The Washington Redskins begin the 1978 football season another year older and not so deeply in debt, with a restructured front office and a new coach different from the man he replaced in almost every respect.
Still, like George Allen before him, Jack Pardee has always been a winner -- as an all-pro linebacker on a Super Bowl team, as a rookie coach fighting off bill collectors and World Football League opponents and, finally, as a coach in the National Football League who turned one of the league's sorriest teams, the Chicago Bears, into a playoff team in three years.
Now he takes over a Redskin club that still bears the Allen look -- a nucleus of grizzled graybeards, solid defense, excellent special teams and an offense that ideally will feature 35 passes and 40 runs a game.
But there are new wrinkles, too. Pardee has installed the three-lineman, four-linebacker defense that is the rage of the NFL these days, and will use it frequently, particularly on running downs.
Unlike Allen's make-no-mistake offensive philosophy that left a tailback a physical wreck every season, Pardee insists he will get the football to his most productive people, that he will keep fresh faces on the field to carry and catch.
Offensive coordinator Joe Walton has drawn up a playbook that has men in motion and multiple sets and formations, including a double tight end offense to counter opposing 34 defenses.
The Redskins occasionally will throw on first down, and they will gamble and scramble, particularly if Joe Theismann beats out Billy Kilmer as the starting quarterback.
That is what seemed to be happening as the team broke training camp in mid-August. Theismann had his best preseason as a Redskin, throwing the ball to all the proper places and showing a remarkable knack for scrambling to first downs at all the important times.
But Kilmer still will be a factor this season. In 1977, 20 NFL quarterbacks were injured enough to miss at least one game. And now, with a 16-game regular season, no one made of mortal flesh ought to be expected to go the distance.
A year ago, many Redskins couldn't make it through 14 games, and injuries were a major reason the club slipped to 20th in the league in total offense, 23rd rushing and 18th passing.
But now, fullback John Riggins is healthy again and eager to demonstrate that Allen made a mistake by using him as a blocking back. Tailback Mike Thomas, who suffered with pulls and pains all last year, will be running for money in 1978 because he is playing out his option. "The more yards I make," he said, "the more cash I make."
The passing game sputtered occasionally during the preseason, mostly because the Redskins still were looking for a wide receiver to take some of the double coverage away from Frank Grant and tight end Jean Fugett, the team's leading pass catcher in 1977. They are still looking.
That is one problem area. Another involves the offensive line and its propensity to hold at inappropriate times. Still, the line managed to consistently open holes for the running backs most of the preseason, and Pardee insists the penalties will be eliminated when the games begin to count.
The defense appears as sound as ever, particularly with the offseason acquisition of Coy Bacon and Lemar Parrish from the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bacon, the large defensive end, gives the Redskins that mobile, hostile and agile pass rusher they have been seeking for years. Parrish remains among the best cornerbacks in the game and gives the Redskins what many consider to be the finest secondary in the NFL.
There had been some concern that special teams would be de-emphasized by Pardee, particularly after the Redskins traded Eddie Brown to the Rams. But Pardee insists "anyone who knows me and my system knows that just isn't the case."
His record in Chicago proves it. The Bears last year were among the top 10 NFL teams in five major special team categories, third in kickoff coverage and fourth in punt coverage.
Placekicker Mark Moseley has a new shoe but the same bionic leg, and punter Mike Bragg led the league in kicks inside the 20-yard line a year ago.
Replacing Brown has been no easy task, but Pardee is convinced that rookie Mike Williams has the ability to develop into a decent return man. If not, Parrish may be pressed into service.
The schedule is no piece of cake, with the opener against New England on the road and non-division games against playoff contenders (or pretenders) like Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta.
No one really expects the Redskins to beat the world champion Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. Nobody, that is except Pardee.
"I think we can compete with anybody in the league,' he said. "No team is that much ahead of any other team. And the Redskins played Dallas awfully tough last year and should have won. We're not conceding anything to anybody."
Philadelphia is supposed to be improved, the Giants had a bad team in 1977 and still beat the Redskins twice and the Cardinals could come back to life under Bud Wilkinson, even if Terry Metcalf mercifully has left the league.
Kilmer believes that 11 victories will assure a team a playoff berth. With an extra wild-card playoff team for each conference this year, 10-6 should be good enough to make the playoffs.