George Allen always had a thing about generals. He made his children read books about them. Then, a couple of years ago, his son George Jr. gave him a book about Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who couldn't get along with the top brass, either. Allen kept it by the side of his bed.
"I don't think he believes old coaches fade away," linebacker Stan White said. "They just become owners in the United States Football League."
Cripes and Goshdarn. George Allen, part owner, coach, chairman of the board of the Chicago Blitz, returns to RFK Stadium Sunday to play the Washington Federals. He coached his last regular-season game here 5 years, 11 weeks and 2 days ago. "He'll be there in full battle dress," one of his new players said.
In April 1951, Gen. MacArthur was stripped of his command for insubordination and an unwillingness to conduct a limited war. In January 1978, George Allen, who knew no limits in pursuit of victory, lost command of the Washington Redskins.
"You can take away his medals, his trophies, his titles, but you can't take away the substance of the man," said Jim Gould, president of the Federals. "The fact is, MacArthur was a hero. Even if he was a little crazy, he did deliver a winner. He just didn't have time for the bull. George is very much the same way. He delivered a winner to the masses . . . in essence, he was stripped of everything. But I don't know if he's returning a hero."
Allen's wife, Etty, who wasn't sure she wanted him to return to coaching at all, said, "George always said, 'I'll be back. I'll be back in football.' I asked why, he just said, 'I'll be back.' "
Seven a.m. breakfast. Large men are eating large quantities of food. Allen, who says he swore off ice cream and peanut butter after seeing a film of open heart surgery and "all the fat on the guy's heart," is eating cold cereal and bananas. He is carrying on at least three conversations at once; the most difficult one concerns himself.
"Everyone has a job and a mission," he said. "The only thing that counts is performance and it doesn't matter how you do your job as long as you get it done. If you have to do things a different way, that's all that counts. You have to be yourself. You can't be somebody else. People that are really dedicated to trying to do a job and striving to do it sometimes get labeled crazy or eccentric just because you are totally committed."
Is George Allen finally happy? "I'm as happy as if I was in my right mind," he said.
He smiles, tugging on his listener's sleeve: "There's a good one for you."
The Chicago Blitz trains at the Matt O. Hanhila Field of Glendale Community College. Only the generous would call it a facility. Allen spots a rickety handrail next to the concrete stands. "At Redskin Park, that would be fixed," he said.
The only similarity is the Redskins who have dropped by to say hello: Brad Dusek, Jake Scott, Ron McDole, Bob Brunet, Bill Malinchak, who came to talk about what it means to play on a George Allen team.
The practice field is as open as the desert that surrounds it. The White Tank mountains in the distance are not the only spectators. As the Blitz practices two-minute drills, the college track team practices wind sprints and pole vaults. Young women make languid circles around the track, checking out the action, running 43-minute miles. Allen, who hates distraction almost as much as disorganization, ignores it all.
It is a time for firsts. Allen points out each one, as if trying to tell people he's changed. It is a new league, a new team, a new day for Allen. He is determined to make it work, even if it means having breakfast with a reporter instead of his coaches and helping the Federals spend $75,000 on a marketing campaign daring him to come back to town. "I even made a commercial for them," he said. "That's like Reagan doing a commercial for Carter."
It's the first time he's had to sell tickets since he was the head coach at Morningside College in Iowa and he took envelopes of season tickets down to the stockyards. It's the first time his players have taken buses to practice (wasting 15 minutes each way) and the first time they have had such plush accommodations (he hopes it doesn't soften them).
His son Bruce, general manager of the Blitz, said, "The other day we were walking by the pool discussing waivers, having a very serious conversation. There was a player on the injured list sitting in the Jacuzzi with two girls who were drinking daiquiris. We both stopped and he said 'Oooh, there's a first,' and laughed. Ten years ago, he would have kicked the guy out of the pool and fined him."
"Maybe I developed a sense of humor the last couple of years," Allen said.
A historic first: Allen left camp to have dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the 20th Century Fox lot where M*A*S*H was filmed. Frank Sinatra was there, too. "I told him I wish he'd come sing 'Chicago,' " Allen said. "He said he'd consider it."
"You mean, 'My Kind of Town,' " a Chicago reporter said.
Allen nodded. Maybe he'll ask Frankie to sing "My Way," too. "We're going to do it my way," he said.
You could almost hear the strings swelling in the background. "Whether it's right or whether it's wrong, we'll find out on July 17th (USFL championship game)."
"Obviously," Allen said, "I'm overlooking some things I wouldn't put up with in the NFL."
Some changes are pragmatic; others may go deeper. Exile will do that to a man. Football still means as much to him, Bruce Allen said. "Except if he loses, it won't be as bad. He'll still be angry but he'll remember other things like his garden with 87 fruit trees.
"He reads more than the sports section now," he continued, "and I think he fell back in love with my mom. They have a nice romance going."
They saw the world, a different world in the last five years: Greece, Switzerland, China. "I never thought I would enjoy being out of football as much as I did," Allen said. "I did things I would have never taken the time to do if I stayed in football."
Etty Allen says her husband is the same man she met 32 years ago. The notes he leaves in the morning are like the love letters he wrote years ago. When he flew to Tunis to propose, she said, "We just shook hands. He said, 'I'm not going to kiss you in front of your father.' He doesn't believe in gushing. He doesn't like to show his emotions."
Don't expect him to dwell on the hurt. After all, what he most admires about President Reagan is that nothing gets him down. Others say it for him.
"I think the last four or five years almost destroyed him," Redskins kicker Mark Moseley said. "He's more relaxed now. But for two or three years, his heart was being bled to death because he couldn't get back into coaching. This is a last-ditch, desperate effort because the owners blackballed him. This is his chance to stick it back to the NFL."
Bruce Allen says it would take more than the NFL to destroy his father. "You'd have to get nuclear weapons out," he said.
But that doesn't mean the pain is gone. Taking football away from his father was like taking away three of his four children. His father says there is no revenge in his heart. His son says, "There is revenge in everybody's mind on this team.
"When it goes, he's going to tell them, 'I told you so.' When he wins, he'll say, 'You always knew I was going to.' For the Blitz to succeed as a franchise will show he can do it as an owner and a coach and have full say."
There were offers in the intervening years, 18 from colleges, one from the NFL, Bruce Allen says. But the one thing about George Allen that hasn't changed is his unwillingness to do it on someone else's terms. So he stayed home and wrote books and columns and devised game plans for teams he could not lead. He worked for CBS as a color analyst.
In January, he watched on television as the Redskins won the Super Bowl without him. It was, Bruce said, the first time he ever heard his father cheer.
"I feel I was a part of that team," Allen said. "I must have seen something in l974 to give a first round draft choice for Joe Theismann. How many coaches would have done that? I picked a few of the players: (Dave) Butz, (Joe) Lavender, Mark Murphy, George Starke, Clarence Harmon, a free agent, and Perry Parks. Is that his name? Perry Brooks, the defensive lineman."
Theismann, who says Allen will win it all because of defense, said, "I think it kills him to see the Redskins win the Super Bowl more than coming back here. The Redskins are as far from George Allen as east is from west."
Eddie Brown, one of two former Redskins on the Blitz (Karl Lorch is the other), came out of retirement to play for Allen. "He still thinks of the Redskins as his team," Brown said. "He's told me hundreds of times, it (leaving) was the biggest mistake of his life."
"I could have made a mistake, yeah, because Ed Williams offered me a good contract but he took out the stock option," Allen said. "Once again, it was George Allen being himself. I don't think it was a mistake because I did what I believed. The mistake was made with the Rams. We could have won the Super Bowl."
As one former player said, "The problem was George wanted the universe and he only got the world."
Then he got the cold shoulder. Now he's essential again. Long before Herschel Walker signed, the USFL was counting on Allen for credibility, and recognition. The league and the Federals invested heavily in the emotion of his return to Washington. Allen didn't want it this way. "He told me he didn't want to have to lose his first game in Washington," Gould said.
"I'd rather be playing Birmingham because they changed 13 players and no one knows me in Birmingham," Allen said.
In Washington, there are memories and distractions and expectations. "It puts a lot more pressure on him," said Charlie Waller, his longtime friend and coaching assistant. "Not that he shows it or mentions it."
Allen, who once challenged Albert Einstein to checkers, is not one to avoid a confrontation. "I was always thinking three moves ahead," he said, remembering the Sunday morning when he called on Einstein. "I wanted to see if I could beat him. He said, 'I'm not that good. People say things about me that aren't necessarily true.' "
On Sunday, Allen will be thinking three steps ahead. He hopes his team will perform like the George Allen teams that were 43-10-1 at RFK.
He doesn't have Walker on his team. Edward Bennett Williams says to top that, he'll have to sign Red Grange. He doesn't have the Over the Hill Gang. He has top rookies like running back Tim Spencer and receiver Trumaine Johnson and some guys who have been around and some who haven't. But, Brown said, "He's got to be nervous about how we're going to react."
And he has to wonder how Washington will react to him. "I don't think they've forgotten him," said Duke Zeibert, who used to cater to Allen every Sunday night at his old restaurant. "Everyone is all wrapped up in Jack Kent Cooke and Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs. George Allen is just another guy now."
Allen always seemed larger than life or smaller than life. He never seemed like just another guy. When he returns Sunday for his first game since the Redskins beat the Rams on Dec. 17, 1977, and he comes out of the visitors' tunnel, "He'll think about the touchdown Billy Kilmer threw to Charley Taylor in the championship game (against Dallas in 1972) because he'll have to run right over that spot," his son said.
"I don't know what will flash through me but I'll probably get emotional when they play 'The Star Spangled Banner'," Allen said. "I sing that to myself. Off key."
Maybe he'll remember the standing ovations. Maybe he'll remember the cakes Zeibert sent out to Redskin Park and how "we would put the quarterback's picture on it and I would take the knife and cut off his right arm," Allen said.
And inwardly everyone would laugh because they knew George Allen would cut off his right arm to win. And that's what he'll be feeling on Sunday.