The 1972 Washington Redskins and “The Over the Hill Gang”

When I think back to the 1972 NFL football season, I, like most old-school fans, think about the undefeated Miami Dolphins. It’s only natural. After all, they are the only unbeaten team in NFL history.

But what about the team they defeated in the Super Bowl? You won’t hear many people mention the 1972 Washington Redskins very often.

But they were an outstanding team. Here’s why.

Until Vince Lombardi took over the Redskins in 1969, Washington hadn’t had a winning season since 1955. Under Lombardi, Washington went 7–5–2. Sadly, Lombardi died of cancer shortly before the 1970 season.

Many people believe (as do I) that the Redskins would have probably won a Super Bowl had Lombardi remained at the helm. Instead, Bill Austin took over as head coach, and the Redskins went back to their losing ways in 1970, finishing 6–8.

Before the 1972 Washington Redskins

In 1971 the Redskins hired George Allen. Allen, who had coached the LA Rams from 1966 to 1970, turned a team that had suffered through seven consecutive losing seasons into a winner. But after failing to reach the playoffs in 1970, he had a falling out with owner Dan Reeves. Allen left LA and headed to Washington.

In Allen’s first season, the Redskins went 9–4–1–their best record since 1945 when they went 8–2 before losing the NFL Championship by one point to the Cleveland Rams. 1971 brought key injuries. The ‘Skins lost starting quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and star receiver Charley Taylor for most of the season. But despite those personnel losses, the team made the postseason for the first time in decades, losing 24–20 in the divisional playoffs to the 49ers.

Some of the credit goes to Vince Lombardi for rebuilding team confidence and drafting good players, like running back Larry Brown. But Allen had a different approach. He traded away draft picks to obtain more experienced players. His motto was “The Future is Now!”

The 1972 Washington Redskins

By the start of the 1972 season, some people were calling the team ‘The Washington Rams’ because so many of the Redskins players had been with Allen in LA. But others called Washington ‘The Over the Hill Gang” because most of the players were in their 30’s.

Whatever the nickname, this team had high hopes going into 1972. Those expectations were affirmed when the team started at 6–1.

During that stretch, Allen couldn’t settle on his starting QB. The controversy ended–not by Allen’s decision-making, but by injury. Sonny Jurgensen tore his Achilles tendon, and Billy Kilmer, who Allen had picked up from the New Orleans Saints was named the starter for the remainder of the season. Kilmer didn’t have nearly as good of a throwing arm as Jurgensen, but he had outstanding leadership skills, and the team rallied around him.

With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Redskins stood at 11–1, including a 24–20 victory over the defending Super Bowl champ Cowboys. They lost their next two games but had already clinched the division title by then. When the ‘Skins faced the Packers in the opening round, Larry Brown gained 101 rushing yards, while the ‘D’ held John Brockington and McCarthur Lane to a mere 78 yards on the ground. The Redskins won 16–3 and would now face the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship contest.

Although the Cowboys were the defending champions, they struggled through 1972. Super Bowl MVP Roger Staubach, who had injured his shoulder in pre-season and went through surgery, couldn’t play until season’s end. Another starter, perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Bob Lilly, played most of the season with various injuries. Star running back Duane Thomas was no longer with the team.

The Cowboys wouldn’t have made the NFL Championship at all had it not been for late-game heroics against the 49ers. Trailing by 15 points in the 4th quarter, Staubach came off the bench and rallied the team to a come-from-behind 30–28 victory. But sometimes life is about ‘watch what you wish for.’ The ‘Boys were whipped in the NFL Championship game, 26–3, as the Redskins showed the country just how good they were.

Learn more about the great rivalry between the Redskins and Cowboys here.

Bound For Super Bowl VII

The Redskins were off to the Super Bowl to face the 16–0 Miami Dolphins! The NFC’s leading rusher Larry Brown got his wish–to play in ‘The Big Game.’

But Miami was able to do what most other teams couldn’t–contain Brown, who gained only 72 yards on 22 carries. The Dolphins also held All-Pro wide receiver, Charley Taylor, to two catches for 20 yards. On the other side of the ball, Dolphins’ running back Larry Csonka gained 112 yards on 15 carries.

Without a potent offense, the Redskins only score came on a botched field goal attempt by Dolphins’ kicker Gar0 Yepremian. Miami won, 14–7, to complete a perfect season.

Many football historians believe the Redskins might have won the game had Jurgensen been able to play. Of course, we’ll never know. Still, it was an excellent season for Washington. The Redskins finished 13–4. Brown gained 1216 yds on the ground and had another 473 yards receiving.

For his efforts, he was named NFL MVP. The defense allowed just 15.5 points a game during the regular season, gave up only 6.6 points a game in the post-season, and didn’t allow a TD touchdown in two playoff games.

In my opinion, the ’72 Redskins don’t get the credit they deserve. I truly believe they were the second-best team in the NFL that year.
And I’m saying that as a lifelong Cowboys fan!

The Over the Hill Gang

The below post tells the same story, but from a different perspective.  Pro Football in the 1970s podcast host, Joe Zagorski, shares his view point.

In 1971, their new head coach George Allen told his players after losing their first playoff game in years that the next year, they would be a championship team. Allen did not lie. In 1972, Washington managed to win the NFC Championship.   Allen is most known for trading away draft picks in order to obtain older and more experienced players from around the league.

They were called The Over the Hill Gang, and woe be to the teams that took them lightly and believing that they were in reality too old to play the game effectively. In 1972, the Redskins had all of two rookies on their roster, which was usually two more than Allen would have preferred. But regardless of the older ages of most of their players, the Redskins were winning on a regular basis. They started their season by winning two of their first three games.

They then went on a killer nine-game winning streak to all but sew up the NFC Eastern Division. Experience, as far as Allen and his team were concerned, was the most important factor in their successes in ’72.

Washington’s offensive statistics were not eye-popping in 1972. But they did bear mentioning. Tailback Larry Brown led the NFC in rushing with 1,216 yards, and veteran quarterback Billy Kilmer tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 19. The Redskins defense, however, had plenty of notable and superior statistics. They hovered around the best marks in the league in such statistics as rushing first downs allowed, rushing yardage allowed, and net yardage allowed. But certainly, the most important defensive statistic that Washington’s defense could lay claim to was points allowed.

They surrendered only 218 points in 1972, the best mark in the NFC.  Impressive wins during the 1972 regular season included beating the Minnesota Vikings at Minnesota on the first Monday Night Football game of the year, 24-21. Other big victories included sweeping division foes St. Louis, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants.

Very helpful in getting the Redskins to win their division were surprisingly enough two losses against the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. When a team lost to a team in a different conference, the damage to any tie-breaking procedures in their own conference was minimal.   Because both the Patriots and the Jets were in the AFC and not the NFC, the Redskins suffered hardly at all by sustaining the defeats against those two clubs.

The Playoffs

In the first round of the NFC playoffs, the Redskins easily defeated the NFC Champion Green Bay Packers, 16-3. The final score of that game did not truly express the full dominance of Washington’s attack. Then in what could easily be described as the most important victory in years, the Redskins destroyed their arch-rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, in the 1972 NFC Championship Game. It was a tight game during the first half, but Washington poured it on the Cowboys all throughout the second half to post an inspirational 26-3 victory.

We have a great article covering the Cowboys and Redskins rivalry of the 70s and 80s if you’re interested.

The fans in the District of Columbia stormed the field at RFK Stadium like never before. Those who did so will probably never forget that feeling that they experienced on that day, the feeling of triumph over your hated division rival, the feeling of victory after knocking off the defending World Champions, and the feeling of knowing that your beloved Redskins were now going to their first Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for the Redskins and their fans, their dream of obtaining the ultimate triumph in a Super Bowl would take 10 more years to occur. The 1972 Redskins fell to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII by a score of 14-7. Miami’s win gave them the NFL’s only perfect season. But Washington’s loss could not diminish the fact that this was the Redskins’ greatest year in many years, and one well worth remembering.

Throughout his days, Joe spent some time as a sportswriter and has been a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association since the mid-1980s.  Joe is also a proud member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Also, if you’re interested in picking one of Joe’s books up, all three are listed below.

Here, you can learn more about Joe and Pigskin Past.

Joe Zagorski
Joe Zagorski

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