- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

For the sake of his family, a family he largely ignored while being consumed by pigskin priorities, I suppose it's nice that George Allen finally has made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After all, his .681 lifetime winning percentage with the Rams and the Redskins ranks with the best in the NFL's 82 seasons.
Why in the name of Vince Lombardi did it take this superb coach 24 years to be elected? Because, I suspect, most of the folks who vote in Canton's annual popularity contest detested Allen, genteelly or otherwise.
It's OK for coaches to be possessed by their jobs; most of them are. But Allen took paranoia to extremes. Who else hired a security man to patrol the grounds at Redskin Park, peeking behind every tree in search of Cowboys spies? Who else traded draft choices he didn't have (which is what ultimately led to his firing by the Redskins in 1977)?
Who else, according to daughter Jennifer in a recent book, would stand in his kitchen and toss an orange behind his back while muttering, "If I catch this, we'll beat the Cowboys on Sunday?"
Who else would keep the shades drawn on office windows at Redskin Park so reporters couldn't see the practice fields even on days when the team was off? "He's achieved the ultimate," one writer exclaimed on the first such occasion, "a closed non-practice."
And who else would blatantly lie to the media through sips of milk after practices. Once I told him, "I understand [tight end] Jerry Smith hurt his ankle at home last night and won't play Sunday against the 49ers."
Allen frowned. "Geez, you writers are always trying to stir things up. Smith's fine; he just didn't practice today because he had a cold. Who told you he wouldn't play?"
"Jerry Smith," I said.
Allen had an ulterior motive. He knew Smith wouldn't play, but he didn't want the 49ers to know. In the service of that goal, what difference did a little fib make?
At any rate, Allen will be enshrined at Canton this August, and perhaps that begs another question: How importantly should a person's character be weighed when he comes up for this or that honor? Isn't winning what pro sports is all about? Or, to put it in Allen's famous words, isn't losing like death?
Well, no, it isn't. All of us have become obsessed in one way or another with being No. 1. That's nice, of course, but what's wrong with being No. 2? Should we demean the Rams because they were upset by the Patriots in the Super Bowl? Merely getting there is pretty good, too.
Does Allen belong in Canton even though he broke a few NFL rules involving draft choices? Does Pete Rose belong in Cooperstown even though he apparently bet heavily on sports events while in uniform? Will Bobby Knight belong in Springfield even though he has perpetrated some of the nastiest behavior in sports while turning out mostly marvelous basketball teams at Indiana and now Texas Tech?
Or putting it another way, should illegal and/or antisocial behavior be condoned in the name of winning?
What price victory? Shouldn't it be achieved with honor, or is that no longer a factor in our greedy, me-too age?
In Allen's case, we should honor him for returning the Redskins to a position of respect after a quarter-century in the NFL dungeon. In his first season, 1971, the Redskins made the postseason for the first time since 1945. In his second, they reached and lost the Garo Yepremian Super Bowl. After that, it went downhill. Allen's sophomoric approach to football tended to work on his teams for two or three years. But how long can you make a bunch of hardened athletes believe in inspirational slogans or to celebrate victories in the locker room by chanting, "Hooray for George he's a horse's a__."
The Redskins did that sort of thing in 1971, 1972 and perhaps a little beyond the evidence is available on film. But then Allen's charm wore thin, and the Redskins went from being a Super Bowl team to being a mere contender. Team president Edward Bennett Williams fired Allen after the 1977 season, and Rams owner Dan Reeves interrupted Allen's second Los Angeles tour the following summer in the preseason. When he stopped winning big, Allen had no endearing qualities left.
Nonetheless, he deserves our respect for being his own man, for doing it his way as late as the season before his death, in December 1990, at Long Beach State. As far as I'm concerned, George Allen belongs in the Hall of Fame but I wouldn't expect many future coaches to use him as a role model. At least, I hope not.


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