From behind the closed locker room door, there arose again, as if we'd all been transported back in time, a chorus of booming voices joined in a song of good cheer last heard--when, Eddie Brown?
"Dec. 17, 1977," said Eddie Brown, who ran back punts for George Allen that day, who was a nickel back in the Redskins' defense that day. That was George Allen's last game, his last victory, the last time he stalked the sidelines before leaving the Redskins in what he calls the biggest mistake of his life.
And again yesterday, as he had so many times before, Eddie Brown gathered up George Allen's players and led them in the locker room ditty George Allen's teams always sang to the heroes of victory.
This time they sang, "Hoo-ray for George, Hoo-ray for George, for he's a horse's ass." Then they handed Allen a game ball as reward for the Chicago Blitz's 28-7 victory over the Washington Federals in the teams' first United States Football League game.
Patton without a war, Nixon without an election, Allen without football--hardly any reason to wake up in the morning and take a breath.
Now, for George Allen, exile's end is a reality at last, not a dream, not the five years in the wilderness of TV booths and rejections from NFL teams and missions impossible in Canada. Maybe the USFL isn't much to some people, but to George Allen it is a little piece of heaven.
Time turned backwards yesterday at RFK Stadium. Allen is thinner than he was in '77, almost bird-like at 60 years old, but that comes from a new diet (no ice cream) and working out daily (the body rusts, he'll tell you). He still licks that thumb a thousand times in a game, still tugs at the baseball cap, still claps incessantly (always the left hand slapping down on the right).
And the eyes still have it.
Hands on his knees, leaning into the field, Allen focuses on the game with concentration that could peel the front from a safe. "I was rarin' to go," Allen said. "Lickin' my thumb."
Allen's team, maybe the best in the USFL (because, critics say, he spent twice as much for players as the owners agreed to), left the Federals in disarray at RFK. Running back Tim Spencer and wide receiver Trumaine Johnson would have been NFL first-rounders. They were too much for the Federals, who also had offensive problems suggesting training camp isn't over yet.
"The only disappointment," Allen said to a TV interviewer walking off the RFK field in a soft rain, "is losing the shutout. We were in a perfect defense for the play, but (defensive back) Virgil Livers fell down."
Did this game, the videot asked, send a message to the NFL that parity is closer than anyone thought?
"I'm not thinking of the NFL, I'm just thinking of getting in there with my team and celebrating. We've got another big game coming up Saturday."
Some things never change. Maybe Patton never had a little tank drill. For Allen, every game is a big game. To win is to be reborn, to lose is to die. He made those words famous, or infamous ("If he'd give up one year of his life to win," asked Don Meredith, "what would he do with his players' lives?")
Allen was curiously restrained after winning. He said it felt great to be back. He said it was difficult to win here because the Federals are a good team. He said the right things, but he said them without passion--and passion is the engine that moves George Allen.
He must have felt more than he told us. He loved Washington. The Redskins were George Allen. He hired the players, he taught them, he made them part of himself. His second season here, Allen took the Redskins to the Super Bowl. He never won another playoff game. He traded away his draft choices, and soon it seemed he had run out of ways to win.
Gone from here--fired? quit? who knows?--Allen lasted only two exhibition games with the Los Angeles Rams before the late owner Carroll Rosenbloom fired the coach he tempted away from the job he loved.
For five years then, no one wanted him. Some people believe NFL teams were leery of Allen's excessive spending; others thought NFL owners plain didn't like the discomfiting single-mindedness of the man. Whatever, jobs came and went, filled by men who couldn't carry Allen's clipboard.
But he wouldn't say so yesterday. He had no time for I-told-you-I-would-be-backs. Someone went to Eddie Brown to ask how George Allen must have felt.
"It made him the happiest man in the world," Brown said. "A storybook tale--to take a bunch of rejects, himself included, and prove to people we're a good football team and he's a good football coach. Everybody wrote him off, blackballed him, whatever. But here he is back and winning again."
As George Allen moved through the locker room, he passed his oldest son, George Jr., 30, a Virginia legislator who lives outside Charlottesville. They had breakfast 10 hours earlier. The coach said in the morning, "After all these years, you wouldn't think I'd be so nervous."
Now, with his first victory after five years waiting, George Allen moved through the locker room. His son kissed him on the cheek.