the Miami Dolphins of the AFL, was trying to sign Sonny Jurgensen, the Redskin quarterback. "I took care of George," says Williams, who had Wilson as an assistant coach at Washington last year. "I called him on the phone and said, 'George, I've been hearing a nasty story that you've been tampering with Sonny. I would like to get your denial.' Right away George equivocated a bit. 'Now, George,' I said. 'This is a very nasty rumor, and I would like to have your denial. We can stop the story right now. You know I wouldn't want to take legal action. How about it, George?" George hemmed and hawed, and I said, 'George,' and finally he denied it. I said, 'Thank you, George. That's good to know. Now if anyone says you've been tampering with Sonny I can tell them it's not true.' "
When Williams feels the world is too much with him he thinks of taking one of his dream jobs, such as masseur in the Supreme Court gym or postmaster of 'Sconset on Nantucket. Williams and his family summer on Nantucket, and he once had a run-in with the law there. He got a parking ticket, put it in his pocket and forgot about it. When he discovered it several days later he noted that he was supposed to have reported to the police immediately. Williams hastened to police headquarters, where a taciturn cop looked at the ticket, then at Williams and said, "This says immediately. This is Tuesday, and you got it Friday." Williams replied, "Immediately is a relative concept. There are some historians who say the Second World War followed immediately after the First World War. If you wanted me here within two hours, you should have put it on the ticket." The cop said, "Off-islander, eh?"
Football is of great help to Williams in his practice of law. "It's a total change of pace," he says. "I can get lost in it. There is a tremendous emotional drain in the practice of law. There's no more difficult form of practice, I think, than trial practice. You end up each day physically and emotionally spent. A lot of trial lawyers have become burned out before their time. I get exhausted, absolutely exhausted, from a long trial, but I have a capacity to recharge. I used to love to watch baseball, but football has spoiled me. Bill Veeck and I were going to buy the new Washington Senators. Bill's an old friend, a good friend. When Cal Griffith wanted to move the old Senators to Minnesota he needed a vote. Veeck promised him the vote of the White Sox. We went to the league meeting at the Savoy Plaza in New York confident that we could not lose. I left the meeting sanguine in the fact that we could not lose. I was down in the bar talking to the sportswriters, puffing a big cigar and having a drink when the news was announced that General Quesada had gotten the new team in Washington. It seems Joe Cronin gave Griffith a dark look, and Cal deserted us and backed Quesada. It may have been the best thing that ever happened to me."
Before losing out on the Senators, Williams had become friendly with George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Redskins. "Marshall had no family in Washington," Williams recalls. "He was very interested in trial law, and I was interested in football. In 1957 or '58 I started to make road trips with the team, and George and I began to go to the games together. One day George asked me if I would go on the board of the Redskins. I was flattered, and it was fun. It gave me no authority of any sort. In 1959, or maybe 1960, George invited me to buy stock at a time when he was having a dispute with Harry Wismer [who then owned 25% of the stock]. But I had a problem. George had a white team. I didn't want that. George wasn't a racial bigot, but he had become obdurate. So I would not go into the ball club, and I told George it was foolish to go on like this, ignoring the greatest pool of athletes in the country. Our friendship didn't break over that, but after a very disastrous season, and after I had just finished the Adam Clayton Powell tax case in New York, George came out and said, 'Ed, I want you to get me Ernie Davis [the Negro star at Syracuse].' I asked, 'Why me, George?' He said, 'Well, Adam Powell will help you.' The three of us had dinner. It was so funny. George called Adam 'Parson.' He'd say, 'Now listen, Parson.' And Adam said. 'I'm not going to get any house nigger, George. You'll have to get four other Negroes.' Adam and I went to see Ernie Davis, and after that George let me buy stock. Then we traded Ernie Davis to the Browns for Bobby Mitchell and a first-draft pick. And I'm embarrassed to say we wasted that first pick. We had no scouting. The situation was decadent. Our first pick was Leroy Jackson. Ever hear of Leroy Jackson? He fumbled his bus ticket when he was cut. That was the year we could have had Gary Collins."
Three years ago, after Marshall had become seriously ill with arteriosclerosis, Leo DeOrsey, a Washington lawyer, became a first vice-president of the Redskins and Williams a vice-president. When DeOrsey died a year ago Williams became president. Marshall still lingers at home, hardly able to speak or move.
Last season was a nightmare for Williams, yet even during the darkest months he senses excitement. "Trial law and sports are what I call contest living," he says. "Contest living is when every one of your efforts is measured at the end in the won or lost column. Most people go through life and make tremendous efforts, but it never goes up on the scoreboard. The pressure builds up with success. When you're always expected to win you put more pressure on yourself, and the more pressure you put on yourself, the tougher it is to stay. I've talked about this with champions. I'm a good friend of Joe DiMaggio. I had dinner one night with Joe, and it happened to be the night when Marilyn Monroe announced she would marry Arthur Miller. We talked about pressure, and Joe said, 'When I came up to bat in Yankee Stadium, there would be 64,000, 65,000 people. I burned to hit the ball. I just had to be the best. Three days later, out in St. Louis playing against the Browns, there'd be 250 people in the seats. I burned to hit the ball, because I always thought there'd be four kids in the stands who had never seen me hit before.' This is the mark of a champion, to be the best that he can be at every single occasion. The fellow who typifies this to the ultimate in sports is Vince Lombardi. This kind of thinking made our country great, but this kind of thinking is a little too rare. I don't 'hate' to lose, but I hate to come out of an effort thinking that I didn't do the best that I can do. I can come out of a contest with at least peace of mind if I know there was nothing left to give.
"Somebody said success saps the elation of victory and deepens the despair of defeat. That's one of life's verities. While I get wildly exhilarated when we win, I'm sure it's nothing to old Vince. But when he loses he puts his head in a bucket. Football is the new exhilaration. How about our game with Dallas last year? We were behind 21-0. At the half it was 21-6. Then they kicked a field goal, and we scored to make it 24-13. The fans had been booing, booing. We scored, 24-20. Five minutes to play. That moment Meredith hit Clarke to make it 31-20 Dallas. Bedford Wynne said to me, 'Helluva game. Sorry you lost.' Dallas kicked off. Four passes later the score was 31-27. Two minutes to go. We got the ball back on the 20. Jurgie was hitting. The clock was running. He threw to Coia, and we were ahead 34-31! Fifty thousand people stood in mass hysteria. There were some 50 seconds left. Meredith hit Hayes. They moved to the 44, and they brought in the kicker. Twelve seconds left. Lonnie Sanders blocked the kick! For six minutes I just stood there and watched people cheer. They kissed. I couldn't believe it. It was just great. The exhilaration of victory when you're not a success, that's the greatest."
Williams attributes part of the Redskins' difficulties last year to the lack of running backs. As a result, the Redskin attack was simply Jurgensen passing. Williams says, "Sonny has the capacity to give me the greatest joy and the deepest anguish of anyone I've ever seen." The Redskins also lacked a field-goal kicker—"We had a kicker who put the thrill back in the extra point," Williams says—so Washington made Charlie Gogolak of Princeton its No. 1 draft choice. Negotiations were spirited, but Williams finally got Gogolak to agree to terms. "Just before I gave him the pen," Williams says, "he said he had to call his parents. He called them and spoke in Hungarian and ended by saying, in English, 'And deferred compensation, Poppa.' When he hung up I asked him why he said 'deferred compensation' in English. And he said, 'Because there is no deferred compensation in Hungary.' I asked him to sign the contract, and he said, 'I have to call Lamar Hunt.' Lamar Hunt! I know I can't compete with Lamar Hunt. I'm looking at Gogolak a little querulously. I figured, why did I come into New York to sign him and then have him tell me he's got to call Lamar Hunt? I started to object, but Gogolak said, 'I said I'd sign with you, Mr. Williams, and I will. I also told Mr. Hunt that I'd call him before I signed a contract.' I was very moved. So he calls Lamar Hunt. Lamar Hunt is talking 1,000 words a minute, but Gogolak says, 'Mr. Hunt, your airplane can't get here before I sign.' I am convinced that character is a tremendous thing in sports."
In February, Williams got Otto Graham to agree to become the coach and general manager. Otto was attracted not only by the opportunity but by Williams himself. "I'm here because of Ed Williams," Graham says. "Sure, he met my demands, but he understands competition. Ed says he's in a competitive business, and he goes into court and gives it his best."
One of the first things Otto did upon his arrival in Washington was to look at—study, really—films of the games played last year. "Some of our players weren't playing up to their full potential," Graham says, "and from watching the films I know that some of them loaf on occasion. The impression I get from talking to the kids and the fans is that they didn't have the necessary desire. A football player has to put out 100% of the time." Graham adds, "We don't have the greatest material, but we have good material."
Graham wants a well-disciplined, preferably self-disciplined, hustling team. "One for all and all for one," Otto says. "It sounds corny, but it works. They're full-grown men. If they act like men they'll be treated like men. I'm the type of guy, I don't step in unless I have to. But once I step in, I take some action.
"I've always played athletics because it was fun," Otto says. "I want to win, I'm a great competitor, but I don't want to win at all costs. If I personally have to go out and do things that are morally wrong, dishonest, I wouldn't do it to be a winner. I think I'm a good coach. I am not a conservative coach at all. I believe football should be fun. Fun for me as the coach, fun for the players and fun for the crowd. I don't believe in three yards and a cloud of dust. I'll gamble. I won't take unnecessary risks, but I'll throw from my own end zone. I would rather lose two or three games and have every score 35-28 than win every ball game 3-0. I think it would be a more enjoyable season. I would rather lose a few ball games that are entertaining—a lot of excitement—than win all games that are very dull to watch. In pro ball you have to win. I know that, but I think this philosophy can hold up. I'm not going to sit back as coach and punt on third down. Oh, no, I'm going to play aggressive football. I've told people, don't bother buying paint and making 'Goodby, Graham' signs, because I'm going to be around for a while."
Williams says, "I've promised this town they're going to get a winning football team or I'll die in the effort. They're going to get effort, time, expenditure of funds, imagination, everything."