"Redskins On My Mind"



By Dr. Ken
The HELMET HUT staff and family boasts a number of Washington Redskins fans and a few others who may be fans of other NFL teams but are at least admirers of the Redskins collection of beautiful helmets. This one team, with such a lengthy membership in the NFL, has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows yet the constants have been the devotion of their fans and their distinctive head gear. Die-hard Washington Redskins fans have a lot of wonderful memories from the early to late 1970's and the tenure of head coach George Allen. The rather woeful Redskins had more or less abdicated any claim to superiority during the mid-1950's to late 1960's. A parade of unsuccessful coaches eventually led to the sale of the team and the hiring of the immortal Vince Lombardi. The tragic and untimely death of this towering figure at least set the stage for Allen's appointment and the sometimes zany, unorthodox, but ultimately successful manner in which the head coach performed his tasks. When most Redskins fans and followers look at the Allen-era, that spanned 1971 through 1977, their immediate memories focus upon the more widely known high points. Allen was NFL Coach Of The Year in his first season, taking the formerly 6-8 'Skins to 9-4-1 and an appearance in the NFC Divisional Playoffs against the Forty-Niners. 1972 was an all-time season, legendary for Redskins and their followers as the 11-3 team won the NFC Championships over the hated Dallas Cowboys in a 26-3 laugher, hailed halfback Larry Brown as the league's leading rusher, and boasted that quarterback Billy Kilmer and receiver Charlie Taylor were both ranked at number-four in the NFC in passing and receiving respectively. 1973 brought considerable success with a second-place 10-4 finish in the NFC Eastern Division sullied by a 27-20 defeat at the hands of the Vikings in the Divisional playoffs. Kilmer was ranked as the number-five NFC passer, Taylor the number-two receiver, and kicker Curt Knight was the fifth-highest scorer. 1974 brought another 10-4 mark, another second-place Eastern Division finish, this time to the Cardinals, and quarterback Sonny Jurgenson was rated as the best passer in the NFC. Amazingly, Kilmer was number-three and no one could point to that type of quarterback production. Taylor was the mainstay, at number-five in receiving and the top scorer on the team and number-four in the Division was again the Redskins' kicker but it wasn't Knight, it was now Mark Mosley. What memories, what a legacy! My memories are vivid of those specific years but I usually don't think of the obvious successes. I think of the helmets and uniforms of course but my mind wanders to Herb Mul-Key before it goes to the many stars of the team. Who?


If there was one thing that George Allen was known for, it was doing anything and everything it took to win. His abilities as a coach were never questioned and he was a recognized winner wherever he went. He won at Morningside College in Iowa and at Whittier College in California. He was a fine assistant under Sid Gillman with the Rams and with George Halas at the Chicago Bears. While Allen was given much credit for the great Bears' defenses of 1962 through 1965, his position as personnel director and his accomplishments in astutely judging and choosing exceptional talent have often been  overlooked. After a head coaching stint with the Rams, Allen won additional fame as the head coach of the Redskins from 1971 through '77 and he was respected for being able to "turn over every rock" in his quest for players who could help his team win. Flying in the face of protocol, Allen posted public notices and announced that he was having "open tryouts" for anyone and everyone who thought they could play for his first Redskins squad. In the spring of '71, over three hundred aspirants wandered onto the campus of Georgetown University to run drills and sprints. While one of Allen's proteges, Dick Vermeil was famously noted as doing this in last year's Hollywood movie release, "Invincible", the story of free agent Eagle player Vince Papale, Allen's brainchild was roundly considered to be a crackpot move by other NFL officials in 1971. However, knowing he could in fact judge NFL-quality talent as well or better than anyone else, Allen was confident that this would be one more move that could help his team toward the ultimate goal of winning. The only player to survive the open tryout was defensive lineman Otis Sistrunk who coincidentally was a cousin, a number of times removed, of Redskins' defensive lineman  Manny Sistrunk. Otis Sistrunk had played at William Spencer H.S. in Columbus, Georgia and toughened himself up with the Norfolk entry in the Continental Football League and again when the team entered the Atlantic Coast Football League. He eventually stuck with the Raiders and played for six seasons after the Redskins cut him in their 1971 pre-season training camp. Allen was realistic and told reporters that for every three annual tryouts, he would be happy if he could cull one player that could contribute to the success of his Redskins. In the 1972 version of the Redskins' open tryouts, the look and feel was similar to the first year's bazaar of longshoremen, truck drivers, and overweight former high school heroes. However, Allen had been alerted to the presence of one applicant by Redskins linebacker Harold McLinton. One of McLinton's teammates at Charles Harper H.S. in Atlanta, GA, considered as too small by college recruiters, had entered the Navy after graduation, filled out to a robust 185-190 pounds, played semi-pro ball in the Atlanta area, and would be coming to the tryouts, hoping to land a roster spot as a running back and kick return man. This one player was the obvious standout, running the 40-yard sprint in 4.35. When Special Teams coach Marv Levy reported that the player had run this outstanding time, the rest of the staff including Allen wanted a repeat run, not believing that Levy's timing was accurate. The second time was even better at 4.34! The 5'10", 185 pound Herb Mul-Key was signed at the end of the day.     
Coming into the NFL via an open tryout camp, having never played collegiate football, and being a tad undersized made Mul-Key a crowd favorite as the ultimate underdog. In his three Redskins seasons that spanned 1972, '73, and '74, his rushing yards total was a mere 178 yards and 155 of that was gained in his rookie season, but Mul-Key was a great kickoff returner, totaling a huge 1011 in a Pro Bowl 1973 season and a career aggregate of 1505. His 27.87 yards-per-return average places him second to only Hall Of Famer Bobby Mitchell on the Redskins all-time list.  A "tough-nut" that came to practice and games with the mindset to play hard every day, he was a popular teammate and as long-tenured defensive back Pat Fischer stated, "You really kind of appreciate a guy who comes from nowhere to make it." 
Herb Mul-Key was the workaday "everyman" rising to the heights of public recognition. While never achieving stardom, he fulfilled the hopes and dreams of many, not just die hard Redskins fans. When Allen first signed on with Washington, the Green Bay gold helmet that had been introduced the season before by Coach Lombardi was maintained. In '72, Allen put his own stamp on the uniform and introduced the burgundy helmet and distinctive circular Redskins logo on the sides of the head gear, a design that has lived on for decades. While a glance at that milestone design brings back memories of the Miami vs. Washington Super Bowl, the "Ramskins", and so many great stars of the era, it is Mul-Key as much as those Super Bowl performers and true stars of one of the golden eras of Redskins football that comes to mind.