It was football season, and Edward Bennett Williams was uncharacteristically depressed. Edward Bennett Williams is a famed lawyer, a celebrated mouthpiece, a legend in his time. Among his clients have been Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Costello, the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep., Wis.), Congressman Adam Clayton Powell (Dem., N.Y.), Dave Beck and Confidential magazine. It was Edward Bennett Williams who dug up the evidence that Aldo Icardi did not put potassium cyanide in his commanding officer's minestrone. It is Edward Bennett Williams who is defending Bobby Baker.
It is also Edward Bennett Williams who last year took on what may prove to be his most troublesome client when he became president of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. "I have some kind of a crazy notion that I'm a winner," says Edward Bennett Williams now, "and, by God, I'd go out there and the Redskins would get shellacked every Sunday! I didn't believe it!"
When the Redskins lost their fifth straight game his wife, Agnes, asked if any team had ever lost all 14 games. His seven children stared at him with youthful skepticism as he tried to find something glorious in each defeat. When the Detroit Lions beat the Redskins 14-10, Williams informed his kids, "The defense didn't give up a point. The offense did!" After the St. Louis Cardinals walloped the Redskins 37-16, the children said, "Gee, Dad." To which Williams replied, "We scored more points than in any game thus far." Such rationalization did more harm than good. When Williams asked his son Joby, who has trouble with math, how he had done in a test, Joby brightly replied, "I got the highest mark of all the kids who didn't pass."
At D.C. Stadium fans hung out signs saying COACH BILL MCPEAK MUST GO and WE WANT LOUIS NIZER, and eventually McPeak became so desperate that he asked Williams to speak to the team. Williams obliged, while McPeak and his assistants stayed outside. "It was a seance, an exercise in dianetics," says Williams. "It was a psychiatric session in which everyone sat around a table in group therapy. Everyone puts out on the table those things which are bothering them, which, when made visible in the aggregate, don't seem as bad as when invisible. I spoke for 20 minutes on what was bothering me. Then the players spoke. All kinds of emotions came forward. Laughter. Anger. It was great."
After this unveiling of the invisible, the Redskins won six of their last nine games and ended the season with eight defeats and six wins. But Williams had decided that McPeak must go, and last winter, in what promises to be a new deal for Washington, he hired Otto Graham, the former great Cleveland Brown quarterback, as coach (see cover). Getting Graham was not easy. In many ways it was a bigger coup for Williams than springing Jimmy Hoffa. For years Graham had rejected big-time coaching offers, preferring to stay at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Otto had a home for his family near the shore, a commission (he was a regular captain) and no pressure. Yet when Williams offered him the job as general manager and coach, with powers comparable to those of Vince Lombardi at Green Bay, Graham accepted.
Graham's credentials are impressive. At Northwestern he was an All-America football and basketball player, one of the few athletes in collegiate history to be so honored. He played pro basketball with the Rochester Royals one season, and the Royals won the league championship. With the Cleveland Browns in the old All-America Conference and later in the NFL, he was All-Pro quarterback year after year. Indeed, there are many who consider him to have been the greatest quarterback of all time. In 10 years of play he gained more yards passing than Sammy Baugh did in 16. In 10 years of play Graham never missed a game, and in that time the Browns were in the playoffs 10 times, winning seven championships. "When Paul Brown talked contract, the championship game was part of it," says Otto. "We took the championship game for granted."
In 1959 Graham became football coach and director of athletics at the Coast Guard Academy. In 1963 he coached the team to its first unbeaten, untied season, a considerable feat inasmuch as cadets are admitted only on the basis of competitive examination. In his seven years at the academy the biggest lineman Graham ever had weighed 215 pounds. To Graham, football at the academy was fun. "If we got one touchdown ahead I'd put in the second string," Otto says. "People would get upset, but I'd say, 'No, no, if the other team scores, they score.' If the gamble backfired and we lost—and this is the collegiate level—I wouldn't lose any sleep over it."
Between 1958 and 1965 Otto kept his name before the public by coaching the College All-Star team in Chicago, and there were at least a couple of occasions when he passed up possible victory because a player had not earned the right to play. For the past two years Graham also did the color commentary for the broadcasts of the New York Jets of the AFL. He had a high regard for the American Football League even before its merger with the NFL, stating publicly that the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers could give any team in the NFL a battle. Ed Williams says, "I want Otto to be honest. He is honest. He says what he thinks. You always know what he thinks."
Williams and Graham are similar in a number of ways. They are hefty 6-footers, almost the same age—Williams, 46, is a year older—and they both grew up during the Depression in homes where money was tight. Williams' father was a floorwalker in a Hartford department store; Graham's father taught music at Waukegan (Ill.) High School (Otto played the piano, violin, cornet and French horn and majored in music and education at Northwestern, while an older brother, Eugene, played in the Redskin band while serving in Washington with the U.S. Marine Band). Williams and Graham both like to play paddleball—which Graham always wins, to Williams' groans and screams—but there all similarities end. Williams is witty, urbane, worldly, at home with high life and low life. By contrast, Graham is a great big Boy Scout in the best sense of the term. A former president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Otto's only close look at crime came when a Cleveland neighbor and friend, Dr. Sam Sheppard, was accused of doing in Mrs. Sheppard with a blunt instrument. Otto's idea of a big night on the town is to eat a dish of chocolate ice cream. In Washington, Williams favors such sporty hangouts as Duke Zeibert's, but Otto, to Zeibert's heart-clutching dismay, heads around the corner for a tray at Scholl's Colonial Cafeteria. Graham was upset when a Washington sportswriter wrote, " Otto Graham is the highest-paid coach in the history of the Redskins, but he is so frugal he eats at Scholl's cafeteria." Otto says, "Gee, I like the place. Sure, the food is cheap, but it's good." At Scholl's, Otto gives a big hello to Mr. Fajfar, the manager, signs autographs happily for busloads of kids from Toledo and Omaha who pack into the place after seeing the White House, and jokes with the 83-year-old lady cashier. Otto has no airs at all. Otto is just folks. Otto believes in the Golden Rule. Otto is Jimmy Stewart in the old movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Graham's involvement in football is easy to understand. Williams' entry into sports was roundabout. When he was 8 he was bat boy for the Hartford Senators in the Eastern League. The big battery then was Van Lingle Mungo, pitching, and Paul Richards, catching. Ever the extrovert, little Eddie congratulated Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon his election to the presidency in 1932, and F.D.R. wrote back, "I was glad to have your picture for it helps to know you better." Williams had to hustle for a dollar. At 16 he ran a gas station during the summer for a chain. He earned $17.82 for an 84-hour week. (Years later the company sought his counsel on an antitrust suit. Williams never let on that he had once slaved in its employ, but he derived a good deal of pleasure when he later presented his bill.) After graduation from Bulkeley High School in Hartford, he got a scholarship to Holy Cross, where he was graduated first in his class. "I was supposed to finish first, so I finished first," he says. He enrolled at Georgetown Law School, then enlisted as a cadet in the Army Air Force, where he received a medical discharge following an airplane crash. He returned to Georgetown and, with still a year to go on his degree, went to work for Hogan & Hartson, one of the biggest law firms in Washington. He spent five years with the firm, most of the time defending a transit company against personal-injury suits. Trial law excited him, but he became saturated with negligence cases, so he left in 1949 to form his own firm, now Williams and Wadden.