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.
Left linebacker Pardee was one of the seven ex-Rams, aka “Ramskins,” who changed the Redskins from doormats to contenders in the early 1970s.
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.
The timing was unfortunate for Pardee. The Super Skins of the early ‘70s had grown old, and promising prospects virtually were nonexistent because Allen had traded most of his draft picks.
Pardee went 8-8, 10-6 and 6-10 as coach, preferring to use older players while Beathard opted for youth. When their conflict proved irreconcilable, owner Jack Kent Cooke fired Pardee in January 1981.
One source said The Squire agonized over the decision, considering Pardee “a true gentleman and a fine man.” Three decades later, most people who knew Jack would agree.
Pardee then coached the Houston Oilers, reaching the playoffs his first four seasons but being fired in midseason 1994 after the Oilers started 1-9. As we all know, football is a classic case of “What have you done lately?” No matter if you’re a great guy or a scumbag, the only thing that counts is, as the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis famously put it, “Just win, baby.”
Jack Pardee wasn’t always a winner on the field. Off it, though, he batted 1.000, and we can only hope he has a more than a few swings left.
• Dick Heller can be reached at .