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This week, Tom goes back in time to a critical Monday Night Football grudge match for Coach George Allen and the Redskins
Hey! The Redskins won!
I’m happy for them. I really am. Most of all, I’m glad to see that they still have some fight left in what is otherwise a lost season. I wish them the best against the Panthers, and I hope they win again. Given Kyle Allen’s ups and downs, another victory isn’t totally out of the question (although Christian McCaffrey absolutely scares the heck out of me right now).
That said, I’m still not going to do a preview.
Call it indignance. Call it superstition, since they actually claimed a victory last week when this column presented an alternative to misery. Take your pick, but I’m forging ahead.
As today is Thanksgiving, I pondered picking a Turkey Day match-up from the Redskins’ storied past. The problem is that the Skins’ record on Thanksgiving is pretty bad. The biggest bright spot is that RGIII-fueled win over Dallas from 2012, but that’s so recent that it implicates current events.
Since the goal of this exercise is to forget our present-day troubles, I’m passing on that one, and, instead, picking a non-Thanksgiving game—one that takes us back all the way to 1971.
This week’s alternative game: Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Rams (1971 – Week 13)
Preview: The 1970 Redskins had posted a losing record under Bill Austin, leading to the hire of former Rams head coach George Allen. Allen had been let go by Los Angeles after failing to deliver a championship in five years there.
There was some resentment on Allen’s part, owing to the fact that he had been extremely successful during his tenure, albeit without winning a title. His impact on the Redskins was immediate and profound—and he quickly added nine former Rams to the roster upon his arrival in D.C.
The Redskins started 5-0 in 1971 before hitting a bit of a mid-season slump, going 1-3-1 in their next five games. By the time they got to Allen’s “revenge” game against the Rams, Washington had rebounded to beat the Giants and Eagles to move firmly back into the playoff picture at 8-3-1.
Meanwhile, the Rams, under former UCLA coach Tommy Prothro, got off to a 4-1-1 start, but similarly hit a bit of a rough patch from Halloween through Thanksgiving. They did avenge an opening loss to the lowly Saints prior to playing the Redskins, which meant the Rams also had playoff hopes at 7-4-1.
That all set the stage for a critical Monday Night Football game that saw Allen return to Los Angeles with a chance not only to solidify the Redskins’ playoff hopes, but also to put a serious dent in the Rams’ postseason aspirations. Remember: In 1971, Week 13 was the second-to-last week of the regular season.
Washington, led by Billy Kilmer (Allen’s preference over Sonny Jurgensen), running back Larry Brown, and wideout Roy Jefferson, would need to figure out a way to put up points against a formidable Rams defense, featuring Merlin Olsen and his brother Phil up front, along with Pro Bowl linebacker Isiah Robertson and a stout secondary stocked with young, talented players.
Meanwhile, the Rams relied heavily on their running game, featuring Pro Bowler Willie Ellison, fullback Les Josephson, and all-purpose runner Larry Smith. In fact, the Rams’ defense and running game were stout enough to propel them to a win over the 49ers in which the Rams threw for negative 18 yards.
That’s not a typo. Starter Roman Gabriel was 0-for-1 passing and lost 21 yards on two sacks, while Jerry Rhome was 2-for-11 for 13 yards and a pick, also being sacked once for a loss of 10.
Would George Allen win the grudge match against his old team? Would the Redskins strengthen their playoff position? Or would the homestanding Rams push past Washington and send Allen and the Skins home with a critical loss?
Here it is, then—the December, 1971 Monday Night Football clash!