The quintessential George Allen story took place the afternoon of Sept. 30, 1973, in Philadelphia, when the Redskin's coach denied the identity of his own son, Bruce, rather than risk a 15-yard penalty against the Eagles.
Bruce was high-school age at the time, dressed casually and wearing a credential that restricted him to the Redskin sideline area bounded by each 35-yard line. But that game, as he frequently had before, Bruce roamed far downfield, yelling all manner of distracting advice toward the Eagle quarterback.
Finally, as Washington Post photographer Dick Darcey recalled, the referee stopped play, grabbed Bruce, escorted him back to the bench area and straight to his father, the coach.
"Is this a member of your staff?" the referee said to Allen, noting Bruce credential.
"I've no idea," Allen replied. "He must be one of those people they (the Eagles) gave us as ballboys."
"If this happens again," the referee said, "it's a 15-yard bench misconduct penalty."
"Thank you," Allen said.
Other coaches have probably done worse to avoid a less severe penalty. The story fits Allen better than his cliches, his baseball cap and his windbreaker, however, for his image as the ultimate athletic conniver seems likely to follow him to the grave. But any portrait that claims to at least try to be complete needs to include another story.
Last July, Marc Splaver, the Bullet's publicist, was in George Washington University Hospital in the early, frightening stages of leukemia. There arrived in the mail a warm note from George Allen that not only wished Splaver well but included the urge to fight "because I know you're a courageous guy." Or words to that effect.
Splaver had mever met Allen.
But the sunny side of Allen is overwhelmed by the shady side, for even though he wins nearly 75 per cent of the time in a profession that places winning above nearly everything, the man simply cannot stay in an NFL town much beyond the length of his contract.
Once Allen's Los Angeles Ram players delayed his firing with a no-play threat against the owner, the late Dan Reeves. Two years later, after the 1970 season, Reeves fired him again - and the Ram players stayed quiet.
It is possible, perhaps likely, that Allen will emerge - after the Redskins' announcement yesterday that his contract will not be renewed - with a better job, with more money and better players.
But he is running out of options. The Detroit job is filled, as are those with Buffalo, Cleveland and Kansas City. If he goes to the Rams, the last seemingly viable possibility, it will be a marriage as odd as any, for he would be working for an owner who covets power and attention as fiercely as Allen.
Still, Ram owner Carroll Rosenbloom and Allen desperately want the same thing - a Super Bowl victory - and both might be old enough to bend some to achieve it. The Rams have fine players - and Allen can coach.
Oh, how Allen can coach. There even was grudging admiration from Allen haters about the job he did last season with the Redskins. But nearly everyone forgot that Allen the general manager put the team in a position in which Allen the coach needed to perform at near-genius level to reach 9-5 for the season.
Allen was the first NFL coach to realize that a winner is the sum of three parts - offense, defense and and special teams - and that the third might be listed last but hardly was least important.
So, why can't a man so clearly capable, who in fact has won more games than all but nine coaches in the history of the NFL, exist in rich tranquility with his bosses and the team's customers.
Well, one reason is that nobody but Tom Landry lasts forever with one team in the NFL. The Rams' Chuck Konx brough his team to the playoffs five straight years - and left for Buffalo recently after failing to get his team to the Super Bowl for the fifth straight year.
But there seems to be more involved with Allen. Pro football took an essentially business shape years ago; Allen seemed to remove all pretentions of it being a game, at least for his owners and many fans.
Allen's best defense sometimes was against reporters, often important allies for coaches in situations such as this. For Allen to cooperate much beyond the bare minimum of what the NFL if not common courtesy - dictated, a reporter often had to compromise his standards. One could feel the tension crackle well beyond the boundaries of Redskin Park.
But many fans said: "So what? Don't tell me your troubles. Don't talk about dull offense. The man wins, and winners aren't dull. And remember how long Washington went without a winner." In fact, a Silver Spring lawyer got to the heart of the matter just the other day.
"George, you just ignore these journalistic snipers," he wrote to Allen, with a copy forwarded here, "because like most newspapermen they are the most cynical of humans. George, to conclude, you have done a helluva job in seven years, and I have fond memories of those memorable Sunday afternoons with my son, and I do hope you will negotiate your contract and remain with us."
In many ways, Allen is a players' coach. He rewards loyalty. As former Redskin George Burman once said: "A player under George can be to some extent an individual. Like the way (Roy) Jefferson wears his pants, almost like shorts.
"The league really gets upset about things like that. And can you imagine (Don) Shula allowing his players to wear hats like Diron. (Talbert) and (Bill) Brundege wore during their introductions on Monday Night Football? But sometimes this effects the style of play . . . There is a tendency to do what has to be done, to play to the level of the opposition."
Always, there has been a tendency for Allen to grab all the power he can, clearly more than most owners - even his Redskin angel in Los Angeles, Jack Kent Cooke - are willing to tolerate.
The suprise in all the recent power struggles within the Redskins and NFL is not that Edward Bennett Williams called his coach's bluff but that so many teams in obvious need of a top-flight coach would not meet Allen's terms.
Williams has taken a calculated gamble. Whether he wins or loses will not be known for years.