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It may be hard to pinpoint exactly when all this solidarity developed. The Redskins had an indifferent preseason; they looked enticingly beatable in exhibition games. But of this there has never been a doubt: Ice Cream Allen is a master at one-upmanship. He leaps like a panther on psychological opportunities. He exploits small openings. When the team came out for its first home game, he had all 40 players introduced. There was a seven-minute standing ovation at RFK Stadium. A very emotional scene. He called the television station that carried the game and had the introductions replayed the following morning, so the players could get that old-time religion all over again.
The incident that probably turned things around—certainly the one Allen pounced on the quickest—was the shoulder injury to Jurgensen in a late preseason game. At a press conference afterward a writer suggested that the season was over before it started. Allen, sipping a cup of milk, quivered with emotion. He talked of the greater challenge with Jurgensen out, the greater rewards. He talked of "pulling together." He even used a "damn" to expedite the message. Then he drained his cup.
The rest is recent history. Kilmer, after nine knock-around years, became quarterback-by-default and was suddenly exalted. His passing was more than adequate (he has thrown only two interceptions, and one was a carom off a Redskin's chest), his play-calling was masterful. He let runners like Larry Brown and Charley Harraway feel the ball. They responded. A run-pass balance developed, a balance missing over the years.
Actually, the offense didn't have to be too good because the old men on defense were brilliant. They held the Giants to three points in a very physical game (Allen asked that the Redskins "be physical"; they were penalized 173 yards). After five games, a defense that hadbeen the worst in the NFL in 1970 was now the best in the conference. The specialty teams, always an Allen long suit, featured Speedy Duncan returning punts for more yardage in one game (65 against Houston) than the team got all last season.
The one nagging question was Jurgensen. Allen teams seem always to be loaded with gimmicks and superstitions, a reflection on the coach. This one is no exception. The cake from Duke Zeibert's has to be there on Thursday after practice; publicist Joe Blair has to wear his blue sports coat; the offensive line has to have its private meeting, with beers, on Friday night. As the team rallied around Kilmer, protecting him from harm ("I can tell how much better it is here than in New Orleans by the amount of time I don't have to spend in the whirlpool on Mondays," said Billy), Jurgensen became the symbol of past frustrations. Washington columnists resurrected all the times he had snubbed them. It was noted that he was a loner, that he didn't slap his fellow man on the backside with the frequency of the ebullient Kilmer, that he was not the "inspiration" John Unitas was. "It is not my style," said Sonny, and more or less clammed up. Allen did nothing to discourage the implications. The opposite is more the case.
Jurgensen, his shoulder mending, did not accompany the team on any road trips (the first three games were away). Why? "I was told to stay home," he says. When the Redskins played their first home game, Sonny was offered a ticket in the stands. The excuse was that he might get his arm jostled. Sonny said he would rather not go than be seen sitting in the stands. Allen relented. Jurgensen, in a raincoat, sat at one end of the bench for most of the Houston game.
"When the game was over," he said, "Diron Talbert came by and said to me, 'I guess you're not a jinx after all.' " Sonny smiled. "I guess that's what they've been thinking," he said. It has been reported that Jurgensen will be out another six weeks. He says he "could play in a week" if they really needed him. His shoulder is still not 100%, but it is not his passing arm. He says he would not expect to move right in on Kilmer ("Billy's done too good a job for that, and I'd rather work in gradually, anyway"), but now that the defense has jelled, and it wasn't second-and-eight all the time, "I'd like to be a part of it. God knows I've waited long enough." Jurgensen is 37. "Besides, I think I could help Billy on the sidelines."
Last Sunday Jurgensen was upstairs in the press box, sending his suggestions down by phone, as the Redskins, in what Allen called their best game of the year, beat the Cardinals 20-0. "Some people have thought we've been lucky," Allen said. "There was no luck today."
There wasn't. It was instead the defense—"the old geezers," Allen affectionately called them—that again provided the impetus for the win, causing seven turnovers (Allen aphorism: "If you take the ball away five times in this league, you should never lose"), holding the Cardinals to a net 25 yards rushing and keeping them from crossing midfield after the half. Three times in the second quarter, when Washington led only 10-0, it stopped Cardinal drives, recovering a fumble on the 26, intercepting on the 4, then, with 15 seconds left, recovering a fumble on the one.
So complete was Washington's control of the game that Kilmer, who was nine of 17 for 126 yards, had to throw only five times in the second half. "If I have to pass over 20 times in a game," he said later, "you know we're in a desperate situation. Heck, we don't have to throw with the runners we have." There were no desperate situations and Kilmer was content to use his runners, especially Brown, who carried 25 times for a personal high of 150 yards.