There is a theory certain NFL moralists hold about George Allen, that some superior, unseen being allows him to scratch and think and connive his way to within the tiniest step of his ultimate goal each season and then - zap - strikes him down.
So it seemed again yesterday. In Chicago and Washington, the NFL season became a matter of one notion: if you can't beat the New York Giants, you don't belong in the playoffs. The Redskins had lost twice to the Giants; the Bears should have lost yesterday, but did not because they finally were able to try a field goal without thinking.
The Redskins and their fans are certain more than the wet and cold was involved in Ed Marshall and Willie Spencer dropping those easy catches in the end zone - and who can explain Larry Mallory's failing by inches of spilling Walter Payton out of bounds instead of allowing him to squirm within chip-shot distance of the winning field goal.
Of course, the Bears' Bob Thomas was fully capable of missing that kick from the 18-yard line with the clock and the elements conspiring to bring this high-stakes drama to its sweatiest moment.
As Allen might put it, tick, tick, tick, kick - you're dead. The Bears could not call time-out, because they had none; the Giants need not bother Thomas - again - with their successful time-out tactic because the clock was working in their favor.
Relying on instinct, center Dan Neal finally made a decent snap, Bob Avellini planted the ball correctly, Thomas stayed on his feet and smacked the dratted ball through the uprights - and also the Redskins' jugular.
So the Redskins made it within nine seconds of the playoffs, which is a whole lot closer than all but the most irrational optimist - perhaps including Allen himself - would have forecast at mid-season.
Allen once told the team it needed to be 5-2 at the halfway point to have any chance to make the playoffs for the sixth time in his seven years in Washington. It was wonderfully prophetic, but hardly inspiring, when in fact the Redskins were 4-3 at midseason.
And scarcely five minutes after the Bears' 12-9 victory today, the rigid specturm of how the sporting world views George Allen became evident. On television, Irv Cross was calling Allen the best coach in the NFL; not far away, but out of earshot of Channel 9, a fan was muttering: "Maybe Allen'll leave and we'll see some entertaining football around here for a change."
The feeling here is that Allen will in fact leave. But Edward Bennett Williams and Jack Kent Cooke had better have some wizard of a general manager or a coach of the Don Shula caliber in the wings if they allow Allen to escape. Without Allen, the Redskins could plummet to the Philadelphia Eagle level in a hurry - and with a slim chance of either winning or being entertaining.
Allen can only be viewed in two ways, as a coach and also as a general manager.
As a coach, Allen did as fine a job this season as anyone except Shula in the NFL, guiding an old and injury-prone team with no outside running and suspect blockers to a 9-5 record.
As a general manager, Allen is responsible for the team being in that almost desperate situation - and Williams is entirely in ordesr to push for a personnel man with some authority. He may push Allen all the way out of town.
For all of Allen's faults, he remains at least partly the victim of his own genius. Possible, defense can be entertaining, but there are no more than several dozen humans in all the world who fully appreciate what Allen is up to each play.
Running and passing, that's what the customers understand. They even appreciate special teams - and one or two can spot a trap block now and then. But who understands rotating zones and Mac and Sara? You only know that something works - not how. And that takes some of the fun out of paying $20 for a 10-9 show against the Packers.
And the Redskins actually play a difficult schedule next season. Perhaps that, coupled with the Dallas Cowboys capacity for dominance in the NFC East, will make Allen opt to try for the history books - a Super Bowl victory - somewhere else.
The Rams are only a good special-teams coach away from being at the Cowboys' level in the National Conference - and if Allen could wrest that job via a Chuck Knox move to Detroit his dream might finally come true.
For folks in Miami, what happened in Baltimore yesterday was the worst of nightmares. There was Bert Jones fumbling the ball to the Patriots with less than three minutes to play and the Colts down a point - and all of a sudden an official makes a sinfully bad call that allows Baltimore to make the playoffs and keeps the Dolphins out.
That was the quickiest whistle in memory. Jones was no more than halfway to earth when the ball slipped from his graps. It was an awful call - and something ought to be done to try and keep such an injustice from happening again.
Yes, I know it is possible to pore back over the films and see situations where a missed call helped the Pats, possible one as obviously bad. And it is important not to turn the game over entirely to television, with calls for replays over every decision.
But when a mistake as apparent as that takes place - and when a camesra is in such fine position to catch it - somebody ought to be in a posiiton to say: wait a minute.Look at this one again.
The times almost demand it. Pro football stopped being simply a game long ago.