After Washington defeated Green Bay on Christmas Eve to gain the finals of the National Football Conference championship, Coach George Allen declared, "We played a perfect game." Allen is not the kind of man who lets himself be overstated when it comes to his team, but after Sunday's 26-3 thumping of Dallas it can only be said that the Redskins played a more perfect game.
To reach the Super Bowl in Los Angeles—where Allen was dismissed as coach of the Rams two years ago—the Redskins not only had to beat back the flu, which weakened several players, but a Dallas team that had spent the week of preparation firing itself up with hatred for their opponents. The game itself was not, in fact, as charged as some of the rhetoric that allegedly came out of the two camps. Once the action began the issue was much more one-sided, and for a while the only real suspense was how long Washington could dominate the action without managing to score. When the Redskins finally did break the ice—and even then it was just a field goal—the game was already well into the second quarter; as for the defending champions, they had managed only six plays—and no first downs.
Midway through the second quarter, Washington still led only 3-0, with a third-and-10 on its 28. Billy Kilmer had just thrown incomplete to Charley Taylor. But when Taylor appeared to run the same sideline pattern again, one evidently designed just to gain enough for the first down, he gave Cornerback Charlie Waters a minimal fake to the outside about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage and then cut back in and ran away. With an abundance of time to read the pattern Kilmer was able to fling a perfect pass, one that carried into Taylor's outstretched arms, a step past the desperate Waters.
Waters brought Taylor down at the Dallas 21, but two plays later, on third and four, Taylor went to work on him again. This time Taylor cut to the inside and got position on Waters. Once more, Kilmer had the security of an impregnable pocket, and he laced the ball perfectly to the inside just out of Waters' reach. Taylor stooped slightly to grab the ball in the end zone on the dead run to make the score 10-0. As it turned out, everything that followed was academic.
In the six playoff games so far, the only two lopsided scores have involved the Redskins, but it could not have been expected that Washington would have an even easier time with Dallas than it had with Green Bay. Against the Packers the week before, because he was aware that Scott Hunter, the young Green Bay quarterback, was not a particularly accurate passer, Allen was able to use a five-man line much of the time to shut off the run. Against the Cowboys Allen could afford no such luxury, no matter which quarterback Tom Landry chose—Roger Staubach or Craig Morton. Both are too proficient and Landry occasionally stacked the deck by employing four wide receivers at the same time: Lance Alworth, Ron Sellers, Bob Hayes and Billy Parks. But this riposte worked no better than anything else Dallas tried on this dismal afternoon.
The Redskins' geriatric machine purred smoothly all along. Larry Brown never did break away for a long run but he carried the ball 30 times for 88 yards. Taylor caught seven passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and Curt Knight, the Redskin placekicker, hit four of four field goal attempts from 18, 39, 46 and 45 yards out. Knight has been something of a playoff wonder. In the regular season he made only 14 of 30 field goal attempts and his kicking was so spotty that the Washington fans began cheering him when he succeeded on simple conversions. But against Green Bay, he made three for three, which tied the playoff record he promptly broke against the Cowboys. "Allen talked to me about four weeks ago," said Knight after the game. "He told me to stop worrying about the blocking and the snap and the hold and just kick." When the coach was asked moments later whether he had ever considered looking for another placekicker, Allen replied, "He is the most talented one I've ever had. He just had to take a look at himself. The worst thing you can do when a guy is down is pound on him."
Still, the one hero who loomed above all the others must be Billy Kilmer, who enjoyed what he described as "my most gratifying game." Kilmer received some notoriety years ago when he was a star of the shotgun formation at San Francisco—an offensive set that produced more attention than results—but he was so little acclaimed generally that Allen, in one of his first moves after coming to Washington, picked him up from New Orleans for some middling draft choices and a reserve linebacker.
Kilmer has never been praised for throwing impeccable passes. Indeed, not so long ago when someone commented on the shot-duck aspect of a number of his throws, he grinned amiably and replied: "I guess I'm the No. 1 wobbly passer in the National Football League."
Against the Cowboys, Kilmer was unqualifiedly No. 1, his performance conjuring up memories of Sammy Baugh, who was the last Washington quarterback—in 1945—to lead the team into a championship game.
Kilmer was given extraordinary protection by his line, a feat made all the more impressive since Tackle Terry Hermeling and Guard Paul Laaveg were two of the team's flu victims, and Guard John Wilbur was suffering from a kidney ailment. As it was, though, the line seemed to gain strength as the game wore on. Kilmer threw 18 times, and if some of his passes wobbled 14 of them reached the receivers and not a one came close to being intercepted. Although Kilmer's forte is supposed to be throwing short, twice he stunned the Cowboys with long passes to Taylor. The second one, which went for the touchdown that made the score 17-3, traveled a good 50 yards in the air.
One of Kilmer's blockers on this play was Ray Schoenke—one of half a dozen former Cowboys on the Redskins—who took over for Hermeling after the latter left the game with strained ligaments in his knee. "Allen doesn't motivate through emotion," said Schoenke, neatly puncturing one of the game's great myths. "He doesn't fire you up with pep talks. His approach is to go over everything so thoroughly that you know it backward and forward. The emotion comes from within, from personal pride. On a blackboard Tom Landry's teams would always win, but the human element is hard for him to deal with. He tells a man exactly what to do but he forgets what motivates a man to do it. With robots he'd be undefeated."
No robot, Kilmer calls virtually all of his own plays, which he did for the ones that worked for long yardage against Dallas. The two touchdown passes to Taylor came against a coverage that Kilmer refers to as "The Ax." In this set-up, the linebacker tries to cut down a wide receiver to take some of the burden off the cornerback. Chuck Howley, the veteran outside linebacker, is especially capable at this maneuver but he was injured in the last Redskin game three weeks previous, and his replacement, D.D. Lewis, is not so well versed in the art.
"On the first touchdown to Charley," Kilmer said, "Lewis was head up on him, but when Charley got by, then Waters had to take him man-to-man." On the longer score, The Ax failed again and Taylor then got away from Mark Washington, who had come in as a substitute for Waters after the latter broke his arm.
The Redskin defense, as a unit, performed as well as Kilmer and Taylor did as individuals, and some of the defenders were pleasantly surprised that Landry chose Staubach instead of Morton. Diron Talbert, the defensive tackle whom Allen brought over from the Rams shortly after he himself made the same move, said, "Staubach has trouble finding his second and third receivers when his primary receiver is covered. Under pressure, instead of looking, he has a tendency to take off, and no quarterback is ever going to beat you running."
Linebacker Jack Pardee offered another observation. "I don't think it was fair to Staubach to start him in this game. Morton had played all but a couple of quarters of the games during the season, and just because Roger came in and saved them last week against San Francisco it was asking too much of him to come in with as little recent game experience as he has had."
One of the reasons why Staubach could not do the job was the slashing pass rush of the Redskin line, which time and again broke down his protection. One of the virtues supposedly inherent in using a quarterback who can run as well as pass is that the defensive line must hesitate for a moment and play more cautiously to protect against a potential run. If there was any hesitation to the Washington rush it certainly was not readily apparent. Roger was dumped three times for 25 yards in losses, and while he did make 59 yards the five times that he ran with the ball those statistics are something of an embarrassment. Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison, the two Cowboy running backs, made only a combined total of 37 yards on 16 carries. Staubach was Dallas' leading ballcarrier.
The complicated, multi-pronged Dallas attack did not confuse the Redskins. "We made fewer adjustments today than we have all year," said Pardee, "primarily because the Cowboys do so much shifting that if you try to keep up with them you just make mistakes. We simply decided that they do enough shifting for both teams. So we didn't follow their shifts."
"When you're as old as a lot of us are," said 33-year-old Defensive End Ron McDole, "you learn a lot of shortcuts. You take a young lineman. One of the mistakes he'll make is to follow a runner sweeping to the opposite side. No defensive lineman is going to catch a running back going away from him. What you have to do is to go where he is trying to get."
Finally, when the Redskins were through with all their post-game public praying and hip-hip-hooraying, George Allen relaxed for a moment. Someone asked him what he was going to do by way of celebration for this victory. Allen usually answers such a question by saying that he will sit down and enjoy a big bowl of ice cream, but this time he changed his call at the line of scrimmage,
"I'm going to go to the Shoreham," he said, "and we're going to have an old bottle of Pol Roger champagne."
"I don't know how old," Allen said, and then he paused for a moment and smiled. "An over-the-hill bottle," he decided.
Billy Kilmer, who played his "most gratifying game," exults as Curt Knight boots another.