If You're Not Spying, You're Not Trying

By George Solomon
Sunday, September 16, 2007

The subject Friday morning was spying. Not spy thrillers or country vs. country espionage, but coaches looking for an advantage. "Yes, my father occasionally sought an advantage, but from seeing a team's tendencies," said former Virginia senator George Allen before his round at the Kornheiser-Wilbon golf fling for the D.C. College Access Program at Lansdowne.

"Right before halftime in a game in Philadelphia my dad had (defensive tackle) Dave Butz do something or other to cause a fumble, giving the Redskins a chance to score. My dad felt if he could do something big against the Eagles before halftime, their fans would turn on their team.

"He was right. The fans did turn on the Eagles and the Redskins did win."

And who could blame Allen for putting a light touch on the subject in the wake of the NFL fining New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick $500,000, stripping the team of at least one high draft choice and an additional $250,000 for using videotaping equipment in a game against the New York Jets.

"Coaches look to get any advantage the can," said Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams.

And, if Belichick was looking to steal the Jets' plays during his team's 38-14 win -- as the league concluded -- he certainly was not the first coach to try.

Football coaches in particular -- at every level -- have been spying on one another forever. Former LSU center John Ed Bradley, in his new book "It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium," recalls a recruiting visit he made to Mississippi State more than 30 years ago when the Bulldogs' coach couldn't stop staring at the private plane flying over his spring practice -- fearful the Bulldogs were being spied on. In the spring.

Allen, who died in 1990, drove the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm batty for years because Schramm believed Allen hired spies to watch Cowboy practices. Allen, who coached the Redskins from 1971 to '77, was paranoid himself. He was the first coach in the league to employ a full-time security man, Ed Boynton, to keep potential spies away and patrol the woods outside the original Redskins Park off Sully Road in Herndon.

Boyton's nickname: "Double-O."

Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis fended off accusations of spying for years with a smile and wink. But the late Vince Lombardi, when told a Green Bay Packers playbook had landed in the hands of an opposing coach, said: "What difference does it make? They can't stop us anyway."

So with apologies to David Letterman and Jackie Mason, here are some explanations the laugh-a-minute Belichick might have offered instead of just rolling over and handing the commish his Visa card:

? The Patriots were taking pictures for Jets Coach Eric Mangini to use as his Christmas card.

? The Patriots were trying out cameras for later recreational use.

? Belichick was going to use the photos and tapes for a book on football techniques for high school coaches that would eventually help kids.

? Did overzealous NFL security, sensitive to canine remarks since you-know-who, overreact to New England players referring to the Jets during the game as "dogs"?

? And, "I didn't know it was wrong, but if I knew, I didn't know how wrong, and if it was that wrong, you have would have suspended me, right?"

Opening Game Leftovers

Loved seeing the opposing owners -- Daniel Snyder and Miami's Wayne Huizenga -- exchange high-fives before the game. And how come their security guys are larger than their linemen? And why don't owners' security guys ever smile? . . . Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs on why he had Shaun Suisham kick the game-winning field goal on first down: "The older I get, I'm not passing up a chance to win. Lost two games in the last two years that way; would you guys [media] have let that slide? I learned my lesson." The older I get, I never pass up a good quote . . . New Redskins guard Pete Kendall on Jason Campbell: "He's unflappable." Very unfortunate about Jon Jansen's injury. . . . His replacement last Sunday, rookie free agent Stephon Heyer, filled in well. "He could be another Joe Jacoby," said Jurgy . . . Clinton Portis on Clinton Portis: "I'll run with a chip on my shoulder all season." Portis, Fred Smoot and Gilbert Arenas in the same town: Priceless.

Capital Gains

The Capitals convened Friday at their new, state-of-the-art Ballston practice facility for the start of training camp with the goal, in the words of owner Ted Leonsis: "to qualify for the playoffs. Now."

The addition of free agents -- forward Viktor Kozlov (Islanders) , defenseman Tom Poti (Islanders) and center Michael Nylander (Rangers) -- with the team's top draft pick in 2006 -- center Nicklas Backstrom -- provides more talent to a team that finished last in the Southeast Division three straight seasons.

The new guys join a strong nucleus of wingers Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Chris Clark, with stalwart Olie Kolzig in goal.

"Business is good," said Leonsis, pleased season ticket renewals are 82 percent, with "90 percent the goal" and a prediction of "double digit growth in revenues" for the season.

Post-Heisman Success

Has it really been 40 years since Gary Beban won the 1967 Heisman Trophy quarterbacking the UCLA Bruins to the Rose Bowl? Beban, 61, comes to Washington these days as a board member of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation that provides college scholarships to children of marines killed or wounded in action.

He's trying to help raise $50 million for the project that he says "is about helping educate the children of people who served our country."

Beban was a terrific college player who, according to his offensive coordinator and former Redskins vice president Pepper Rodgers, "was a single-wing tailback playing quarterback -- and a great one at that."

Beban, meanwhile, had a brief pro career (1968-69) with the Redskins, who traded a first-round draft choice to the Los Angeles Rams because Redskins president Edward Bennett Williams was a huge Beban fan. But Beban could not beat out Jurgy and was converted to wide receiver.

"Still," he remembered, "playing and watching that one year (1969) for Vince Lombardi was one of the great experiences of my life." Beban left the NFL in 1970 and embarked on a successful career in commercial real estate in the Chicago area.

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