As it was easy for Hillary to climb Everest, so was it a piece of cake for the new guy in town to drive out to Redskin Park. There was the suggestion to "go out to Redskin Park and talk to George about his contract negotiations.
To get to Redskin Park, you take the Capital Beltway a few days. At the Dulles Airport road, you go west until you see the bleached bones of longhorn steers. Once you reach the end of the world, you make a few zig and zags. That brings you to Redskin Park. If you're going to spy on a George Allen practice, you better pack a lunch.
The park is Allen's creation, a complex of offices, locker rooms, training rooms, who-knows-what rooms and football fields. It also has a wooden Indian in the lobby. The Indian stood guard at Keely's drug store in Dwight, Ill., until somebody gave him to the Redskins in 1939. He isn't smiling.
It was 8:40 a.m. when the new guy saw another human being for the first time since he left home hours ago. The Redskin Park receptionsit said coach Allen would be along soon. A yellow film can was on her desk, marked "1972 Cowboys-Redskins." This was the place.
The walls of the office building are covered with pictures of assorted Redskin heroes doing heroic things. Current heors. Sammy Baugh was nowhere in sight. Sonny Jurgensen's devilish smile lit no shadows. A handsome plaque listed the Redskins' accomplishments beginning with 1971, Allen's first season. Did you know that in 1976 the Redskins allowed oppenents to complete only 41.1 per cent of their passes, the best such statistic in the NFL? It's there no the plaque.
Allen called the new guy into a conference room adjoining his office. More heroes on the wall. Through two windows, you can see the practice fields. The room's decor hasn't been redone for this season. Charts list "Needs for Defense 1976," including "skeleton force" and "nickel dogs vs. slot." A blackboard is filled with scribblings and diagrams left over from preparation for last season's playoff game against Minnesota. You can make out one word. In big letters: "Excited."
Oh, yes. The contracts issue. It's been in the papers a lot. Allen has said he's finished talking about it and won't say another word. But you know how bosses are. So the traveller did research to get ready for the contract issue. Such as . . .
On Feb 3, Allen said he'd like a new contract as soon as possible. For 1977, he would be in the last year of a seven-year deal and he wanted three-year extension. "There's no question," he said then, "that anyone who is a lame-duck coach (is in) a difficult position. It hurts the organization, the coaches, the players and the fans."
Two months later, Edward Bennett Williams, the president of the Redskins, said he and Allen would agree on a contract soon. No problem. No problem. No hurry.
And two months after that, which is today, Allen still has not signed a new contract. The Washington Post reported 10 days ago that Allen had not signed because Williams wanted to reduce the coach's authority, which currently is total. As president, Williams wants to be able to at least order paper clips without Allen's signed permission. Or something like that.
Was this the making of an impasse? Would the Redskins go to camp in July with the unsetting knowledge that Allen might be coaching his last season? Another question occured: If the Redskins sign George Allen again, where will Edward Bennett Williams hide?
As surely as Allen knows the combination to Jack Kent Cooke's safe, Williams knows his paying customers love him only in direct proportion to how many games the Redskins win. And should he chase off a coach whose team has won 58 games in six seasons, it wouldn't be long before the customers advised Williams to do something painful with his paper clips. Jimmy Carter will smile today. The Redskins will give Allen what he wants. Some things in life are certain.
Anyway, the new guy was in the conference room with the coach and they talked about something called "retroactive compensation." This takes some explaining. From May of '76 until February this year, teams could sign free agents without the legal obligation to give something in return - money, players, draft choices - to the team that lost the free agent. No compensation.
But with the new player-management agreement signed in February, compensation was reborn. A free agent's original team must be enriched according to his salary, the payoff possibly being two first-round draft choices. The question, in some minds, then became: What about some compensation for those teams that lost players in that brief spell when no rule required it?
The New York Giant's owner, Wellington Mara, said at a league meeting in New York four days ago that he felt a "moral obligation" to pay back Miami for his hiring of Larry Csonka. The Jets' president, Jim Kensil, said he plans to talk to George Allen about compensation for Joan Riggins. In this no-compensation period, the Redskins also signed Calvin Hill and Jean Fugett, free agents who last played in the NFL for the cursed Cowboys.
Allen, asked about retroactive compensation, seemed ready to laugh out loud. Instead, he blinked three times in wonder at the questions some people ask.
"Certainly, we wouldn't have signed the players if we thought we had to give anything in return," he said. "Paul Warfield, for instance, was in the twilight of his career. Calvin was coming off surgery. You wouldn't sign them not knowing what you might have to give in compensation." The rule was clear at the time, Allen said, and it makes no sense to talk about it now.
The depth of Mara's moral obligation is suspect, anyway. "Don Shula told me Mara said, 'Hey, we'll give you a fifth-round draft choice for taking Csonka,'" Allen said. "A fifth-round pick for Csonka - ridiculous."
As for the Jets, Allen said, "I'll talk to Kensil if he wants to talk. But I saw him in New York last week and he didn't bring it up."
Some NFL owners tried last week to pass legislation forcing retroactive compensation, but the move failed under weight of the logic that everyone knew what they were getting into when the deals were made. As much as Allen liked that, he groused about the new no-head-slap rule.
"One of the things that made the NFL great was the development of the past rush," said Allen, who once coached a head-slapping, pass-rushing artist named Deacon Jones, maybe the best defensive end ever. "You start eliminating the past rush - the 'sack' is like a home run for the defense - and you're diluting the game."
Allen shrugged. "Every year they make rules to help the offense. We're just living in an offensive world. Last year, 12 runners went over 1,000 yards. Another new rule they passed - only one jam against wide receivers - why, pretty soon we go to the Olympics and sign all those sprinters to go deep. You can't even knock 'em down any nore. Did you know that last year only 41.1 per cent of passes were completed against us? The lowest total in the NFL since 1955."
Allen set his chin firmly. "But we'll live with it. We'll still have a great defense."
The coach asked the explorer from the East if he'd like to see the rest of Redskin Park. "Everything here is to help us win," Allen said. The coach pointed to a hero picture. "Eddie Brown, that 71-yard punt return. Everything here is here for a purpose." So an assistant took the explorer on a tour of the place. When they finished, the explorer remembered with a start that he hadn't asked George Allen about his contract negotiations.
"Do you suppose I could go back and ask one more question?"
"Do you suppose I could go back and ask
"Oh, I doubt it."
"About his contract."
"No, no, he's tied up now. Rest of the day."
Oh, well. Byrd made it to the South Pole more than once. The new guy will make it to Redskin Park another time.