The breathless development as the Redskins begin more and more to intrude on a splendid baseball season is that George Allen trots off to training camp Without Signing a Contract. His believers are edgy, his detractors hopeful. What to do comes from none other than Allen.
Allen will coach the Redskins this season - probably to the playoffs but probably not beyond the first round. It is the 1978 season, and beyond, that Allen is negotiating, not an overwhelming matter at the moment but one the coach often publicly frets over when it involves a player.
Usually, Allen talks of distractions, wondering how a fellow can fully concentrate on Xs and Os with his mind cluttered with (SECTION) . Now and then, his actions speak louder than his words, as when he strikes with his you-can-be-replaced hammer.
What might Allen now do with Allen? He might do what he did to Speedy Duncan and Larry Brown in similar situations - bring in someone supposedly as good. With Duncan, it was Alvin Haymond. With Brown, it was Duane Thomas. A little reminder that even an all-pro runner should not get to uppity.
There are executives throughout the NFL who would give at least a second-round draft choice just to see Allen's face if, say, Ara Parseghian should happen to pop up in Carlisle, Pa., as a "consultant" or Joe Paterno, since he could drive down from Penn State. Or Chuck Knox, since everyone knows Joe Namath will be running the Rams' offense anyway.
Not that Allen needs much prodding, or certainly no more than Brown needed. What the Redskins and Allen perhaps need most is advice from Billy Turner or Frank Whiteley, or someone with a sense of pace, to show them how to remain with the contenders through the regular season and still have a winning stretch drive for the playoffs.
Through most of Allen's pro career, here and in Los Angeles, his teams have somehow managed to burn themselves out just when the champions are reaching back for another burst of energy. For backs-against-the-wall courage and drama, the Redskins are exquisite. But don't ask them to go the classic NFL distance.
Probably, this is in large part due to Allen's notion of how to build a team. Perhaps the one flaw in an otherwise superior football mind is his inability to suffer for greatness, to dare to be bad.
Recent NFL history, through the Packers and the Cowboys, the Steelers, Dolphins, Vikings and Raiders, shows that a team must be utterly awful to become awfully good, to win the Super Bowl or at least get there more than once.
The Packers were 1-10-1, the absolute pits of the NFL, the year before they hired Vince Lombardi. The Cowboys and Vikings were expansion teams, with a combined record of 9-42-3 their first two years. The Steelers were dreadful for a while even after Chuck Noll arrived.
Miami was an AFL expansion team. Oakland, though a charter member of a rather weak AFL at the time, went from 6-8 its first season to 2-12 and 1-13 before discovering a brilliant young hustler named Al Davis.
In Baltimore, Joe Thomas operated under the notion that one has to destroy a team to save it. While giving the back of his hand to legends and once-fine players, Thomas also was drafting the excellent young players that form the cornerstone of a team for the present - and the future.
Of course, being bad does not necessarily assure a widely successful future. The Saints are the textbook example of a team that managed to botch the rewards that come with incompetence in the NFL. Seattle recently made a Saintly move by trading Tony Dorsett for what amounted to two second-round draft choices.
Allen's history with the Redskins has been frequent patchwork rather than the acquisition of such young players as Bob Lilly or Franco Harris or Bert Jones or Paul Hornung or Alan Page, the sort a coach can build something memorable around for perhaps a decade.
That is the response the anti-Allen camp offers whenever someone, myself included, argues that the safe, conservative way is to swap something unknown, a draft choice, for something known, a Diron Talbert. Invariably, that unknown becomes an Isiah Robertson.
When Allen took advantage of that gift called free agentry last year and signed John Riggins, Jean Fugett and Calvin Hill, it was assumed here and elsewhere that the Redskins would be serious contenders for the Super Bowl. They were lucky to make the playoffs - and then lost badly to a Viking team that later lost badly in the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys improved immeasurably in the draft, although their linebackers and cornerbacks remain suspect. The Cards and Bears ought to be better, and Detroit has enough prospects to allow Knox to seriously consider returning there if proper compensation could have been arranged with the Rams.
Washington is in the all-too-familiar position of wondering how much longer Billy Kilmer can physically keep from resembling one of his passes, and whether Joe Theismann is capable of taking the team to the playoffs if Kilmer falls on his shield. Also, is Dave Butz ready to justify the price Allen paid to get him? Will Riggins continue his late-season surge? What miracles will Allen work with the defense?
And the bottom-line question for Edward Bennett Williams and Allen's angel in Los Angeles, Jack Kent Cooek, is whether they want a consistent team with an often abrasive, self-centered spender or want to gamble that several lean years might ultimately produce the ultimate victory.
What they better have is an Ara or Paterno or Lombardi of the '70s in their hip pocket before refusing to give Allen whatever he wants. But they might well dangle that possibility for a while.