"REDSKINS ON MY MIND, 1966 Part Two"
HELMET NEWS, HELMET REFLECTIONS, JANUARY 2008:
By Dr. Ken
The new Redskins head coach for 1966 was Otto Graham, a living legend who had led the Cleveland Browns to their domination of the AAFC and upon the team’s entry to the NFL, domination of the older league. An undisputed winner and multiple-time All Pro as a player, he had retired as one of the game’s greats. He coached the College All Stars in their annual summertime game against the reigning NFL champs and became the head coach at the low level Coast Guard Academy in 1958. He had seven years there before becoming the N.Y. Jets radio analyst for the 1964 and ’65 seasons. Having been mentored by Paul “Bear” Bryant while playing football in the Navy and then spending his pro career under the tutelage of Paul Brown, it was assumed that Graham’s coaching abilities would match his impeccable playing credentials In retrospect, Graham’s impressive resume as an NFL MVP and eventual Hall Of Fame player may not have prepared him to be an NFL coach but Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams had yet to find that out entering the 1966 season. Given time, Graham may have proven to be an excellent NFL head coach but his dual role as GM interfered. He was “old school” all the way and was outraged at the bonuses paid to incoming young players and what he considered to be exorbitant salary demands. This caused a rift with many of his players and the belief was that many would not go all out for him. Even with the new expansion Atlanta Falcons making their debut, most prognosticators saw the Redskins and equally hapless Steelers fighting it out for the lower end of the Eastern Conference finish.
There was strength on the roster for ’66 and there should have been. The 'Skins made more trades and roster changes than any other team in the NFL. The Redskins came to camp with excellent linebackers although the position showed a definite lack of depth. Huff, Hanburger, and the talked-out-of-retirement Reger were an active crew despite the age of Reger and Huff. Jurgensen was a talent despite the discord that negatively affected 1965’s results. Bobby Mitchell and halfback Charley Taylor had still combined for 100 receptions and tight end was manned by Pat Richter and young Jerry Smith. To beef up the anemic rushing attack of ’65 Graham returned Bobby Mitchell to the running back position he had originally played with the Browns. Unfortunately, player and coach disagreed over the move and Mitchell believed he could be more effective from the receiver position he had played during the previous four seasons. As Mitchell stated, Graham acted as if he "...took it very personally and felt I was trying to embarrass him." Graham finally told Mitchell "I'll put you back outside (to receiver) but you'll never play, you'll be on the bench." Graham also drafted Ohio State star Tom Barrington and Tennessee back Stan Mitchell. Steve Thurlow opened the season with the Giants and was brought in as was the Lions’ Joe Don Looney. While none of the new backs provided a significant push, reliable A.D. Whitfield managed 472 yards to lead the squad. Charley Gogolak, the soccer style kicker from Princeton, was considered to be a risky and unusual first-round pick but it was a decision that would earn Graham high marks. Another was shifting Taylor to wide receiver. His seventy-two receptions for 1119 yards combined with Mitchell’s fifty-eight receptions and Smith’s fifty-four, helped Jurgensen pass for a monstrous 3209 yards on 254 receptions, best in the NFL for ‘66.
The defense featured seven new starters and All Pro Paul Krause
at safety. He was joined by Brig Owens who came in from the
Cowboys and the team logged twenty-three interceptions. While
the 7-7 finish was the team’s best since 1956, what then, was so
memorable about the 1966 Washington Redskins? Every true-blooded
Redskins and N.Y. Giants fan recalls the November 27th
game. In fact, many recall the Giants’ entire defensive lineup
because their ineptness, demonstrated all season as they allowed
an NFL record 501 points to opponents, bottomed out with a
horrid yield of seventy-two points. Manning the posts that
terrible day were ends Glen Condren and Jim Katcavage; tackles
Jim Moran and Don Davis; linebackers Jeff Smith, Stan Szurek,
and Mike Ciccolella; and defensive backs Carl “Spider” Lockhart,
Henry Carr, Wendell Harris, and Clarence Childs. If the names
don’t look familiar, they didn’t look familiar to most Giants’
fans either, even while they were on the field! Katcavage and
Lockhart of course, were legitimate stars though Katcavage, a
stalwart of the glory years, was getting old and would play only
through the 1968 season. Rookie Davis out of L.A. State was a
highly rated 6’6” defensive tackle who reported to camp eighty
pounds heavier than his collegiate playing weight of 260.
Observing the rotund and waddling 340-pounder, Giants owner
Wellington Mara said, “I never saw anybody eat like that or
drink so much soda pop.” It was duly noted that when Davis left
camp to play in the annual College All Star Game, Giants
assistant coach Roosevelt Brown went with him to make sure he
did not overdo his intake of soda and Davis was caught adding
sugar to his glasses of water. Condren had played well at
Oklahoma but did not pan out as well in the pros. Olympic
sprinter Carr was faster than everyone but couldn’t cover
receivers. The rest were forgettable NFL performers and in the
Washington game, proved to be vulnerable to almost every
offensive maneuver the ‘Skins would try.
In fairness it should be noted that it was not as if the Giants offense met much resistance against a stone walling Redskins defense. Giants Head Coach Allie Sherman said later, “Can you imagine scoring forty-one points in a game and losing by thirty-one?” Minor league football star Tom Kennedy did much of the quarterbacking and exposed the ‘Skins’ defensive weaknesses well. The 72-41 duke-out was topped off by Graham’s decision to have Gogolak successfully kick a twenty-nine yard field goal with seconds on the clock. This allowed Washington to set a new NFL regular season scoring mark though Graham denied any previous knowledge of such a record. The animosity caused by claims of “running up the score” by disheartened Giants fans added fire to the long time rivalry and Graham can also be credited with starting the heated conflict with the Dallas Cowboys by finally putting up some competitive performances against them. The Cowboys and Redskins games under George Allen and subsequent Washington coaches became a staple of NFL broadcasts. The 1966 Redskins wonderful uniforms in the second season of the great “spear” helmet design, solidified its place as a fan favorite and the resurgence of what grew to be outstanding Redskins offensive performances gave the team recognition throughout the nation despite the modest 7-7 record.