The Future Is Now!

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Greetings from The Booth!

Today is Selection Sunday, one of the most exciting days in sports if your college basketball team is going dancin’ (or you think they should be) in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And most of us will fill out our brackets tomorrow and get ready for wall-to-wall basketball in the coming weeks. We’ll probably talk about that next week, but today I want to get away from college hoop and remember a glorious time to be a Washington Redskins fan.

The last few weeks have seen a bevy of personnel moves by new Washington Commanders’ General Manager Adam Peters. Peters has taken advantage of a surplus of salary cap money and brought to DC the likes of future Hall-Of-Famer Bobby Wagner, exciting linebacker Frankie Luvu, quarterback Marcus Mariota, and others who will dramatically transform this long-sorry franchise into potential playoff contenders as soon as next season.

We all know about the glory days of Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard, and what transpired with that great Coach-GM combo. But I want to go back even farther than that, because what happened this past 10 days with the Commanders reminded me of 1971.

In 1969, the great Vince Lombardi came to Washington and gave Redskins fans an all-too-brief glimpse of what could be. In his first and only season in DC, Lombardi molded the team into a unit that went 7-5-2, their first winning season in 14 years. There was much anticipation about the 1970 season, as things could only get better under the legendary “St. Vince.” Sadly, Lombardi would be diagnosed with cancer and pass away before getting to coach the 1970 season.

That season was a lost one, as the ‘Skins fell back into their losing ways. Shortly after that 6-8 campaign, George Allen was announced as the team’s new Head Coach and GM. Asked about his coaching philosophy, Allen would say famously, “the future is now,” and would proceed to trade away most of the Redskins’ draft choices in return for proven players, many of who were thought to be past their prime. Allen, a defensive-minded coach, brought in veterans like Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios, Richie Pettibon, Ron McDole, Verlon Biggs, and Diron Talbert, players that would turn the Washington defense from laughing stock into one of the NFL’s best.

Offensively, Allen brought in Billy Kilmer to backup Sonny Jurgensen, and it would be one of his best moves. Kilmer, once an agile, running-style quarterback, was now a potbellied journeyman who threw wobbly passes, but had something Allen loved–a fierce desire to win and an inner fire that burned to silence his critics. Kilmer would do just that over and over again in his time with the Redskins.

After an initial 9-4-1 season in 1971 , the “Over The Hill Gang” would post an 11-3 record and NFC East Championship in 1972, with Kilmer throwing 2 TD passes against the hated Cowboys in the title game at RFK Stadium. Over the next few seasons, Allen’s players would eventually get too old and Washington would have no draft choices to replace them with, but for a city starved for winning, that brief time would be a glorious one.

Fast forward to this week, and it indeed feels like “the future is now.”

Until the next visit from The Booth…HTTR!

RW

 

Remembering Brig Owens

Greetings from The Booth!

In the down time between the Spring and Fall seasons at Shenandoah University, we take time this week to recognize the academic achievements of the Hornet’s Athletic Department. For only the second time since team GPAs have been tracked at SU, all 22 intercollegiate programs have at least a 3.0 team grade point average. Ashley Smeltzer-Kraft’s field hockey team were the ‘brainiacs” of the bunch, leading the way with a collective 3.68, while on the men’s side, ODAC champ baseball had a team 3.4. When you consider the hectic schedule of a D-3 student-athlete, this is an amazing accomplishment. The bar has been set high at Shenandoah, both on the academic and athletic fronts, not to mention community service, and you can’t do much better than 22 for 22!  For more on this topic, check out this week’s Sports Dog’s Podcast, and my conversation with SU’s Scott Musa.

If you’re a fan of the old Washington Redskins’ “Over The Hill Gang” of the 1970’s, this is a tough week. On Tuesday, safety Brig Owens passed away at the age of 79. Owens was a defensive captain for those George Allen-led teams, including the 1972 squad, who went all the way to Super Bowl VII, before falling to Miami (Owens picked off a pass in that game).

His 36 interceptions are second only to the great Darrell Green in team history, a mark that earned Owens a spot in the ‘Skins Ring Of Fame. He also made some NFL history that you may not know about. In 1966, Owens and tight end Jerry Smith became the league’s first interracial roommates, and remained so in their 12 seasons in DC. In an age where most NFL players had to have an off-season job to make ends meet, Brig Owens attended law school as his playing days wound down, and put that to good use in the NFL Players Association as a player rep, and assistant executive director.

I had the pleasure, through my good friend Dr. Kurt Pierce (who played football at UVA and for the Miami Dolphins), of meeting Brig Owens over the Christmas holidays at the Sam Huff memorial in Middleburg. Among other things, we talked about maybe his most famous play. It happened on a Monday Night game in 1973 against the Dallas Cowboys. With the score tied at 7 late in the contest, RFK Stadium erupted as Owens picked off a Craig Morton pass and returned it 26 yards for what would be the game-winning score. That play was overshadowed somewhat by the Ken Houston goal line tackle moments later on Walt Garrison (the most famous tackle in Washington football history). I said to Brig, “I remember that interception like it was yesterday.” His reply to me, in his understated way, was “So do I.”

Brig Owens accomplished much on the field and off in his illustrious career , but my lingering memory of him will be of that legendary pick-six against the hated Cowboys. Rest in Peace, Brig! I’m proud to have met you…

Until the next visit from the Booth, GO HORNETS and HTTR!

RW