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Joe Marshall
January 15, 1973
Formerly a waterboy for his beloved Redskins, now a sports scribe, our author reveals what it was like to grow up under the delusion that Washington was a pro football team. But, baby, look at them now
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January 15, 1973

You Won't Have Washington To Kick Around Anymore

Formerly a waterboy for his beloved Redskins, now a sports scribe, our author reveals what it was like to grow up under the delusion that Washington was a pro football team. But, baby, look at them now

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At the half Baltimore leads 35-0. Otto manages to salvage a .500 record that season, slips a game below it the next and four games below the one after that. In the course of those years Graham's enchantment wears off. The coach's gesture of approval, which is to clap his ever-present clipboard, becomes a team joke. One day the players make a bet as to how many times he will clap his clipboard. The guesses are high and practice is correspondingly astonishing. The Redskins hustle, they hit, they execute. Clap, clap, clap. Otto is amazed; he pities Sunday's opponent. As practice nears an end one of the offensive linemen realizes he can win the wager if he can excite just four more claps. He rips off the day's last play. Clap, clap, clap. Alas, one clap short; so, turning to the beaming coach, he pleads, "Couldn't we run just one more?"

It is January of 1969 and Graham, having completed the third year of a long-term contract, is sitting in the second-floor conference room of the old Redskin offices at Connecticut and L. His first pick has been a defensive back named Pitt Lips Epps. Now on the eighth round, with little enthusiasm, he has drafted a partially deaf blocking back from Kansas State named Larry Brown. Graham is musing over rumors that Vince Lombardi is coming to Washington. "I'll tell you what let's do," he says, coming to life. "Let's call Green Bay and offer them A. D. Whitfield for Donny Anderson. If they accept, we'll know we're fired." He laughs. The assistants do not; they have much shorter contracts.

Two blocks away, in the Hill Building, Edward Bennett Williams is not laughing either. Seated at his three-sided desk overlooking Farragut Square, he has admitted his mistake. Never again will he trust his instincts in pro football. From now on his moves will be as calculated as those he makes in a court of law where he has defended the likes of Jimmy Hoffa, Adam Clayton Powell and Bobby Baker. With all his persuasive powers, EBW lures Vince Lombardi to Washington.

And so another introduction. Lombardi stands at a lectern in front of his squad, hand held upward so that the three diamonds in the championship ring sparkle toward the players. The lips part and the big square teeth flash in a feral expression. "Let's be winners; there's nothing like it."

For The Waterboy the dream starts again, only it is less difficult to conjure up: the picture of the coach on the players' shoulders is not imagined this time but remembered from many photographs. Only the uniforms are different. To make matters easy, though, Lombardi discards the traditional Redskin burgundy and old gold for a new red and yellow gold creation that is hauntingly familiar. Indeed, if one substitutes green everywhere there is red and replaces the "R" on the helmet with a "G," why then Pitt Lips Epps becomes Willie Wood.

A month later, on the night of Preston Marshall's death, Lombardi sits at dinner in Duke Zeibert's Restaurant with members of the Redskins' board of directors. Slowly he begins to unburden himself. This player is not as good as everyone thinks, he says, the offensive line is slow, the defensive backs are small, and so on and so on. Finally one of his listeners, feeling a vote of confidence is needed, interrupts: "No one expects you to win the first year."

"Now wait a minute," says Lombardi straightening up. "I didn't say anything about losing." By Dec. 14 the Redskins are assured of their first winning season since 1955. Certainly now The Waterboy's dream is only a year away. Less than nine months later Lombardi dies.

On that day, Sept. 3, 1970, Bill Austin, whom Lombardi appointed head coach when he first fell ill, has the team in Tampa, preparing for an exhibition. Driving back from practice, his talk drifts to his family and the incredible costs of education. "And in a job like mine," he says, "if I go six and eight...." Which he does and Edward Bennett Williams immediately fires him.

EBW is brooding again. He will get the best coach that money will buy. And there he has a clue, for if anyone believes in the power of money, it is George Herbert Allen. So, for $875,000, living expenses, travel expenses, a house, a chauffeured car and other frills, Williams is suddenly presenting George Allen to a Washington press conference. A couple of months after that he says, "I gave Allen an unlimited expense account and he has already exceeded it."

It is draft day, three weeks after Allen has taken office, and The Waterboy, primarily because he now resides in Manhattan, is representing the Redskins in New York, which simply means that he must hold a telephone to his ear all day and announce to league officials what decisions are made at the other end of it. A job any boob could do—and made considerably easier by the fact that a few days before Allen has traded his fourth and eighth choices to the New Orleans Saints for their second-string quarterback, Billy Kilmer, and now, moments before the drafting is to start, he has dealt his first, third and assorted other choices to the Rams for a bunch of fossils. This gambit has produced helpless laughter from the other clubs' representatives in New York.

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