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In French," George Allen says. "I want to say that in French." He's staring at a blackboard on which is written the entire roster of the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes. The names appear in three different colors of chalk: orange for the American veterans, blue for the Canadian vets, white for the rookies. It's the most striking thing in a small and rather Spartan-looking office in Montreal's Olympic Stadium complex, an office befitting a man who has been brought in to mop up the sea of red ink that has engulfed the Alouettes.
At the lower right corner of the board Allen has written, "Meet and Cultivate French." On the left side is: "Discipline. Conditioning. Personnel. Coach." And in the lower left-hand corner is a motto—with Allen there's always a motto. This one reads, "To win without peril is to triumph without glory," and it's what he'd like to see in French.
"Can you translate that for me?" Allen asks a secretary, Diane LaRocque.
"Pour gagner sans p�ril," she says, "est triomph� sans gloire."
"Beautiful, just beautiful," Allen says. "Much better than in English. God, I love that."
It's early March. Olympic Stadium lies under two feet of snow. In the streets beyond the stadium, a wicked wind whips the drifts, kicking up little blizzards, blurring and dimming the quaint, old-world cityscape of single-story brick houses and small shops. It's a throwback, a child's glass ball—shake it and watch the snowflakes whirl—and it is into this improbable setting that Allen has come to make his last stand. Exiled from his own country, written off by the NFL as a man too high-powered to handle, despite his record of 12 winning seasons in 12 years as a head coach, Allen is in Montreal to bring credibility to the Alouettes and to clean up the financial mess that last year turned the team and its owner, Nelson Skalbania, into the biggest one-season money losers in the history of the CFL.
Will he coach? Well, maybe, but that decision is down the road. "Right now the chances are 60—40 against my coaching this season," Allen says. There's bigger game afoot, money to be made. For his efforts this year Allen will draw expenses, plus a modest salary. "Very minimal, I assure you," says his 25-year-old son, Bruce, a former head football coach at Occidental College whom George has hired as vice president of operations. Twenty percent of the ownership of the club is in escrow, waiting to become Allen's if he, Southern California real estate man Bill Harris and Chicago financier Tom King, with King and Harris putting up the bulk of the cash, pick up an option to buy another 31% by Dec. 31, 1982. That would give them a controlling interest. They would then have an option to buy the remaining 49% by Dec. 31, 1983. If they do, Allen will be the major stockholder.
"We'll simply have to decide whether this thing is salvageable," Allen says. "If I like what I see, I'll exercise my option; it's that simple. But right now you're going to learn just how frugal George Allen can be." The irony is that it was Allen's reputation as a free-spender that turned Redskin President Edward Bennett Williams against him during Allen's stay in Washington, and that helped scare away prospective NFL employers in recent years. But it's a different ball game now. This time Allen is playing with his own money, or what could be his own money.
So on this March afternoon, Allen addresses himself to the subject of challenge. "Absolutely the biggest challenge I've ever faced," he says. "Never seen anything close to it." He'll be 60 next month, and there's a little gray in his hair and his face is perhaps a bit more deeply lined, but he still gives off that tightly wired intensity. He looks fit.
"I've coached; I don't need to prove I can coach," he says. "But this is exciting, a chance to really do something I want to do—and in my own way. I've done it twice before. When I became the Rams' coach the first time, in 1966, they'd been averaging something like 40,000 a game. When I left in 1970 they were up to almost 72,000. What did [the late] Dan Reeves get the club for in 1962, $7 million? He was offered $20 million while I was there and he turned it down. Now it's worth more than $40 million. So are the Redskins. Seven years of sellouts in the seven years I was there and 10,000 on the waiting list, and that's with the highest priced seats in the league.