Good heavens, now it is fun to go to RFK. And not only because the Redskins are winning. Last season, RFK was a theater of war. Gen. George Allen fought Armageddon weekly and every Sunday noon we moved on RFK in grim-faced ranks. We knew our duty. If Tom Landry lobbed a grenade at Billy Kilmer, we would dive to cover it with our bodies. Better than losing.
But not much fun.
As Nixon had his Ford. Allen has his Pardee, an antidote of decency and perspective. We made Allen an omnipotent genius. Every lick of his thumb was invested with meaning. When he tugged at his cap bill, it was signal for God to make Mike Thomas uncatchable this next play. In his insatiable publicity hunger. Allen encouraged such judgments and so, every Sunday, we believed him responsible for everything that happened. It was his war and we were his soldiers. We went to RFK in flak jackets.
Sweaters do the job now.
More than anyone, with the possible exception of television directors who order those sideline shots, sportswriters create the omnipotent-coach figure. By quoting him, analyzing and second-guessing him, we make him more important than he is. Soon enough, George Allen was not the coach of the Redskins, he was the Redskins. And because teams reflect the personality of their coach, the Redskins were, to be negative, furtive, conservative, narrow-minded and about as much fun as bamboo shoots under your fingernails.
Anyway, the TV people would give up Allen licking his thumb and tugging at his cap and kneeling on the sidelines. Bud Grant was wired to his headset. Tom Landry stood there stonefaced and John Madden ran around clapping like a happy bartender. Those were the omnipotent-coach shots, and it was fun two weeks ago to watch the TV boys try for a shot of Jack pardee.
"Put the quad up," director Sandy Grossman said in the control booth. A "quad" it four pictures on one screen.
"Get me Pardee," the director shouted at a cameraman. He wanted a sideline shot of the new Redskin brain.
"Where the hell is Pardee?" the director screamed.
The TV cameras never found Jack Pardee. Omnipotent is not part of him.
And that's one reason it is so much fun at RFK these days. The games are no longer a coach's playthings. Pardee is part of the team, not the whole of it. He is a teacher, not an actor or general, and he stands on the sidelines, seldom conspicuous, doing what he does best: being calm.
The effect is overwhelming.
The tension that Allen felt, and passed on to his players as necessary to victory, is gone. In its place is a more reasonable, more relaxed attitude.
Armageddon can wear a guy out.
Listen to Mike Thomas.
"George was always talking about not making any mistakes," said the running back."Damn, when a man keeps saying, 'Don't make any mistakes,' that's when you going to make mistakes."
Thomas said a strange thing, too.
"We're working harder now than last year," he said.
How is that possible? Didn't Allen drive his men for hours in practice? Weren't there endless meetings?
"Oh, definitely, but you knew the practices were going to be long, so you paced yourself, you tried to save yourself so you'd have to little bit left for Sunday. Now we work hard every day. Sundays are a lot easier for us."
A lot easier for the customers, too. Save for the chance of victory, a Redskin game once offered small hope of entertainment. Allen's offense must have been stolen from a caveman's wall, it was so Neanderthalian. The defense was very good, but only coaches and football snobs talks about the invisible work of defense.
Now we see the Redskins running a Star Wars offense.The arsenal is filled with gadgets and gimmicks, inside reverses, flanker reverses, flea-flickers. These are plays full of risk. Allen would never use them because the thought of a mistake drove him to another dish of ice cream.
These are new, brighter days, though, and if RFK is not yet a picnic ground - games are won in the violence of the line of scrimmage - neither is it a battle-field where a mistake means a loss, which means death.
"We're having fun," Mike Thomas said. "Some people have said to me, 'You haven't got 100 yards in a game.' We're 4 and 0. Who cares if I get two yards?Things are going nice around here."