Thirty-four years after his sudden death at age 73 in 1990, 22 years after he was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame, coach George Allen is finally getting something fans have said is long overdue — a biography, bringing to life the career, personal life, and eccentricities of the legendary coach of the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.
"He was one of the 10 greatest coaches in National Football League history — easily," author Mike Richman told Newsmax without hesitation in a recent interview.
But possibly because he never won a Super Bowl — or perhaps because of the passage of time without major reminiscence, Allen is a relatively dim memory next to, say, Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, Weeb Ewbank of the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets, or George "Papa Bear" Halas of the Chicago Bears (who tapped the young Allen in 1963 to create a ferocious defense that helped them win the championship later that year).
Richman, who has written other books on sports and sports figures (notably Allen's fellow unforgettable Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs), draws a striking portrait in "George Allen: A Football Life" — released last November.
Allen spent 20 colorful years in the NFL, becoming an innovator in creating defensive plays. His 5- and 6-man defensive back schemes Richman recalled, "are used to this day."
The coach was detail-oriented and, in fact, carefully studied films of plays by night after a long day of practice just to know enough to sculpt a winning play.
"A motivator and an inspirator," is how Richmon characterizes Allen, who remains loved by players of four different teams long after his retirement and death.
Allen's entire adult life was football. He coached at Whittier (California) College from 1951-56, was hired by the Bears' Halas in 1959, coached the Los Angeles Rams from 1966-70, and then moved to the nation's capital to coach the Redskins from 1971-77.
"And George Allen owned Washington in those years," Richman told Newsmax, recalling how he assumed the helm of the Redskins soon after the Washington Senators baseball team left for Texas. There was no basketball or hockey team at the time, so Allen's Redskins commanded the attention of sports fans of all shapes and sizes.
There were even reports the District of Columbia's perennially high crime rate dropped because potential law-breaking citizens were watching pro football, according to Richman.
Allen's famously disputatious relationship with Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams is spelled out in grueling detail, as is the coach's departure from the Redskins and brief return to Los Angeles to again coach the Rams before finally retiring.
Like Woody Allen's Zelig, George Allen seemed to be popping up around film stars in Hollywood and presidents in Washington, D.C. Football-loving Vice President Richard Nixon took an immediate liking to the coach of his alma mater Whittier when they met at an NCAA banquet.
Their friendship grew closer when Allen was coaching in Washington and Nixon was president. Nixon famously called in plays to the coach and Allen and wife Etti and their four children were often guests at the White House.
Gerald Ford, himself a collegiate football star, also liked Allen and invited him to the White House. At a dinner for Anwar Sadat, Allen — who loved the expensive "free agent" contracts and was always inquiring who could help his team — asked the Egyptian president if there was anyone in his country who could play professional football in the U.S. Sadat replied he might know a kicker.
Ronald Reagan had been friends with Allen since his Rams days when the 40th president was governor of California. In 1980, coach Allen campaigned hard for the Californian as he swept into the presidency.
Richman covers Allen's personal life as well, notably the courtship of his beloved Etti and how his Tunisian-born wife had experienced antisemitism in her country under the Nazis and how they both agreed never to tell their children she was Jewish. This would become public when son and Virginia Sen. George F. Allen was in a tough race for reelection in 2006.
"Perhaps she could foresee the antisemitism we are seeing in this country today," Richman observed.
George Allen might be remote from his heyday but his life and words are not forgotten, thanks to Mike Richman.
Perhaps the coach's most memorable phrase resonates to this day: "The harder you work, the luckier you get."
(Mike Richman can be reached at www.mikerichmanjournalist.com)
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.