“Winning Ways” – Remembering Lombardi & Allen, Jurgensen & Kilmer

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When Vince Lombardi jump-started the Washington Redskins in ’69, Skins fans had all but forgotten how a winning season felt like. However, Vince died of cancer on the eve of the 1970 season and Assistant coach Bill Austin as the interim head coach was ill prepared to pick up the ball and run with it. When Washington finished that season at 6–8. ex L.A. Rams head coach George Allen stepped into the leadership vacuum and the rest is Redskins history.

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I personally watched the Redskins transform before my very eyes in 1969, when Vince Lombardi became the head coach & part owner of the Redskins. Younger Redskins fans frequently ask me questions about the “Good ‘Ole Days”, but without a lot of help those days might never have happened. It goes without saying that without George Allen’s expertise Lombardi’s newly revived Skins could have flamed out instead of becoming the powerhouse that terrorized the division for the next decade.

When Lombardi took over in 1969, he brought the first winning season in 14 years in spite of some of his starters missing practices and sleep due to their being in the National Guard protecting the city against Anti-Vietnam War protesters. He taught “perfect practices” and fundamentals. Lombardi said “perfect practice makes perfect.”

For example, he taught the center and offensive line there was a perfect way to snap the football so the POP heard made the entire line charge and win the line of scrimmage with the ball hitting the quarterback in his hands with the laces on the quarterbacks fingers ready to throw. He did not have to spin and feel for the laces. He used a non-rhythmic cadence to keep the defense from guessing the snap count.

Lombardi changed the “Spear” helmet to resemble his championship Green Bay Packers “G” helmet by making the helmet with a “R” on it. He passed away after only one year as head coach of the Redskins, but he changed the culture and taught the players they could WIN. Two years later, winning great coach George Allen did not want Lombardi’s “R” helmets for his team so he changed it with the permission of Native American chiefs to the modern day image on the helmets.

Remember George Allen was originally a Chicago Bears defensive coordinator and his arch-rival was Lombardi’s Packers. Both felt their arch-rival as Redskins coaches was Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. In my opinion, if Lombardi had lived, our Redskins would have won the Lombardi Trophy several times.

Lombardi and Allen liked the old school gold pants. I love the gold pants with the road white jerseys the best myself. Something about the white jersey with mud and grass stains on it showed our Redskins always came to play.

Another thing the 1969 Lombardi Redskins and the 1971 George Allen Redskins had in common was the quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. Sonny was quoted saying “If coach Lombardi had been my coach longer in my career, they would still be chasing my records.”

Under George Allen, Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer laughed about the “quarterback controversy”. Fans had car bumper stickers “I LIKE SONNY” and “I LIKE BILLY”. Sonny was the best pure passer, short and deep, with perfect spirals and touch passes while Billy was a gutsy leader with passes that resembled a wounded duck.

Someone asked Sonny Jurgensen something to the effect “Is it true you can hit a target 70 yards?” and Sonny answered “You want the laces up or down?”

Allen’s “over the hill gang” defense did not allow many points scored so the Redskins conservative offense could run the ball with Larry Brown and Charlie Haraway and control the time of possession and play action passes to Roy Jefferson and tight end Jerry Smith.

The Redskins games at RFK stadium were amazing, mostly winning games. Other teams hated to play at RFK because of the fans and noise. The stadium literally rocked and you could even hear the pads pop. Congressmen of both parties would argue all week but sit together and give hand slaps and “high fives” as our Redskins would play winning football. Coach George Allen had 7 successful seasons with the Washington Redskins and a lifetime winning .667%.

Next up, the 1981, 1982, and 1983 Washington Redskins under head coach Joe Gibbs.

Picture Credit: Pic courtesy of etsy.com

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