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Flashback: Trades Shook Up Allen's First Draft

Posted Mar 30, 2012

In 1971, head coach George Allen arrived in Washington ready to build a winner. In his first draft with the Redskins, Allen built the "Over the Hill Gang," including Billy Kilmer, Diron Talbert and Jack Pardee.


There are any number of ways to approach an NFL Draft.

Back when George Allen was head coach of the Redskins in the 1970s, he had one of the most bizarre, at least by today’s standards.

Basically, Allen preferred to give up his team’s top picks.

Over the years, the Redskins have gone through a number of drafts in which they sought to improve through an assortment of strategies.

However, no draft in Redskins history was as hectic and busy as that which took place under Allen back in 1971.

In January of that year, Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams brought in the former Los Angeles Rams head coach not only to coach the Redskins but essentially to have control of the team. Allen had compiled an impressive 49-17-4 record for the Rams in the previous five seasons.

After Allen was let go in Los Angeles, Williams found an excellent opportunity to hire a coach he believed could take the Redskins to the Super Bowl. As we all know now, Allen would do just that, living as he did by the mantra "The future is now."

So the idiosyncratic Allen didn’t believe that it was going to take a long time for the Redskins, who had posted just one winning record in the previous 15 seasons, to turn it around. He was right.

In 1971, the Redskins finished the regular season with a 9-4-1 record and returned to the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

The next season was an even a bigger step for Allen and his team as the Redskins went 11-3 in the regular season and defeated Dallas 26-3 to capture the NFC title before losing to the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII in the LA Coliseum 14-7.

Draft day is usually reserved for building the team through college stars. By contrast, Allen did just the opposite, particularly in his first NFL draft as head coach in Washington.

Of the Redskins’ top five draft picks in that 1971 season, they actually used just one, selecting wide receiver Cotton Speyrer of Texas in the second round with the 38th overall selection.

The former Longhorn never played a game in a Redskins’ uniform. In the end, Speyrer was just a footnote to the 1971 draft.

Allen needed to find veteran players who he didn’t have to mold to the NFL game, players who were ready to win immediately.

The Redskins’ fourth- and eighth-round draft picks that year were sent to New Orleans along with linebacker Tom Roussel for quarterback Billy Kilmer in late January.

Initially, Kilmer was not thrilled with the move. He thought that he could still be a starting quarterback in the league and felt that he would be used solely as a backup to eventual Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen in D.C.

And yet, as things turned out, over the next two years Jurgensen battled shoulder injuries while Kilmer became the starter. In that time, Kilmer threw for 3,869 yards and 32 touchdown passes.

Most importantly, he led the Redskins to back-to-back playoff appearances and became the first Redskins quarterback to start a Super Bowl.

Kilmer was the first piece to Allen’s puzzle that the head coach referred to as the "Over the Hill Gang."

The plan came into focus in the days and hours leading up to the 1971 draft.

Allen pulled off a blockbuster deal when he traded seven draft choices (including the first- and third-round picks in 1971) as well as linebacker Marlin McKeever to his former team, the Rams.

In exchange the Redskins received what would become the nucleus to their defense and some of the cornerstones of the "Over the Hill Gang."

Linebackers Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios and Maxie Baughan all came over from Los Angeles. Defensive tackle Diron Talbert, guard John Wilbur and special teams player Jeff Jordan also joined Allen’s cast.

Pardee had played for the Rams for 14 years, but had never played for a world championship. The Redskins provided him that opportunity in his second year with the team.

The linebacker missed just one start in two years in Washington and later returned to serve as the Redskins’ head coach from 1978-80.

Pottios had played four years with the Steelers and six with the Rams. The Redskins also gave him a "fountain of youth" opportunity in the final three seasons of his career.

Talbert was a little younger. The four-year veteran found a home in the Washington defensive line for 10 years and was named one of the "70 Greatest Redskins" in 2002. He became one of the more feared defensive linemen in the NFL and was a big part of the Super Bowl team.

In the trade with the Rams, the Redskins also received a fifth-round choice, which they traded right away to Green Bay. In return, the Redskins received tight end Boyd Dowler, who had played 11 years with the Packers.

Green Bay in the 1960s meant championships, and Dowler won five of them as a Packer. Dowler, who had been hired earlier by Allen to be an assistant coach, wound up catching 26 passes in his final year. More importantly, he, like Allen, brought the attitude of a winner.

Overall, Allen acquired seven veterans on draft day. He did select 11 players through the actual draft, but there were 17 rounds back in 1971.

The gem of that draft class wound up being offensive tackle George Starke, who was picked in the 11th round and 272nd overall. He didn’t start playing for Washington until 1973, but stuck around until 1984, connecting the Allen and Joe Gibbs eras.

Starke was part of the Redskins’ first world championship team in 1982 as the "Head Hog." He helped anchor an offensive line that defeated the Dolphins 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII.

After the draft, Allen continued to find grizzled veterans in 1971. He picked up strong safety Richie Petitbon (again from the Rams) and defensive tackle Ron McDole from the Bills. Five other players eventually came along in various trades.

Petitbon’s career was very similar to Pardee’s. He had played 12 years in the NFL with the Bears and Rams, dreaming of the sport’s biggest game. He played two years with the Redskins. And in his final game, he played in the Super Bowl.

Petitbon became the Redskins’ defensive coordinator in Joe Gibbs’ first term as head coach and eventually served as head coach himself in 1993.

McDole, "The Dancing Bear" as he was known, enjoyed a fine career with the Redskins, playing eight years (1971-78) after 10 years with the Cardinals, Oilers and Bills.

He started throughout his tenure in Washington and went on to be named one of the "70 Greatest Redskins."

Allen’s legacy?

The late coach, who entered the Hall of Fame in 2002, turned a perennially weak team into an instant winner.

His draft day wheelings and dealings of 34 years ago remain part of Redskins lore.