Today is the 57th birthday of William Patrick (Bill) McPeak, who was once callously referred to as "that do-nothing Redskins coach" by a long retired Washington sportswriter.
McPeak was in charge almost two decades ago, 1961-65, during an era when there was practically no interest in where the Redskins would finish the season, only if they would finish. There was ample reason to be concerned over the team's survival.
On the surface, judged only by the won-lost record, which is the bottom line, only two of the 17 coaches the Redskins have employed in their 46-year Washington residency, compiled a worse record than McPeak.
The Redskins managed only 21 victories in 70 games, which helped to account for McPeak's dismissal, this plus the fact that the Redskins occupancy rate was around 60 percent in their new home at RFK Stadium.
Those were not the best of times for the Redskins. McPeak, of course, was held accountable for the Redskins miseries, which was unjust. It was as much of a team effort, starting at the ownership level, just as the exhiliration of Super Bowl XVII last January was a collective triumph.
Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that McPeak's contributions to the Redskins have been overlooked. That William Patrick McPeak was one of the most important and significant of the 23 men who have coached the Redskins since the late George Preston Marshall, with an investment of only $3,500, created the Redskins in Boston 51 years ago.
While he did not win an NFL championship, McPeak supplied something else, something his successors built on--respectability.
He acquired Sam Huff, who went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year; and Bobby Mitchell and Sonny Jurgensen, who will take formal residence in the NFL shrine Saturday.
Huff had acquired his reputation and played most of his glory years in New York with the Giants, but Mitchell and Jurgensen were truly Redskins.
And there could be more McPeak Hall of Famers. He drafted Charlie Taylor, who caught more passes than any receiver in NFL history; linebacker Chris Hanburger; center Len Hauss, and safety Paul Krause.
But the acquisition of Mitchell and Jurgensen, in 1962 and 1964, respectively, far outdistances any of the many McPeak legacies. Particularly, Mitchell, on racial grounds alone.
Mitchell was the first black to suit up in Marshall's burgundy and gold uniform. Depsite his brilliant reputation gained at Cleveland as Jimmy Brown's running mate, his reception in Washington was not by any means perfect.
There was one notably ugly scene that I witnessed as the dinner companion of Bobby and Gwen Mitchell at a downtown restaurant on the Sunday evening following Mitchell's Redskins debut in 1962.
Someone in the restaurant, passing the table where we were sitting, spat on a bottle of wine icing in a cooler adjoining our table. An ugly scene was miraculously avoided when the proprietor, Duke Zeibert, ushered the racist off the premises bodily.
Mitchell joined the Redskins in the famous trade for the late Ernie Davis, of Syracuse, after the Redskins tried in vain to persuade Davis, the No. 1 draft choice, to crack the all-white Redskins.
"I will not be George Marshall's martyr," Davis somberly told this interviewer. Thus, the trade was set up by McPeak for Mitchell.
As two more of "McPeak's players," Mitchell and Jurgensen enter the Hall of Fame, their election, along with that of Huff last year, help to make life brighter for McPeak.
"I am just as proud of Bobby and Sonny as they must be for themselves," McPeak said over the phone from the training camp of the New England Patriots whom he serves as director of pro scouting.