The story out of the training camp of the Los Angeles Rams the other day was that running back Elvis Peacock, the club's prize draft choice, had tripped over a bicycle belonging to a kid in a crowd of 300 that had been roaming the sidelines freely. So Coach George Allen promptly announced that future practices would be closed to the public.
"At least until we get some bleachers." Allen said.
Peacock says he didn't trip, and the word now is that soneone - no one seems to know who - almost stumbled over a bike.
Whether Peacock's name was substituted to dramatize the incident, or whether it happened hardly mattered. The point is that ALlen - for the time being anyway - found a way to do away with spectators, whom he views as a possible distraction for his players.
As always, George Allen wants undivided attention when the business of football is at hand.
The bike episode was one of various signs that Allen, back in Southern California as Chuck Knox's successor, is the same old George - love him or loathe him - who coached the Rams once before.
The assistant coaches he brought with him from Washington (where he was head honcho from 1971 through January when the Rams rehired him, Ram club officials who knew him when he coached in Los Angeles the first time (1966-70) and Allen all gree he is little changed - 110 percent the same, if you will.
A mite more relaxed outwardly, perhaps. And more cooperative, at this early date, with the press. But otherwise, the consensus is, it's almost as if Allen never left.
The men Allen works with use the words intense, dedicated, meticulous, thoughtful, single-minded and ultra-organized to describe him - the same words used a decade ago.
Others, who don't have to live with him six months a year, use words like complex, clever, conniving, driven, obsessive and eccentric - words critics used in Los Angeles in the 1960s, and then in Washington.
And there's one last undeniable word, where boosters and detractors inevitably see eye to eye: winner.
In interviews during the first week of a new training camp and maybe a nre Ram era. Allen's new Los Angeles coworkers talked about him, mostly reverently.
And Allen talked about himself. Opening up some, by George, he covered such topics as his years in Washington, which apparently left him with fond memories and bitter feelings; his seeming knack for sparking controversy, and about the possibility that he left D.C. (where for a time he was all but deified for turninga big loser into a big winner) for a win-the-Super-Bowl-or-else job under a championship-hungry owner, Carroll Rosenbloom.
Allen, to the surprise of no one, said he is as hungry as Rosenbloom, that he doesn't mind having to prove himself anew, and that he'll be able to live with himself as long as his players and staff give "everything they have and more."
He didn't have to ssy that he, too, would give everything and more. But he did.
"He's very intense, and it's catchy," Ram quarterback Pat Haden said of his new coach. "Maybe what we need is a kick in the rear. I thought we should have been to the Super Bowl the last couple of years."
Allen was in Paris in April to be with his dying father-in-law and met Haden, a Rhodes Scholar.
Haden flew to France from Oxford and had dinner with the Allens. For most of three hours they talked football.
"He was awfully fired up," Haden said. "He also asked me when my wife (now 5 1/2 months pregnant) was due," Haden said.
"Some people would interpret that as dispassionate," Ram General Manager Don Klosterman said, "that George would aks that and probably say to himself, 'Oh-oh, my quarterback's gonna have a baby in the middle of the season.' But it's just part of George's intensity. I don't think it's eccentricity. He just doesn't want to leave anything to chance."
"I haven't changed very much. I don't think change is necessary if you're successful," Allen said.
"That doesn't mean I'm not anxious to change, learn new techniques. But I still believe in funadmental points: Hard work, dedication to the job, thinking team over individual condictioning and studying off the field."
Is he more relaex as a proven NFL commodity? "I may appear that way byt I'm still churning inside," he said. "When the games come, I'll be the same. I push myself the amse as I always have and still push other the same way. I guess the problem is if you like your job as much as I do, it's hard to get others to like it as much."
Is it frustrating to know that some of the same people who pretent to despise his winning-is-everything motto might be first to turn around and holler for his head if tge Rams lose?
"If that's true, I don't let it bother me," he said. "First of all, we (a pronoun he favors) haven't lost that much. Second of all, we're not going to lose. Besides, criticism is part of the game. I analyze everything. Is it going to help us win? See that movie projector over there? I don't need it. So if the criticism is justified, I try to learn it. But you can't let it distract you or distort your thinking because it can prevent you from winning."
Talking about the only man to whom he must ultimately answer, Rosenbloom, Allen said: "I know Carroll respects commitment and dedication and he's the guy the counts."
Then he said: "We all the have to continually prove ourselves. That's the competitive business. Whatever success we had in the past, we have to do it again. You expend yourself, then no matter what happens, you can live with yourself. That's why this job isn't a dead end. Besides, I think I know what Carroll wants and I believe we can give it to him."
Just the way he gave then 67 wins in 98 games in D.C.?
"Every game was a sellout for seven years. Standing ovations for seven years of seeemingly every game going down to the wire," Allen said. "There was so much commitment. And now, so many wonderful memories. Everyone who was a part of it was affected by it. I'm proud of what we accomplished in Washington."