Six weeks ago, Long Beach State won its final football game of the season for an improbable 6-5 record. One of the worst college teams anywhere -- one that lost its opening game 59-0 -- had, in its first year under a 72-year-old coach, built a winning season.

To celebrate, the players dumped a bucket of ice water over the head of that coach, George Allen. As anyone who'd known him in his days with the Redskins or Rams could have foretold, Allen immediately proclaimed his victory "the most rewarding experience I've had in all my years of coaching."

After his drenching, Allen caught a cold and bronchitis that he couldn't shake. Still, he held to his regimen of three-mile runs and calisthenics. The coach also wouldn't call off recruiting. One day, he said, "I wouldn't normally speak for {a fee of} six footballs, but at Long Beach I might consider that."

On New Year's Eve, Allen's wife, Etty, left home before noon for an exercise session. She mentioned to George that, when she came back, they might go down for a swim in the Pacific near their gorgeous hilltop home. While she was gone, Allen phoned a Long Beach State booster and his wife. He had two purposes, both typical of him. He wanted to cheer up the woman, wheelchair-bound. And he wanted to thank her husband for donating a tarpaulin for the fence around the practice field. Yes, he planned to close practice so nobody could spy.

When Etty Allen came home, she found her husband dead on the kitchen floor.

"They still don't know" the cause of death, Allen's son, Bruce, told The Washington Post's Leonard Shapiro yesterday. "We're checking. My father would have wanted to know. It was a detail. And he was a detail guy."

But Bruce Allen added: "He was just exhausted from the season. He was just being my father. He coached the same way whether it was the Redskins or Long Beach State.

"The season was very draining on him. That, as much as anything, probably had something to do with it."

Unless some unexpected cause of death is found, this will be remembered as an ironic death for a man with absolutely no sense of irony. In fact, Allen was the definition of an anti-ironic man: totally driven, oblivious, devoid of self-doubt or self-reflection. Instead, he set goals. To be an athlete. To win as a coach. To get rich and famous. To be a friend of presidents. To make the cover of Newsweek. And to make sure nobody could ever ignore or forget him.

Let it be said that he reached all of those goals. And, although he broke many a rule, he never broke a law.

The day Allen took the Long Beach job, he asked me, "Do you think people will laugh at me?" Whether they laughed then, some will cry now.

Some will even say that Allen did a foolish thing, pushing himself to the edge of endurance to coach again. But some of us can answer that by pointing out that Allen did a great deal in that year to soften his exaggeratedly harsh public portrait. Who can say what that meant to him?

In his glory days, when he was 49-17-4 with the Rams and 67-30-1 with the Redskins, Allen inspired antipathy, loyalty and perplexity.

Writers disliked him so much for his low-minded deceitfulness and high-handed hypocrisy that he still isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, even though he should have been elected years ago.

Owners disliked and feared Allen so much for his wild spending and rule breaking, his relentless self-promotion and political infighting, that he never held a job in the NFL after 1978, even though he has the third-best winning percentage in league history. The Rams fired him on a Christmas Day. His final cashiering in Los Angeles by the late Carroll Rosenbloom still is basically a mystery.

By the end, nobody would touch him, though he probably could have made a winner out of anybody. Allen called it a blackball. But, like Billy Martin in baseball, nobody had to bother stabbing Allen in the back. He'd done it himself. The word was out: Hire him and you'd win, but you'd also wonder if it was worth it. Allen could make people who'd spent their whole lives in pursuit of victory in sports look at each other in dismay and say, "It's only a game."

Allen had the good luck to become an aging, eccentric and almost charmingly anachronistic figure. He had time to mellow, mend a few fences and come back a changed man -- hat in hand.

Well, somewhat changed. Hat a little bit in hand.

"I want to have a lot of fun, not let the {tough} schedule and the setbacks get to me too much," he said the day he was hired. "Have as much reasonable success as we can expect, considering how we're outclassed. . . . You know, that's the way college football started. Have fun. No heavy recruiting. Do the best you can."

In recent years, Allen has been a finalist in balloting for the Hall of Fame. Others, such as Tom Landry, were elected the instant they retired. Pete Rozelle was inducted while he still was commissioner. But Allen's chances have remained in doubt. That gnawed at him. Some cynics even thought he took the Long Beach job to keep his name, and his chances for the Hall, alive.

This year, John Riggins becomes eligible and is among the early favorites for election. Before the ballots are cast, the day before the Super Bowl, perhaps one fact might be considered. Allen was the man who got Riggins for the Redskins -- through a loophole, naturally. In 1976, there was a window of opportunity with no collective bargaining agreement in place that basically allowed some players to be totally free agents. Allen opened the Redskins' checkbook and landed Riggins, Calvin Hill and Jean Fugett.

It's said against Allen that, though he won many games and brought the Redskins back to prominence after more than a quarter-century absence from the NFL playoffs, he never won a Super Bowl with any of his Over-the-Hill Gangs.

If there's justice, George Allen, who got the Redskins to their first Super Bowl, and John Riggins, who helped them win their first NFL championship since World War II, should enter the Hall of Fame together.