"Come in, Moses, come in," says Allen heartily. He turns to a guest. "You'll excuse us for a moment, won't you?" He sighs as he closes the door. From within, for the next 10 minutes, comes the coaxing vibration of Allen's voice, gentle but insistent, generating a kind of ultrasonic psychological heat that begins to work persuasively on a listener who cannot hear his words. Then the door opens and Denson emerges, smiling confidently.
"Told him to put an extra pad on that bruised hip of his," Allen says. "Now here's an interesting thing. All the reporters are saying I bought too many running backs, but tonight I've got to start a fullback with a hip pointer. Riggins can't play because of the hamstring. I don't want to start Larry Brown, even though he's better now than he's been since '72. And Bob Brunet is laid up with the flu. Who could have predicted that? The longer I coach, the less things surprise me."
Still, the outcome of the game in Baltimore last Friday night must have been a bit of a jolt. Barring a meeting in the Super Bowl next January, it would be the only confrontation of the Colts and Redskins this year. Enhanced by the Baltimore resurgence of last year, the game attracted a record preseason crowd of 35,575 to Memorial Stadium. And that despite a violent thunderstorm that delayed the kickoff nearly half an hour. When the lightning moved offstage, Colt Quarterback Bert Jones moved on with his own brand of pyrotechnics. Hitting on nine of 15 passes, most of them flat-trajectoried zingers, and mixing them up nicely with the running of Lydell Mitchell (79 yards for the evening), Jones put together drives of 60, 17 and 93 yards for touchdowns. The young and aggressive Colt defense, meanwhile, held the Redskins' movement mostly to midfield reaches. The best Washington could produce was a 21-yard field goal by Mark Moseley after a drive stalled at the Colt four-yard line, a frustrating reminder of 1975.
Sure, Billy Kilmer was brave as always during the first half, and Mike Thomas' feet were as shifty as ever, though he never managed to break loose for a long gainer. The Redskin starting defense also played with its usual aplomb after a modicum of early mistakes. But Denson started at fullback, as ordered, and went nowhere but deeper into pain. When he came out of the game, the veteran Redskins cheered him and clapped him on the back, a clear reflection that they knew his future and that it probably wouldn't be with them. Larry Brown ran a few sweeps, and indeed his knees looked better than they had in a long while, but the spring was not back yet.
Calvin Hill alone of the Rich Four saw a bit of meaningful action. Shortly after the Redskin drive bogged to a mere field goal, Hill, who had knee surgery last season, churned a pair of runs that might have led to a touchdown if he had entered the game earlier. It was the Calvin of old, big and rangy, with the quick eyes for holes and angles, the shifting gait that confuses once he has reached his stride beyond the line of scrimmage. All told, he picked up 13 yards in four carries—not much, but a beginning.
The heavy rains came again in the fourth quarter and Hill stood on the sidelines, observing the whipping impassively. The rain gleamed in his hair and on his Biblical beard. His eyes watched without emotion but with deep intelligence. Gradually a force field seemed to spread from where he stood at the far left of the team on the sidelines, calming the men near him, calming even the assistant coaches who paced, wet and miserable, around George Allen. Eventually it seemed to reach Allen, to ease his ravenous demand for victory even in the bleakest hour, and to reassure him that the torch was indeed being re-ignited, if more slowly than he had wished. The final score was Colts 20, Redskins 3.
"I'm not at all discouraged," Hill said in the locker room. His voice, soft and a touch high for such a big man, poured calm and sanity on the wreckage. "We've got good plays, sophisticated plays, and they take time to work smoothly," he said. "But the mistakes were small ones. They can be rectified. Like the others, I came here to be with a contender, and we are a contender."
Perhaps no one, not even George Allen, can buy a Super Bowl ring. But certainly Allen, with his almost mystical eye for mature players, men with the patience, strength, calm and savvy of Calvin Hill, can buy the down payment on one. Yes, he bought a contender.