The news out of Houston last week was highly distressing to Washington Redskins fans with more than a touch of gray in their hair: Jack Pardee, one of the more significant figures in the club’s 81-year history, has been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer and given six to nine months to live.
As coach between icons George Allen and Joe Gibbs, however, he was fired in a power struggle with GM Bobby Beathard after going 24-24 from 1978 to 1980, a record that might earn a Redskins coach a raise nowadays.
Yet what dominates memories of Pardee is how nice a guy he was, a quality not often found in the NFL.
Though he played football and coached with appropriate intensity — after all he came out of Texas A&M as one of Bear Bryant’s toughest “Junction Boys” — Jack made and kept friends wherever he touched down in the football world.
“I think every member of our old Redskins teams was close to Jack,” said former All-Pro running back Larry Brown. “He never got angry, and he was smarter than most of his opponents in knowing where to be on the field. He was always in the right place.”
Except for now.
“When I heard about his illness, I remembered not seeing him at recent [Redskins] reunions,” Brown said, “and I wondered if it was because of a health issue. I just hope he has a chance to overcome this.”
Despite the grim prognosis, there is a precedent for recovery. Pardee, now 76, was only 28 when he had to tackle melanoma halfway through his 15-year NFL career. That cancer can return and metastasize after a lapse of nearly half a century is one of the disease’s more insidious aspects.
Pardee was on the field during Washington’s historic 26-3 thrashing of the hated Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 31, 1972, that won the NFC title and sent the Redskins to their first Super Bowl. The next morning, The Washington Post and Washington Star sported identical headlines on Page A1: “Happy New Year: We’re Champions at Last!”
Pardee played just one more season, then retired at 37 to pick up clipboard and headset. He began his coaching career with the World Football League’s Florida Blazers in 1974, then led the Chicago Bears to a 20-22 record over three seasons before the Redskins brought him back as head man after letting Allen’s contract expire.