Ask any pro football historian what George Allen’s greatest coaching year was, and he or she will undoubtedly say 1972 when his Washington Redskins won their first NFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl VII. But I’m going to disagree with that opinion. I’m going to say that 1976 was Allen’s greatest coaching season. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked!
In 1975, the Redskins failed to make the NFL playoffs. They finished that year with a record of 8-6, a record that many teams wished that they would have attained. No big deal on missing the playoffs, except that it was the first year since Allen became Washington’s head coach, way back in 1971, that his team failed to take part in the NFL postseason. And if you know anything about Coach Allen’s history, you know how much he valued older veterans over younger players.
Well, by 1975, those older veterans were getting older and slower. In a sport where a team’s overall speed often makes the difference between winning and losing, a lot of pro football observers felt that Allen would not get within sniffing distance of the playoffs in 1976 unless by chance he would abruptly change his method of thinking and begin favoring some younger players over his older rank and file veterans.
The Washington Redskins 1976 Season Begins
In 1976, Allen held strong to his core beliefs, at least for the majority of his roster. He did take a little more of a bite at the potential promise of youth, however.
Washington’s active lineup in 1976 included a total of nine players who were under the age of 25. That was easily the lowest number of players in that category across the NFL. Some would call him stubborn, but others would call him courageous. No matter how you viewed Allen and his front office decisions, you would have to feel that he was soon running out of time. His “The Future is Now” mantra was getting old.
In six years, he had one division and one conference title to his name. For the previous three seasons, the Redskins experienced little success…just two wildcard berths into the playoffs, and on both of those, the Redskins were one and done.
Could Allen Turn Around From 1975?
So, in 1975, they miss out on the playoffs.
Do they have the players with which to turn this thing around in 1976? As it turned out, yes, they did. Washington won several games in 1976 that most experts did not think that they had any chance of winning. But they also lost some games that they really had no business in losing. They began their 1976 season with three straight wins over the rival Giants at home. Then they crushed the brand-new Seattle Seahawks.
Following those two wins was an overtime win on Monday Night Football at Philadelphia. Then came the losses. The Redskins endured a 33-7 spanking at Chicago by a very young Bears squad. They then lost a last-second meeting at home against an even younger Kansas City Chiefs team, 33-30. Was Washington’s age beginning to show signs of too much wear and too much tear?
Too Much Wear And Tear?
Allen certainly did not think so. Whatever type of magical pep talk he had under his ball cap, he used it, and lo and behold, it worked. The Redskins righted their ship and won their next two games over Detroit and St. Louis. Those two wins put them back in the hunt for the postseason with a 5-2 record.
But even back in 1976, NFL schedules were marathons, not sprints. Allen’s “Over the Hill Gang” quickly discovered – if they didn’t already know – that a lot of teams are very capable of pulling an upset here and there. And division rivals were always looking to beat up on a team like Washington. Ample proof of that occurred during the following week when Dallas strode into RFK Stadium and handed the Redskins a 20-7 butt whooping.
Speaking of the Cowboys and Redskins, here’s an article and podcast episode covering the great rivalry.
At this point, Allen was having difficulty keeping his team on an even keel. They were stuck playing well in one game, and miserable the following week. After losing to Dallas, the Redskins managed to beat San Francisco on a late field goal, 24-21. The next week, the New York Giants returned that favor, defeating Washington on a late field goal, 12-9.
The Redskins stood at 6-4 with four games remaining. To have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, they were going to have to win all their remaining games. This situation, as believable as it was, was actually tailor-made for George Allen. You see, Allen was a motivator of the top level. And he made sure that his players were extremely motivated for the last month of the 1976 season.
They compiled four straight wins over St. Louis, Philadelphia, the New York Jets, and a mandatory triumph on the final day of the regular season at Dallas. The 1976 Redskins had done it. They had somehow made it back to the playoffs after a year away from the postseason.
And even though they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Vikings at Minnesota, George Allen’s ability to get his team back to the playoffs in 1976 still stands, at least in my mind, as his greatest coaching achievement.
Host and Author of Pigskin Past - Joe Zagorski
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.
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