- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

Usually, the first day of the year brings no big sports headlines, but the local papers of Jan.1, 1973, screamed out their joyous news in type sizes big enough to wake the dead or at least those who were sobriety challenged.
The Washington Post: Happy 1973! We're a winner at last.
The Evening Star and Daily News: How Sweet It Is Champs at Last.
On the best New Year's Eve ever for Washington sports fans, the almighty Redskins destroyed the Dallas Cowboys 26-3 in the NFC Championship game at RFK Stadium. And although the Redskins lost Super Bowl VII to the undefeated Miami Dolphins two weeks later in Los Angeles and subsequently won three of their own the butt-bashing of the detested Cowboys 30 years ago remains the greatest moment in Redskins history for many older fans.
There were so many elements.
For one thing, no Washington team had won a major professional league championship since the Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears 30 years earlier. For another, milk-swigging, cliche-spouting, nail-biting coach George Allen had turned the Redskins into winners in his first season, 1971, after years of mediocrity and worse for the burgundy and gold. For a third, the Redskins and their fans hated everything about the snooty Cowboys, especially goody-goody quarterback Roger Staubach and deadpan coach Tom Landry.
During the Redskins' three decades of failure and frustration, Washington columnist Morris Siegel had changed the team's nickname to "Deadskins," an epithet also favored by many fans. Not even the marvelous arm of quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and the arrival of Vince Lombardi (a k a St. Vincent) had turned the team into contenders in the '60s. Lombardi improved it to respectability (7-5-2) in 1969 but died of colon cancer before the next season began.
Now, after one unsuccessful season under Lombardi assistant Bill Austin, the highly successful Allen came riding in from L.A., where he had revived the Rams spectacularly before being fired by owner Dan Reeves. He also brought six proven veterans with him, turning Washington's team into the "Ramskins." Allen, also the general manager, made 19 trades; because he hated inexperienced players, many of his acquisitions were long in the tooth from a football standpoint. Thus was born the "Over the Hill" gang.
Allen, a superb motivator who once threatened to take on Landry mano a mano, did not start slowly. The 1971 "Ramskins" won their first five games, including a 20-16 victory in Dallas, and finished 9-4-1 to earn the franchise's first postseason date in 26 years. They lost to San Francisco, but the stage was set for '72.
The Redskins roared through the regular season with an 11-3 record to win the NFC East title, but one of the losses was to the Cowboys 34-24 on Dec.9. By beating Green Bay in their first playoff date, the Redskins earned a return match with Dallas on Dec.31. As the game approached, with Allen sending his security man to look for Cowboys spies behind every tree at Redskin Park, the coach was no more nervous than the fans.
Eleven-year-old RFK was filled to its relatively meager capacity that day, and the 53,129 spectators seemed to make enough noise for two or three times that number.
"The noise level was unbelievable the stadium literally rocked," Sen. George Allen Jr., Virginia Republican and son of the Redskins coach, told Washingtonian magazine. In fact, the Cowboys seemed spooked from the start by the continual din.
A one-point victory would have satisfied everybody on a dark, unseasonably warm (61 degrees) afternoon but what the Redskins did was nearly unbelievable. Steve Guback, the Star's beat reporter, described it this way in the next day's paper:
"With two minutes left and the rain falling through the darkness above RFK Stadium, the band started playing, 'California, here we come ' Then Curt Knight kicked his fourth field goal through the uprights, and the most joyous Redskins crowd ever started pouring onto the field [and started to sing 'Amen]."
The Post described matters somewhat less lyrically: "The Washington Redskins found deliverance yesterday "
Though most of the Redskins were hardened veterans, they, too, were swept up by the moment. "When I heard everybody singing 'Amen,' I had to join in," said 36-year-old linebacker and future Redskins coach Jack Pardee, "Really, this is a dream come true. They said I was too old to play in L.A. and George Allen couldn't win the big game. Two years later, we're going back there for the Super Bowl. That has to be, well, a little satisfying."
Other important things were happening that Dec.31, of course. Baseball star Roberto Clemente died in a San Juan plane crash while beginning a flight to take relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. Two persons were killed and five injured in an auto accident on Riggs Road in Prince George's County. And the United States broadened the scope of its bombing halt to cover all of North Vietnam. Yet it's doubtful whether football fans from Frederick, Md., to Fredericksburg, Va., even noticed.
How did the Redskins accomplish their miracle? While the Cowboys' defense was primed to stop Larry Brown, the Redskins' superb running back, Allen outsmarted Landry by having quarterback Billy Kilmer throw his wobbly passes on key plays. Seven of them went to wide receiver Charley Taylor, who picked on Dallas cornerback Charlie Waters all day for 146 yards and touchdowns of 15 and 45 yards. The latter strike, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, made the score 17-3 and pretty much settled the issue.
"Everything was easy for me that day," Taylor said later. "It was so smooth."
All told, Kilmer completed a career-best 14 of 18 for 194 yards and greatly outplayed Staubach (9-for-20, 98 yards). It amounted to sweet revenge for Kilmer, a fierce competitor who had bristled earlier when Landry insisted publicly that his man was a better football player. Said Kilmer after the game: "That fired me up."
Defensively, the Redskins allowed Staubach and his troops just eight first downs and 169 yards as linebacker Pardee and linemen Diron Talbert, Manny Sistrunk and Verlon Biggs dominated. Staubach's vaunted scrambling talents wrought no magic the Redskins hammered him to the ground eight times as he tried to pass.
In fact, none of the Redskins was failing this day. Knight had kicked just 14 of 30 field goals during the season, putting his future employment in jeopardy. When it counted most, however, he was 4-for-4 against the reeling Cowboys.
After it was all over and the exhausted crowd presumably had repaired to various watering holes, even George Allen a noted teetotaler joined in.
Greeted with wild applause as he entered Duke Zeibert's downtown restaurant, Allen took several swigs of an expensive champagne and boasted, "It's the same kind Winston Churchill used to drink."
Well, why not? After all, this was George's finest hour.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide