"REDSKINS ON MY MIND, 1966 Part One"




By Dr. Ken

One might ask, “Why would anyone think about the 1966 Washington Redskins, then or now?” and they would have made a strong point against the waste of time and energy. If nothing else, the less than glorious mid-sixties Redskins managed to place sixteen members who saw game time action in 1966, onto the 1969 roster. This is significant because for most die-hard Redskins fans, 1969 was the beginning of the rebirth of the team, “Life After Lombardi” as many have referred to it. That sixteen of Lombardi's first roster of forty-six players came from the underachieving 1966 squad indicates that long lasting talent was brought onto the team. For those who truly know the Redskins, its obvious that one also has to give some thought to the 1965 edition of the team to understand the ’66 season. Placed into a larger historical context, the mighty Washington Redskins had hit the skids! Once Hall Of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh called it quits after the 1952 season, the Washington Redskins went downhill quickly. The eight victory season of 1955 proved to be a high water mark as achieving break-even football became an accomplishment afterwards. The 3-9 and 1-9-2 records under head coach Mike Nixon’s leadership in 1959 and ’60 though typical, led to his dismissal. Bill McPeak was named as the new head coach for 1961 and although young, he was seen as a savior based upon his previous service in the NFL.
McPeak was a Western Pennsylvania high school hero, a star at Pitt, and a three-time Pro Bowl performer for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nine season pro career. In his final two seasons as an active player, he “tripled up” as an assistant coach and one of the Steelers most valued scouts. Retiring as a player after the 1957 season, he was a full time assistant and scout with Pittsburgh and joined Nixon’s Redskins staff for the ’60 season. Unfortunately, Nixon’s inability to light a fire under the hapless ‘Skins found McPeak as the new head coach and General Manager entering the 1961 season but he could do no better than to match the one-win season of his predecessor. After two 6-8 seasons in 1964 and ’65, the writing was on the wall, especially with the Redskins in turmoil. The ’65 record placed the ‘Skins in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack and while the public saw a team mired in mediocrity, insiders knew that all hell had broken loose within the team structure. Defensive back Johnny Sample, who had been picked up in 1963, was suspended for “insubordination” after refusing to turn in a number of playbooks and found himself on the N.Y. Jets at the start of preseason camp in 1966. Hard-nosed fullback Rick Casares who had starred with the Bears for ten seasons, found himself in only three games worth of action, getting but two carries and was cut loose because he was seen as a disruptive force. Dependable linebacker John Reger had joined the Redskins in ’64 after nine outstanding seasons with the Steelers but he decided to retire after 1965, disgusted with the bickering between the quarterbacks and receivers who refused to speak with each other until owner Edward Bennett Williams forced a midseason meeting between all of those involved to resolve the outstanding disagreements. Defensive end Bill Quinlan’s politically sensitive remarks sparked an all-out bout of fisticuffs between 185 pound defensive back Ben Scotti and 260-pound John Mellekas. Scotti broke both hands pounding Mellekas to a bloody pulp! McPeak, known as a lenient “players’ coach” wore that reputation like a kiss of death because of the ongoing losing record and multiple team problems. The coach had projected a “Big Back Attack” that was supposed to feature FB’s Bob Briggs and George Hughley, both out of Central Oklahoma, and after noting their ineffective performances, observers wondered how little known Central Oklahoma had become such a major attraction on the Redskins' scouting itinerary. Old warhorses Danny Lewis and Casares were supposed to make it easier to spring loose swift Pervis “Afterburner” Atkins and second year halfback Charley Taylor but the running game was a dismal failure. Many of the ‘Skins’ personnel decisions as directed by GM McPeak led to some head-scratching as Atkins totaled forty-four yards before being cut and sent off to the Raiders, Casares totaled five, Briggs ten, and Hughley a less than hefty 175 rushing yards for the entire season. Only Lewis’ 343 and Taylor’s 402 from scrimmage managed to boost the Redskins’ rushing total to a league low 1037 total yards on the ground with a pitiful 2.9 yards-per-carry average. Winning six of their last nine games of ’65 was more than offset by the next to worst scoring offense in the league and it probably wasn’t a difficult decision to fire McPeak at the end of the season. To McPeak’s credit, he had continuing success in the NFL as an assistant with the Lions and Dolphins and after missing a few seasons recovering from a stroke, returned as the Patriots Director Of Scouting. Relative to the Redskins, as the GM he left the incoming coach with a collection of excellent players to build upon including Sam Huff, Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, and Chris Hanburger. The 1965 version of the Redskins also introduced a new helmet design with the beautiful and unique “feather design” being replaced by what would eventually become the just as popular “spear design."