Former Redskins coach George Allen summed up the American sports ethic with this slogan: "Losing is like dying."
But then it is unlikely that George Allen ever coached Loose Caboose, Tickle the Pickle, Tumble Tangle, Orbit or Hug Tag: a few of the hundreds of "New Games" rapidly gaining players across the country.
Almost everything about New Games could seem radical to the conventionally sports-minded. No one needs special skills. All sizes and ages play together, from Little Leaguers to little old ladies. Little or no equipment is needed. Playing space need not be large or permanently marked. There are no cheering spectators, no second-string players, no benchwarmers, no scorekeepers.
Teams form not according to ability or size, but by whether you were born on an odd-numbered or even-numbered day. Or those who consider themselves apples play those dubbed cantaloupes.
The New Games Foundation has held workshops in 35 states, reaching an estimated 10,000 people. In the Washington area, New Games are used at the Capital Children's Museum as a part of the tours offered to children.
New Games surfaced recently at Burgundy Farms School in Alexandria, which sponsored a three-day workshop and tournament.
There were informal groups of young and old, male and female, immersed in such games as Orbit, where one group lies down in a circle and tries to kick a giant, vinyl-lined canvas Earthball (6 feet in diameter) up in the air and over the heads of surrounding standing players.
There was Ultimate Frisbee, unusual in that there are no points. The perfection in the action is its own reward. There was a frenetic game of Hug Tag, in which the only time a player is safe is when he is hugging another.
And there was Boffing, similar to fencing, except the sword is made of polyethylene foam.
"In New Games, there is little or no scoring," explains Burton Naiditch, coordinator of the San Francisco-based New Games Foundation. "The point is to play your hardest and have fun, not to be the victor over the other guy or team. Everyone gets to play, not just the good athletes. The people are more important than the game."
Even the rules are flexible, changing by players' mutual consent. "Kids spontaneously change games around all the time," says Naiditch. "For them it's the most natural thing in the world. In New Games, we revive the spontaneity and unselfconscious immersion in pure play we all had as children."
"I've played competitive sports all my life, and frankly, it is kind of fun not to have to win," observed Gladys Cheek, Burgundy Farms' water-safety instructor who arranged the New Games tournament.
Cheek, who has taught swimming for 25 years, finds that some of her young students already are "supercompetitive jocks who are really rough when they try to play New Games. They can't bring themselves to have fun. There is no laughter in these kids when they play. Everything is very serious, rough and tough, life or death.
"We're hoping they will slowly be able to play just for the fun of it, cooperatively with others, in addition to their regular team sports."
Among those at the Burgundy Farms workshop were corrections officers from area prisons and drug-abuse workers, who have found that New Games provide safe outlets for aggression and energy, and encourage mutual support.
Californian Stewart Brand, 40, introduced New Games in 1974, the result of a period of "creative angst" which followed his creation in 1962 of the first Whole Earth Catalogue.
"Adults get caught up in their own rules and can't seem to change them," he says. "I wanted to figure out how to change games when they are no longer working for you. We have almost no knowledge of how to do this, whether it be pro football or the arms race.
"Then I realized, you don't change games by playing them and winning. You leave them and make new games."
"We think it's a wonderful antidote to the overly stressed, high-level competitive sports that we've seen sweep the country," says Eleanor Dowling, a Washington official of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (APHERD), the professional organization to which most physical-education instructors belong.
From 11-year-old Sandy DeFerranti, who played in the tournament: "I really liked it, especially Hug Tag, cause it doesn't matter if you're tall or small, you can still play."
There was less enthusiasm, however, from a 6-year-old who refused to give his name. "They didn't play what I wanted."
A professional athlete's reaction? To Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann the games "sound very idealistic and Utopian. We live in a highly competitive society; everyone wants to succeed.
"On the other hand, it's good to have participatory sports, especially for kids, cause then everyone can be a winner."