Sunday morning, 11 a.m., and if ever a day were made for football, this must be it. Temperatures in the 50s, and just enough nip in the breeze to justify a bulky-knit sweater.The late-turning trees around RFK Stadium tinged with rose and rust. One wonders if George Allen noticed this, or if his morning was as black and white as X's and O's on a chalkboard.
Two hours before game time, and out in Parking Lot No. 8, picnicking was well under way. So was the Great Quarterback Debate, Billy Kilmer or Joe Theismann. They question of who should start had dominated discussion of the Redskins in newspapers, on radio and TV sportscasts, at bars and at breakfast tables for the better part of a week.
A rotund, crewent man in a red vinly windbreaker, munching a submarine sandwich behind the wheel of his Pontiac, said that Kilmer was not the reason for the Redskins' season-long floundering on offense and should not be banished because of it. Billy Gay, grilling franks and burgers on a hibachi behind his car, said that a shakeup was needed and "Joe deserves a shot." Lois Sklar, a jovial woman who had prepared a true movable feast, complete with oysters on the halfshell and Caesar salad, didn't care who passed for the Olde Towne Team as long as somebody passed the white wine.
Tailgating before a Redskin game - whether it is from a plastic ice chest, a trunk, a camper or an authentic tailgate - runs the social gamut from humble sandwiches to cold buffets worthy of the Rive Gauche.
Many people snack in their cars, amid crumbs and crumpled balls of wax paper. Others lay a blanket and plunk down on the grass with their repast and the Sunday paper. The dedicated bring folding chairs and bridge tables, wicker baskets and red-checked tablecloths. The lots are open to all, $2 per vehicle, and the patrons determine the style in which they dine.
Truth to tell, football was not the central theme of most conversations briefly eavedropped upon. What talk there was focused on the quarterback situation. Was Kilmer QB or not QB, that was the question. An informal straw vote revealed a more than two-thirds plurality for Theismann. A 3-3 record and grave apprehensions about making the playoffs had left the natives restless. They wanted a change.
By quarter past noon, the leisurely tempo had quickened with the flow of incoming traffic. Spaces were dwindling. Men with luminous orange vests and flags waved cars away from places reserved to give Park Police horses access to their trailers. The helicopter droning overhead, broadcasting traffic reports, became more conspicuous.
A man was unhappy about being directed to the most distant row of Lot 8-next to the muddy waters of the Anacostia. "That's why I don't come to these damn games anymore: it's less aggravation to watch on TV. One day I'm going to come out and find my car in the river," he snorted.
Through the pedestrian underpass leading from Lot 8 to the rim of the stadium, the step quickens. Everyone is toting paraphernalia - binoculars, cushions, hats they wouldn't think of wearing anywhere else.
The sounds, channeled and magnified through the tunnel entrance, are familiar. A marching band, in this case from Virginia Tech. Shrill voices: "Peanuts," "Programs," "Redskin sourvenirs." And another commercial appeal: "Anybody have any extra ticket?" Anticipation is building, palpably, Kilmer or Theismann? Theismann or Kilmer?
In Parking Lot No. 5, reserved for those with special passes, a van bearing the logo of National Football League Films sports Pennsylvania license plate NFL-2.A parade of chauffeured limousines services as a reminder that, in Washington, a Redskin game is a fashionable place to be. One woman, who gives the impression she wouldn't know a fumble from Fanny Farmer, admits that she has come to see those who have come to be seen.
No one's entrance - not Ethel Kennedy's, nor Averell Harriman's, nor any of the other many notables' - could match that of Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose, who arrived in a green-and-white helicopter emblazoned with the Eagles' logo. It set down in Lot 5 and, with rotor blades still spinning, he and a spectacularly well-turned-out lady alighted, James Bond and lady couldn't have done it better.
Redskin loyalists greeted him properly, "You're a bum, Tose," they bellowed.
Inside the stadium, as the Redskins and Eagles warm up, fans unfurl their banners. It is not difficult to distinguish the "house" placards for the homemade ones. "Skins Fly, Eagles Sore," neatly printed and hung from the facing of the mezzanine, is a professional job. "We Made It - Skip and Mary," scribbled on corrugated cardboard, is not. "Put Bill Out to Pasture" was undoubtedly not commissioned by management.
The public address announcer reads the starting line-ups. Theismann at quarterback; the stadium swells with cheers.
Up in the broadcast booth No. 2, Don Criqui goes on the air to do play-by-play for CBS-TV. His broadcast partner/analyst is Sonny Jurgensen, who lives on as No. 9, the most beloved of modern Redskins, a quarterback of girth, mirth and passes that seemed to seek out the arms of the designated receiver like a lover. One of the most prominent banners, draped over the front row railing reads "Welcome Back, Sonny."
Earlier in the week, Jurgensen had blasted Allen, the coach for whom his affection is limited, for speaking with a forked tongue. Jurgensen, now a sportscaster for WTOP-TV and still a good buddy of Kilmer a vote of confidence on Monday and benching him Tuesday.
Philadelphia fumbles on the first play from scrimmage and the Redskins move 44 yards in six plays. Theismann completing two of three passes for 27 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to Jean Fugett. On their next possession, he completes three of four, including another 15-yarder to Fugett for the TD, as the Skins move 29 yards in seven plays.
Seven minutes 53 seconds gone and the Redskins lead 14-0. The RFK fans, unaccustomed to such a wealth of offense recently, cheer madly. "They're more lively than they have been all year," says a regular. A "Let's Go Joe" banner flaps wildly as Theismann does a jubilant little dance coming off the field, Jurgensen is all compliments.
At halftime, the Redskins lead, 20-10. Up in the booth, Jurgensen inhales a hotdog in record time and greets a couple of visitors amiably. He is wearing a handsome gray houndstooth sportcoat, but does not seem to have hounds teeth out for George Allen.
Had he gotten any feedback on his critical comments? Jurgensen was asked.
"I didn't say whether the decision to bench Kilmer in favor of Theismann was right or wrong. I was questioning the style of how it was done." he replied. "The way it was handled, I was deiending quartbacks in general, you might say, I would have said the same thing if it was Theismann benched for Kilmer.
"But on Monday he said, "Why should I bench Kilmer? It's not his fault. Tuesday he hedged. Wednesday he said something else. Why doesn't he play it straight with the man?"
Alas, this was not destined to be an afternoon of second-half frolic for the anxiety-ridden home team.
In the fourth quarter, it came down to a familiar story for this year's Redskins. One fans' banner said it best: "De-fense. We Love You.Of-fense. Where Are You?"
If fell to rookie cornerback Gerald Williams, who made his second interception, and some inspired play by the defensive line, to thwart two late Eagles thrusts deep in Redskin territory.
In front of the Redskin bench, George Allen was going through a nervous ritual. He paces hte sidelines, clapping his hands, crouching, brushing his hand by his mouth, touching his tongue with his thumb, pulling on the peak of his baseball-style cap.
The tenser a game becomes, the more he tugs on the hat. The hand to the mouth and the peak of the cap - the motion is like a nervous twitch, and by the end of this game, Allen looked as if he would pull the hat so hard that it would come donw around his neck.
Many thought that Allen was doing more cap-pulling than thinking. Why, they wondered aloud, did he have Mike Bragg punt from the end-zone with a six-point lead and 1.50 left in the game instead of taking a safety and getting a free kick from the 20-yard line? The answer never surfaced.
Allen sat down on a table. Still wearing his Redskin windbreaker and cap, arms akimbo, to perform the chore he considers among the most odious of the coaching profession - talking to the media.
Some 25 bodies crushed around him. In the front row, six radio men with microphones desperate for 30 seconds of quotable tape. "Hey, that was some exciting game," one began, but he was cut off. Undaunted, he waited for another opening to pounce with his providing question. "Listen, it was an exciting ball game. Did you plan to put the ball in the air that much? It was a great show."
Allen speaks through elenched jaws, sparingly and does not understand why journalists do not see their role as he sees it. He would like them to be apologists and cheerleaders, helping him in that most noble of all causes making the Redskins a winner.
Questions that carry the slightest hint of skepticism are regarded as traitorous. When someone asked why he had chosen to punt instead of taking that safety late in the game, he was downright testy.
"We won the football game. I'm not going to go back over all that stuff," he said, mumbling and snorting at the same time. Obviously, as any fool knows, winning justifies all."
Having postulated that "Everything should be positive about the offense from here on in," Allen became grumpy that too much attention was focused on Theismann. When an inquisitor offered. "You think you can make the big plays now with Joe?" Allen defended the man he had benched.
"I think we can make it not just with Joe, with Billy also." he said, wringing his hands, squinting passionately. (It was once observed, correctly, he squints constantly, as if he has spent too much time in dark rooms watching football films and never really come to terms with daylight.)
"Joe had good protection, see. So again, it's a team thing.You've got to catch and block and run . . ."
Later, when asked if that was an indication he might go back to Kilmer again. Allen was so agitated he couldn't get a sentence out without becoming tangled in his own wrath.
"Oh, I don't want to . . . we just had a big victory, you see the question was such . . . this is how you get into . . . the question was such that that Joe did it all, see. No quarterback ever does it all. He needs help from everybody, and that's the way I was answering it.
"So please don't twist that around and make something out of that, see." he said disgustedly. "I have complete confiderence in either man as our quarterback, see. And so I don't want to twist that around distort the victory or make it tainted, and get into that again."
Nevertheless, the anesthetized reporter plunged ahead. "You won with Joe, you'll stay with Joe. Is that a fair statement?" he inquired.
Allen was beside himself. He hunched his shoulders and started to walk away. Richard M. Nixon, confronting all his tormentors, could not have summoned a more exasperated or leathsome expression.
"I'll talk about that later in the week." Allen called over his shoulder, his distress painful to behold.
Next door, Joe Theismann stood in his dressing stall, a towel around his waist, orating. Reporters, some 30 of them, held him captive and he loved it. He talked for half hour.
Above the stall to his left was the name "B. Kilmer." There was no one in it. Clothes hanging on a rack, a pair of boots, and a leather tote bag made it look as if Kilmer would be back, but this was only a decoy. An equipment man sets it up this way to fool people when players do not feel like talking.
Kilmer had ducked out early, as is his wont slipping through a favorite get away gouter out of the first base dugout, under the right field bleachers, and away.
Outside the door where most players exit, the inevitable crowd of groupies, hangers-on, camp followers and worshippers had gathered. They besigged each departing player in turn, asking for autographs imparting a flattering word fawning.
George Allen, now showered and dressed in a blue blazer, dark tie and baggy tan slacks, signed a dozen autographs when he stepped out of the dressing room into the dingy hallway where players friends and families waved. Then he and chauffeur, John Jenkins, walked to Allen's white Lincoln Continental limousine, parked inside the stadium and drove off, through the throng outside.
A little later, Theismann walked the same route, signing autographs all the way. Outside, he was mobbed. The crowd chanted, "Joe Thiesmann, Joe Theismann." Noisemakers and bicycle horns added to the din. In the gathering twilight, several hundred people crushed around him, thrusting autograph books. One girl nearly swooned when he scribbled his name for her, then recovered and came back to pump his hand. Ecstatic, she ran off, bragging to a girlfriend.
Theismann was not the last man to leave, however. From behind a disassembling CBS television truck stepped Sonny Jurgensen, and it was as if the Pied Piper had come, his flame-colored hair a beckoning torch.
"It's SONNY." shrieked a woman, and a stampede was on. "You're still the one?" someone else shouted. Many left tTheismann behind and pursued Jurgensen to his car, where he placed a drink on the roof and signed hundreds of autographs.
Pete Wysooki, who had suffered a hamstring pull on the game's opening kickoff limped to his silver Mercedes with his family. "You called a great game," he said to Jurgensen, laughing.
A blonde woman nearby summoned up her courage and yelled. "Sonny, you're so CUTE!" Jurgensen smiled and kept signing. Old quarterbacks never die. They retire to the broadcast booth, or slink out underneath the right field bleachers.