Unsinkable Larry Brown (see cover) had just run for 191 yards and one touchdown and caught a pass for another in Washington's 23-16 victory over the Giants in New York, and now he was in the locker room wearily slipping the questions of gang-rushing reporters.
Somehow a drunk appeared and began to bait Brown. And suddenly, as the intruder was hustled out, Brown shifted gears. It was like all those times during the afternoon when Giant defenders seemed to have him hemmed in, only to discover that they had converged behind him, or he had run through them at the level of their ankles, or they had laid hot hands on him only to have him melt away. This time, however, he took off talking.
"I'm on top of New York and you resent it," he crowed. "I came from the ghetto in Pittsburgh, from the Hill District. I used to play in the streets. With no equipment. I love to win in New York. I had beer thrown on me, and oranges. I don't get all those endorsements like Joe Namath. A lot of backs get more attention, but they don't produce the put-out I put out!"
Teammate Roy Jefferson was delighted. "Rap on, Rap!" he cried. "You're like one of those Baptist preachers. You gonna keep 'em in session."
November 6, 1972
And Redskins all around Brown chortled and whooped. The Giants had come close to beating them, with recycled Quarterback Norm Snead throwing 25 completions for 258 yards. But on a controversial play Washington Linebacker Chris Hanburger had ripped the ball from the hands of New York Running Back Ron Johnson, Quarterback Billy Kilmer had run the team well after Sonny Jurgensen was injured, and, above all, Brown had his finest day ever. The Redskins' irrepressibility was high.
Head Coach George Allen was much more subdued. True, his team was 6-1, best in the conference, and true, he had beaten the Giants—whose owner, Wellington Mara, was among those executives who tried to have him expelled from the league last spring after Allen had traded draft choices he did not own—but Jurgensen's left Achilles' tendon was torn. There were nine more games to play before the Super Bowl. And Allen was already worrying about how to keep his players happy the rest of the season.
Both Allen's and New York Coach Alex Webster's signatures adorn a recently issued athletes-for-Nixon poster, the most prominent feature of which is a big photo of the President hobnobbing with Allen. What both coaches try to promote, however, sounds more like an old Hubert Humphrey slogan: The Football of Happiness. Politics aside, it is a policy that could never work for two coaches in the same stadium on the same afternoon.
For the Redskins, happiness depends upon such things as ice cream, defense, a $400 helmet, a dead leg—and ultimately upon such scores as the one they produced against New York. The texture of the Giants' felicity, going into the game, was harder to come to grips with, even if you do not quibble with Snead's calling the team both "close-knit" and "a loose bunch" in the same breath. Snead was happy with the Giants because after 11 years as a journeyman he was leading the conference in passing, with a 65.9 completion percentage.
"Personalities fit in better some places than others," says Snead, whose arm has always been respected but whose field generalship has been tried and rejected by three teams. Snead has never established himself as a honcho—he is said to be disinclined to chew people out in the huddle—and he has never directed a winning team. So far this year, however, since there has not been enough conflict among the Giants to keep a TV family series going, Snead's mildness has fit right in. It is an atmosphere that Webster enjoys.
"Alex had the good fortune to play on excellent teams with the Giants," says Snead, "and they had fun while they played." The Giants, however, are not the kind of team Webster used to play for. Now they like to talk about character, which might be defined as what you feature when you lack talent.
Still, the Giants have improved noticeably. Ron Johnson, the team's best player, returned from thigh and knee surgery, and second-year man Charlie Evans developed into a redoubtable backfield partner for Johnson. The Giants also acquired a free-agent defensive end, Jack Gregory, and made him the rover in a heralded new defensive scheme. Gregory, it seems, has a veritable surfeit of something called "motor ability," as in "he is a great motor-ability athlete." Also, a newly acquired guard, Dick Enderle, improved the offensive line, Receivers Don Herrmann, Rich Houston and Bob Tucker caught Snead's passes, halftime director Sy Fraser and team dentist Dr. Francis G. Hedberg continually turned in steady performances, and suddenly the Giants were not in such dreary shape after all. From a 4-10 season last year they rebounded to win four of their first six. "They've gotten the smell of winning now," said Webster. And then his happy Giants ran into Allen's 'Skins.
Those are really the boys to show you what true happiness is. "Let's not just go out and have us a long day," 36-year-old linebacker and team leader Jack Pardee is wont to say before a game. "Let's go out and have us a good time."
This year's Redskins are undoubtedly the sunniest collection of grizzled veterans, former player reps, reputed problem children and Men Who Have Played Out Their Options in the whole U.S.A. If there is anyone among them who does not know how to have a good time it is not George Allen's fault. "The players around here are happy because they're treated like men," says Assistant Coach Joe Sullivan. "They are responsible for their actions. But you have to be part kid to play. It's a contact sport. It takes exuberance. We treat them like men while recognizing that they're kids."
In the dressing room after each victory Allen leads his adult minors in three cheers for themselves, and then the captains award at least three game balls. That does not seem at all inflationary to the Redskins. On the plane home from away games the players sing. They call Allen "Ice Cream," and the words to one of their favorite numbers are "Hooray for Ice Cream, Hooray at last, Hooray for Ice Cream, He's a horse's ass." Allen just smiles benignly upon the choral group. If the players like something, Allen thinks it's great.
They call him Ice Cream because he adores the stuff and because that's what he gives them every Thursday after a win. Duke Zeibert, the well-known Washington restaurateur, brings ice cream and cake out to practice, and all those hardened, bleeding, bull-sized professionals line up like little tads at a birthday party. Every Tuesday night there is a hairier-chested team get-together, variously described as a buffet and beer bust, which is not mandatory but which most players attend. Allen gives special recognition for previous-Sunday performances ranging from touchdowns to tackles on kickoffs inside the 20.
Allen's program is not all cakes and ale, of course. He is a man who, if you told him he had on a nice tie, would respond by explaining how the tie's niceness contributes to a winning season. In Pittsburgh before the last exhibition game, Trainer Joe Kuczo was sitting in the lobby of the team hotel, minding his own business, when Allen walked up and asked whether he was thinking of ways or had thought of ways to beat Minnesota. If you do not contribute to the Redskins' success, Allen does not see why you have any reason to be happy—even if you are allegedly a neutral observer. Hence, he has reproached the Washington press for not doing enough to help the home team win.
Nothing about his players seems to faze Allen, so long as they can exhibit a sober dedication to the cause of Redskin happiness. Within the past year, for example, both his star quarterbacks have been arrested—Kilmer for creating a wee-hours disturbance at a diner, and Jurgensen for drunk driving. Two weeks after the latest "new" Jurgensen was arrested, Allen promoted him to the starting job. "I didn't wait for 12 years just to hold again for extra points on a championship team," Jurgensen said before the Giant game.
That, sadly, it may have been his last game of the season, and perhaps of his career, does not doom Redskin chances, though. "Sonny is more dangerous," the Giants' Gregory said after the game, "but the Redskins seem to play better for Kilmer." And, after all, the prime element in the Washington attack is the rushing of Larry Brown. An unknown blocking back at Kansas State, Brown was taken on the eighth round mostly because the Redskins knew he weighed 195 and could do 40 yards in 4.7 seconds. In the 3½ years that he has been in the NFL he has gained more yardage than anyone else in the game.
Curiously, despite being the 191st man selected in the pro draft, Brown proved difficult to sign. When Washington's personnel director, Tim Temerario, first talked to Brown, he said he thought he might play Canadian ball. "Let me speak to him," said Vince Lombardi, in his best "I'll get rid of this nonsense" tone, but he got nowhere either.
Pressed by Temerario, Brown gave a reason for his resistance. "I'm going to get out of this ghetto," he said. Temerario asked him what he meant. Brown asked Temerario if he had ever been to Pittsburgh.
"Yes," said Temerario.
"Well," said Brown, "Washington looks like Pittsburgh to me."
Brown had grown up in Pittsburgh and as a high school senior he had given up baseball, his favorite sport, so he could learn football and win a scholarship, for which he had to travel all the way to Dodge City Junior College and then to Kansas State. He had not done all that, said Brown, just to wind up in another place that looked like Pittsburgh to him.
Well, the Redskins had a black scout in those days named Bob White, who was dying of cancer. White's health kept him confined to his beautifully furnished home in suburban Washington. Temerario sent Brown there and within half an hour White and his house had convinced Brown that Washington need not be a ghetto; he signed.
When practice got under way, however, Brown kept blowing his assignments. The coaches knew there was something wrong with his hearing and they tried moving him around in the huddle, but that did not help. Tests showed Brown was practically deaf in one ear. When a hearing-aid specialist was consulted, he said he could put an amplifying system in Brown's helmet but Brown would still never hear anything that came from his deaf side. That meant he could not hear audibles unless he lined up on the same side every time, which was impractical.
Temerario, who had thought of sending Brown to Bob White, then thought of something else. He suggested they put the hearing aid in Brown's bad ear, to pick up sound coming from that side, and run a tube from the aid and over his head inside the helmet to carry the sound to the good ear. So it is that Brown wears a $400 helmet and has rushed this year for an average of 120 yards a game.
"You don't tackle Brown," says St. Louis Defensive Tackle Bob Rowe, "you just hit him and hope help comes along." "He's a small Jim Brown," says Giant Defensive Coach Jim Garrett. "He gives you the dead leg." What that means, says Rover Gregory, is that "he gives you his leg and then relaxes it"—when you hit him he goes slack while you clamber for leverage, and then he takes off again. Alive, the Brown leg is a marvel—the muscle in back of the thigh is so large that he appears to have two thighs tied together on each leg. He keeps these astonishing limbs built up by working with leg weights. "My legs," he says, "mean as much as my heart."
Though Brown is the wonder of his team, Coach Allen's heart belongs to his defense. He will often huddle with them on the sidelines, oblivious to what his offense is doing on the field. Garrett of the Giants holds the Redskin defense up as a model. "They're what we want to be striving for," he says. "Each player knows the other like the palm of his hand."
Allen meets for an hour and a half after every practice with Pardee, who is referred to by some teammates as "the quarterback." The coach prepares—and uses—great doses of psychology. And the Redskins are believers. "If we lose another game," says John Wilbur, a guard, "we'll negate the Dallas game. Can you believe that? That makes every game as important as the Dallas game."
It was the 24-20 victory over the defending world champions two weeks ago that forced people to seriously consider that Washington has a good shot at its first championship in 30 years. So the Redskins had no reason to take New York lightly. Besides, they were up against that iron imperative: no win, no ice cream.