George Allen was fond of saying, "A loser is dead and doesn't know it." He knew what he was talking about. Wherever he went, Allen won, and he could recognize winners in everything.
He is remembered for his coaching genius in football, primarily in the NFL. He was the defensive coordinator for George Halas's Chicago Bears in the late 1950s and early 60s. Through Allen, the Bears' defense maintained their image as the "Mosters of the Midway."
Nowhere was this more evident than in the 1963 NFL Championship between the Bears and Giants. Even though New York never trailed in the first half, Chicago's defense kept the Bears in contention, intercepting Y.A. Tittle and severely damaging his knee. When Tittle played the second half, the Bears' defense proved stronger, totaling five INTs in Chicago's 14-10 comeback win.
Allen's reputation caught the attention of the lowly Los Angeles Rams. Owner Dan Reeves gave Allen his first pro head-coaching job.
To get his team ready for the 1966 season, Coach Allen put the players through a rigorous training camp. He expended a great deal of money to improve the team, and spent little time thinking of matters outside football. The result was a winning season, the Rams' first in eight years. At season's end, Allen showed the players where he stood: "Check your Chinese calendar," he told them. "1967 is the Year of the Ram."
Indeed, the Year of the Ram was a magic one for L.A. Coach Allen directed the team through one of its greatest tests. They trailed the Baltimore Colts for much of the regular season, but a tie in their October 25 game in Baltimore would prove vital to the season's outcome.
The NFL had instituted its tie-breaking system in 1967 to determine division championships when two or more division rivals finished the season with equal won-lost-tied records. The Rams were 10-1-2 going into the season finale versus 11-0-2 Baltimore. A Rams win would give them the division and the last remaining berth in the NFL playoffs. With so much on the line, L.A. overpowered the Colts 34-10.
The Rams would lose to Green Bay in the playoffs, but the Rams' winning ways had paid off.
Coach Allen and his team weren't so lucky in 1968. They finished 10-3-1 in another season-long chase with the Colts. Unfortunately for L.A., the referees had made a key error in the penultimate game against the Bears. THat loss put L.A. out of the playoffs. Worse, owner Dan Reeves made the unpopular move to fire Allen. The Rams' players, including Hall of Famers Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen, pleaded to have Allen reinstated, and won.
To celebrate Allen's return, the Rams turned it on in 1969. Roman Gabriel was the NFL's Most Valuable Player, leading the Rams to win their first eleven games. But that would be the only eleven wins of the Rams' season.
With the league merger of 1970, the San Francisco 49ers began to gain muscle. They won the NFC West title over L.A. on the final weekend. It was just what the Rams needed to oust George Allen.
Allen's reputation quickly caught the attention of the Washington Redskins, who had had only one winning season in 15 years. Owner Edward Bennett Williams gave Allen the job and the money required to turn the team around. Immediately, Allen traded away draft picks to bring in players who he knew could win. Most of them came from Los Angeles, and were past the age of 30. Thus sportswriters called Allen's team "The Over-the-Hill Gang."
And they made an immediate impact. A 6-1 start brought brightness to the Washington sports scene, which had just lost franchises in two other sports leagues. Given Allen's enthusiastic support, the 'Skins went 9-4-1 and made the playoffs.