It was no longer just aging.

It was decaying. Some said it was rotting.

In a city of prospects, where each morning brings a new line on the Cabinet, the Congress, even the president, the only unpardonable crime is no hope. The Redskins had none. No stars. No flair. No prospects.

So when he offered himself as a condidate -- A Tough Man For A Tough Job -- they listened. No, he wasn't a glamor boy like the guy in Dallas or the guy in Miami. But at that time the glamor boys weren't interested in the Redskins. He was.

It would be a dramatic change, not unlike the change from Nixon to Ford, but they couldn't deny the pedigree. He was there for the best years The Ice Cream Man had and got out before the paranoia surfaced. He was deeply religious, a devout communicant like the team president and The Legend. They had a team that was over budget and overage, and he had won with no money in Florida and no pensioners in Chicago. In college he studied military science and business administration-- what was football but a war of territorial acquisition fought for corporate profit? In the pros he was solid, dependable, a leader, in fact, a coach on the field. Surely he'd know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.

It needed rehabilitating. Jack Pardee knew all about rehabilitating.

Jack Pardee beat the cancer.

They'd said Jack Pardee had no prospects. And they were wrong.

"He had the uncanny knack of always putting us in the right defense at the right time. The Over The Hill Gang wasn't that talented. We made up the difference by outsmarting teams, by always changing defenses. Jack made it all happen."

Ron McDole said that.

Ron McDole is no longer there.

"He knew all the tendencies. He knew, for example, that if Dallas came out in the third quarter with a 17-7 lead and set up in a strong-left formation on the left hashmark on the first down with eight minutes gone that 47 percent of the time they would throw left, and 35 percent of the time they would run left and 12 percent of the time they would run right. He knew it all, and he put us where we should be. He was a stunning innovator on defense. He would constantly change us. His mind was so sharp that sometimes, to put us in the right position, he would call defenses that we hadn't worked on in three years."

Bill Brundige said that.

No longer there.

"We knew we were an older team. We knew we could win, maybe not the Super Bowl, but we'd win. When George left we were glad to see Jack come in. We felt Jack was one of the few coaches who would understand this football team. Someone else might come in and screw it up."

Len Hauss said that.

You guessed it -- gone.

The Over The Hill Gang is now the Out Of Sight Gang. Almost all of them are gone. McDole, Brundige, Hauss, Kilmer, Tillman, Hanburger, McLinton, Scott. All gone, gone in the two years that Pardee has coached. None picked up by any of the other 27 teams in the National Football League.That seems to exonerate Pardee as an executioner, but it doesn't make the wounds any less bloody. These were teammates and friends he cut. Now they are neither.

"He watched them play, saw the films, talked to all of George's assistants. He made the decision to get rid of them because they could not play pro football anymore -- they didn't have it in them. We saw it two years before we came here, when we beat them 9-7 in Washington and 33-7 in Chicago. The Whole United States knew he had to do it." -- Phyllis Pardee

Make no mistake, it was a purge.

Even now, long after the deluge, there is deep, standing water in the basement of their memories.

Brundige: "He took notes every day, writing down each word of what Allen said, even 'the' and 'and.' He was preparing to be a head coach all the while he was a player . . . The key is that Jack changed his whole philosophy between the time he left us and came back. As a player he called more audibles than anyone in football, but as a coach he went into a game with one set defense. It created a great deal of puzzlement on the part of people who played with him.He kept a notebook for 14 years, then didn't use it . . . It was like he was trying to be as opposite George as he could. He seemed to have a long-term strategy, and being as strong in his convictions as he is, it allowed him to do things without thinking about them, allowed him to be ruthless because he felt he had to be. It wasn't very pleasant."

McDole: "When he started simplifying everything it brought us down to the level of the younger players. It took away what we did best. This is where the lack of communication came in. We felt Jack was in a tough position so we stayed away from him. And he never came to us. What surprised me was his lack of trying to work with us. We had this slogan, The Over The Hill Gang, "Adjust or rust." We could have worked with him, but we never talked it out. Looking back, we should have gone to him . . . I guess he did what he felt he had to do, but we didn't get to go out gracefully. It was 'Hey, hit the road.' It was so cold, so blunt. I guess you can do it now and get away with it. Anything that happens goes on us and George -- Jack inherited it. But I got the feeling Jack was afraid of us. It was sneaky, like he was embarrassed."

Hauss: "All the guys looked up to him. He was so consistent. You could always count on him . . . I talked to him three times during the offseason about retiring. He told me I was an important part of the football team, part of his plans. But by the second day of camp I realized I wasn't. It shocked me. Maybe he didn't want to coach people he'd played with. He won with young, young guys and maybe, just maybe, he feels he can only win with young players. . . The greatest compliment I can pay someone is to say, 'He hasn't changed a bit.' This guy did a 180."

"Our desire was to become a more physical team. The Redskins kept trying to outsmart people and forget the basics. In some cases as a staff we recommended Jack cut them a year before -- the only thing that kept them here was Jack." -- Ritchie Petitbon

The forearms are huge. Missiles matted by blond sheepswool.Jack Pardee sits in his Redskin gold chair, his feet planted firmly on his Redskin burgundy carpet, listening. From time to time in the course of two hours he would hear something that disturbed him and the four lines across his forehead would severely crease like furrows on farm land. Regularly, almost obsessively, he would put his right hand on his head, feeling for the bald spot, and then, handcomb what remained of his hair over top, until both his hand and his hair were oily with sweat. His voice never betrayed him, but at times he seemed almost apologetic at the simplicity of his answers. He is not a charmer, not given either to introspection or analogy and, therefore, knows he is not a great interview.

"Circumstances change," he says. "I didn't change."

The words come out steadily, without a trace of insecurity.Measured, as if they had been calibrated by a pharmacist working with Demarol, careful not to spend a drop more than necessary.

"It gets down to I believe in winning. This team needed new players. This team did not have enough ability to win. I believe if George were here he'd see that. George's team were very smart, and usually the smarter you are, the less physical you are. I see the trends. The good teams now are not necessarily the smart ones, but the big, fast ones. We needed that kind of player, and we could not give that kind of player George's system and still win. We did not have the back-up players to win on experience. That's all. Any anyway, an ability team would whip an experience team."

Solid, stoic, unflappable, dependable Pardee.

This is Pardee talking.

"I knew there wouldn't be any easy way to do it. The guys I cut, we're not friends now. But we'll be friends years from now, I realize that. In a year or two they'll see exactly what took place. Some guys I cut early, some guys I kept. We didn't have any back-ups. We didn't have any draft choices. They were as good as I had. Not really good enough to win, but we had nothing better. Why get rid of people with no back-ups? We did that in Chicago, got rid of people and brought others in -- anybody can get on the field and lose. These players here weren't losers, they'd won. They could still play a great game here and there, they just couldn't play long enough and good enough.

"He will chose to be efficient, to make the right decisions, decisions for the entire team. If I were an owner I'd go to sleep with peace of mind knowing Pardee's in charge of my franchise." Rod OConnor

Methodical, studious, orderly, strategic Pardee.

This is Pardee talking.

"Look, the Redskins were in the middle of the basket for a few years. And it was getting worse every year. The competition in the division was getting better, and the Redskins weren't. They weren't holding their own, they were going downhill. Decisions had to be made. I know why I'm here. Players that could play, I wanted to get another year, another two years. But when the party's over, it's over. As a coach I'd like to be a nice guy, I'd like to have everyone like me and all that, but I also know that what I'm hired to do here is beat the New York Giants. I never guaranteed anyone anything."

This is Pardee talking.

"In the final analysis, look at it this way -- I did something very distasteful that had to be done. You can sit down with a guy for two hours and tell him.You can call him on the phone and tell him. You can just do it and not say a word. What it comes down to is, 'Hey, we're going a different route -- you haven't got a job.' You can't sugarcoat that. It hurt to do, but I didn't lay awake at night worrying about it. I don't have any problem with my stomach, and I don't have any problem sleeping."

He was born 42 years ago in Iowa, the seventh and last child of a farming family. He was, by far, the youngest child and when his father became crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, Jack was the only child to accompany his parents as they "went moving around, looking for health -- for relief." To Arizona, To San Antonio and finally to Cristoval, Tex., a town of about 500 people near San Angelo.

Almost from the cradle, young Pardee was a worker. Milking cows in Iowa at 5. Digging Holes for septic tanks at 10. Jackhammering in the oil fields at 14. The Pardees were poor. "To live I had to work," Pardee says. What he learned from this, obviously, was that hard, physical work brought its reward. He has no tolerance for people who won't work, and it has so influenced his life that even now he has no tolerance for vacations. "Outside of football," he says, "the greatest pleasure I get is working on our farm in Virginia, working the tractor. I guess I'm just hyperactive, but I can't stand sitting around doing nothing for more than two days. It's no vacation, it's punishment."

About 40 years younger than his father, he had to grow up largely without help and he had to do it in a hurry. He was always his only fallback, always his own last line of defense.

"Always supremely confident in his own ability," says Merlin Olsen, a teammate on the Rams in the '60s.

And having had success through sweat and perseverance, Pardee had every reason to believe that his way was the right way-- in some cases, the only way.

He got interested in athletics in Cristoval. At first, basketball, but in the early '50s, in West Texas there was only one real game in town, and that was football. Pardee weighed only 110 pounds as a freshman and had to sweet-talk his parents into letting him play. "At first I hated it," he says. "I was the blocking dummy, the tackling dummy. All I did was practice and get beat up. It wasn't much fun. I wanted to quit, but my parents wouldn't let me.

"They said if you start something, you got to finish it." For those enamored of lifelong lessons, mark this down. Pardee was an obedient son. If his parents told him not to be a quitter, that was one thing he would never be.

Within a year he had grown to 160 pounds and by the time he was a senior in high school he was so accomplished at football -- even a scholarship to Texas A&M, where he played for Bear Bryant, who remembers Pardee as being "pretty much all business." At A&M, he studied military science and business administration, but he chose education electives, anticipating he would become a teacher and a coach, just like G. W. Tillerson, the football coach and superintendent of schools in Cristoval. Pardee didn't begin thinking about pro football until his junior year when the scouts began thinking about him. They liked his size, 220 pounds, but even more they liked his attitude. Once, when both his shoulders were separated, he played anyway and told people, "No law against tackling with your head."

While at A&M he agreed to a blind date with a girl one year older than he, named Phyllis.Her brother-in-law was one of Pardee's friends. 'I was going to TCU," Phyllis Pardee remembered. "And I wasn't crazy about jocks. This guy was so big and blond, and I was more attracted to dark hair and slight builds. By accident I ran into Jack at a drugstore the afternoon we were supposed to go out. I didn't look like a real glamorpuss -- I had on Bermuda shorts. Well, he couldn't have been too impressed because I heard that he tried to get a friend to take me off his hands. I guess he couldn't, because we went out. He was so quiet, it drove me crazy. Listen, dear, he was so quiet he was almost nonconversant."

Pardee smiles at the line.

"The background I had," he says, "children were seen and not heard. They only talked around other children, and I was working so much I wasn't around other children much. But it wasn't hard to communicate with Phyllis. She did a lot of talking. I did a lot of listening."

And it is, of course, still very much like that.

Although it rankled her that he wasn't at all forthcoming with his affections, that it wasn't until months later that he first told her that he loved her, she fell in love with him early on. When she took him home to meet her rancher parents, she remembered that the first words her mother said were, "Phyllis, he's so clean." Pardee has always been so clean. Bathing. Scrubbing his nails. Washing behind his ears. And so orderly, almost obsessively orderly, putting the blue socks in one drawer, the brown socks in another, the black socks in a third. So thoroughly organized. Pardee says he is just "hyperactive."

He was already on the Rams when he asked her to marry him; he did it over the phone -- on a party line.

She was so embarrassed that she said, "Maybe."

They were married in December after his rookie season. In the last 22 years they have produved five children, and she remains his best friend, the only one he cries to. To this day when he calls her from Redskin Park he makes sure to say, "I love you." And it is not unusual for her to make his dinner and drive it the 20 miles from Hawk's Hill, their Virginia farm, to his office.

"Would you believe, dear, that he is exactly the same weight now as he was in his rookie year," she says. "Isn't that disgusting?"

"Same weight, yeah," he says. "But its shifted some."

"HeS so disciplined it's amazing," she says. "If he puts on a couple of pounds he just cuts out his nighttime treats. I cannot believe how disciplined he's always been."

As a player he cared most for consistency. That was what he wanted to be remembered for. It extended from the field to the home. His children say he never yells. His wife says that the only way to know he is mad is to see him grip the arm of a chair so tightly that the knuckles on his hand go white and the skin on the back of his neck goes crimson. But even then he never cracks.

Even the cancer didn't crack him.

Phyllis saw it first, the black mole on his right arm. He was a Ram then and they were in training camp. She was scared. She had just read of a baseball player who died from something they called "black mole cancer." God, it sounded awful. She made him go to the team trainer, who told him that after the season they'd take a look at it. That was good enough for Jack, but not good enough for her. "Either you go to a doctor, or I'll send the ambulance for you," she said.

The next day the doctors at UCLA told him it was cancer. Malignant. Melanoma. Someone said something about making a will. Someone else said something about amputation. Numbers were being tossed around. 75 percent fatal. Seven days to radical surgery.

He was 28 years old, an All-American in college, an All-Pro, and they were telling him to prepare to die.

This is Pardee talking.

"The biggest thing was it made me realize a sense of urgency that I never had.All of a sudden -- what did I want to do? Not next week -- there might not be a next week -- that night. I had four, five speaking engagements, two or three social events. I canceled everything. I spent every day and every night with my family. If I was to have six nights to live -- and I'm not trying to be morbid -- I was going to spend those nights with my family. No indecision about it. I helped the kids say their prayers at night and tucked them into bed. It's been that way ever since. If I have any free time, I know where I'm going to be."

"He never complained," she says. "He never cried. Probably he thought he was going to die, but he never said so. When I left the hospital room the night before surgery, he told me, 'I love you.' I walked through the door and looked back at him, all prepped for the operation, and burst into tears."

And after she left, after the last "I love you," what did he do? What did he think? What did he feel like?

"I don't know," he says.

What?

"Really, I don't," he says.

The surgery took 11 1/2 hours. The details have been printed before and bear no repeating. The bottom line is that he won. He got out intact, beat the cancer and -- of course, this is the most amazing thing of all -- came back the next season to play pro ball.

This is Pardee talking.

"I didn't think I'd die. I probably always had an indestructable attitude. Nothing was ever gonna happen to me. I'm not afraid of dying -- it's not gonna happen."

That's crazy, someone says.

"I never said it wasn't."

The rest is in the books. Back with the Rams as player-coach and signal-caller under Allen. Over to the Redskins as player-coach and signal-caller under Allen. The singlemindedness of his career is the most intriguing. Fifteen years in the league in two of the most exciting, glamorous cities in the country and never even for a moment a presence in either. Pardee not only never went to Hollywood -- he didn't even go Encino. He avoided the spotlight like it was some tight end coming on a crackback. "His idea of a great time," says Bob Bowser, Pardee's special assistant, "is to go out on the patio and barbecue hamburgers." Bowser is the man to go to for funny Pardee stories. He tells them and laughs at the punch lines. If no one else does, Bowser always says, "I guess you had to be there."

(Example: The Redskins are in Carlisle, going through the motions in practice. Pardee thinks they're not showing proper enthusiasm, so he tells them to run laps. One player demurs. "Bad toe," he says. Pardee rebuts, "I don't want to hear about your bad toe. You've got nine good ones. Run.")

They'll never mistake Pardee for McKay or Holtz.

The man is a jock. He played the game for love, not money. If he were a television set he'd be a black and white portable; a box of crayons he'd be missing magenta and burnt sienna. If, as Joan Ryan, the writer, suggests, "he is typical of the best kind of Texas strength," it is not in being a cowboy, but a lawman, the bulging forearms of retributive justice. Like Gary Cooper in "High Noon," when he makes a decision he makes a commitment. You want to share his space, you have to share his commitment.

"If you don't stand in good stead with him you're not here. He fires people. He won't have anyone here if he thinks that you don't help his chances of winning. It's his team, and it extends even to the maintenance people." -- Bob Bowser

Bowser first met Pardee in California, and after Bowser came to the Redskins to work in public relations he followed Pardee to Florida, Chicago and back to Washington. Bowser marvels at Pardee's commitment. "I saw him and Phyllis pick up dirty socks and jocks in Chicago when the equipment man didn't do it," Bowser says. That man didn't share the commitment, and he was fired. Bowser has seen Pardee work 18-hour days so often that he is surprised only when Pardee works less than 18. He is convinced the man is indefatigable.

So is Fred OConnor, another assistant from Florida and Chicago. "What's most impressive to a man is Jack's perseverance," says OConnor. "There is no doubt in my minds that no matter what, come Monday morning of a new week Jack's going to be at his desk at full throttle trying to find a way to win. You cannot discourage him." When OConnor speaks of the bottom line, he speaks of Ws. Pardee, he says, gets Ws.

Certainly he got them in Florida. Against prohibitive odds -- the franchise declared bankruptcy in midseason and neither players nor coaches were paid -- Pardee held the Florida Blazers together and they came within an extra point of winning the only World Football League championship game ever played. In Chicago he took over a team that was so bad that in his first season even Pardee did not think it capable of winning one game. In his third season Pardee was in the playoffs. "He single-handedly took us to the playoffs," says Jerry Meyers, a Bear then and now. "Jack Pardee is a winner and a great coach."

But not everyone on the Bears felt that way, and even Meyers admits, "I was surprised to find out that so many of the guys were not upset when he left." According to some Chicago reporters who covered the team, some players were upset that Pardee often told the reporters more about players than he told the players themselves. "Every day there was a mad scramble to read the papers," says Don Pierson of the Chicago Tribune. "Sometimes the only way players knew where they stood was to read us."

Pardee answers this simply.

"Writers ask more questions than players do," he says. On one hand this is a mark of Pardee's strength. He is quiet, but not secretive. On the other hand it gives credence to the charge of a communications problem between coach and player. To this day Pardees says he doesn't communicate as well as he would like, but he is working on it.

Perhaps now it is better than it was then. Then, according to Gary Fencik, a Chicago defensive back, it wasn't good. "his coaching philosophy stressed the importance of communication," Fenwick says. "Yet, he is, by nature, reclusive, reticent and even uncomfortable with players. He was more comfortable with numbers and tendencies."

Another criticism out of Chicago was directed at the simplicity of the game plans. The Bears were so young that Pardee felt he could not give the team sophistication without totally confusing it; it is the same philosophy he has instituted in Washington.

The remaining criticism is by far the most interesting, centering as it does on a perception. According to Fencik, "He seemed intolerant of injury. A lot of people on our team felt that since Jack beat cancer, he felt everything else could be overcome. The standing joke on the team was that Jack had one line for any kind of injury: 'Run it off.'"

"He just doesn't believe in injuries. One thing he really doesn't like is self indulgence of any kind. He believes in mind over matter. Plus, pain doesn't affect him." -- Phyllis Pardee

It is one of the few times Pardee seems bothered, one of the few times he makes a point with a finger.

"Yes and no," he says.

Pardee is seriously thinking about this. Is it possible to be philosophically intolerant of injury and still pragmatically sympathetic toward them? You don't beat cancer just by being tough, and it is unfair to assume Pardee would be insensitive to that. But a man might reasonably believe the body is infinitely perfectable, that to give into pain is a black mark against your commitment. It is, of course, a line so thin as to be passed through the eye of a needle.

"I have been hurt," Pardee says. "I have felt so much pain. I'm very sympathetic toward injury, but in 15 years of pro football I did not miss a game. I prepared myself by lifting weights, doing whatever I could to make my body strong enough to sustain me. In that sense I was thorough and I thought ahead. I used the offseason for conditioning. Injuries are part of the game, but I also know the good Lord gave us a good body, and if you want to you can overcome anything."

He pauses. The creases in his forehead are burnt in.

"I'm very impatient with players who don't work to get over injuries."

Hard work. Self-denial. Preparation. Demands.

This is the essence of the coaching character.

This is Pardee.

He left Chicago -- he actually wore a white Stetson as he drove away -- to come to Washington. But he would have left Chicago, anyway. He was no longer communicating with Jim Finks, the Chicago general manager. Pardee felt the Bears could not compete for a championship without an all-weather practice facility. Finks either disagreed or he could not find room in the budget for one.

Pardee obviously found Finks lacking in commitment.

He couldn't fire his boss, so he fired himself.

"All I ever ask," Pardee says, "is for the tools I need to do my job. You give me the tools. I'll trust my talent. I don't want this to sound wrong, but I'm comfortable in my mind that I'm the best coach, that I can do a better job coaching the Redskins than anybody else can."

He is in the second year of a three-year contract.