The era of Redskins coach Otto Graham from 1966 to 1968 was one chock full of frustration and mediocrity. Although an offense led by current Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen was explosive, the Redskins went 17-22-3 during that period and couldn’t crack the .500 mark.
The Redskins also made dubious personnel moves under Graham, including arguably the worst trade in team history: the decision to unload safety Paul Krause.
Krause played his first four seasons in D.C., a stretch that included a league-high 12 interceptions as a rookie in 1964 and two Pro Bowl appearances. But the 6-3, 200-pound safety was gone after the 1967 season. The Redskins mystifyingly shipped him to Minnesota for linebacker Marlin McKeever and a draft choice.
Krause played his final 12 seasons for the Vikings. He retired after the 1979 season and has since held one of the most one of the most coveted defensive records in NFL history: the all-time interception record of 81. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Why did the trade happen?
Redskins’ defensive backfield coach Ed Hughes didn’t think much of Krause’s playing ability and persuaded Graham to make the trade, according to Sam Huff, a Redskins middle linebacker and defensive captain during Krause’s stay in Washington. Plus, team President Edward Bennett Williams, who admired Krause’s ability, was out of town when Graham pushed the eject button. When Williams returned, there was nothing he could do.
At the time, Krause, who had averaged seven interceptions in his first four seasons, was bitter about the deal.
“I didn’t care for Otto Graham,” he said. “Graham listened to one of his defensive coaches who didn’t know what he was doing. Then Graham traded me, so I don’t think he knew what he was doing, either. He wasn’t a great football coach.”
The trade infuriated Huff, who tried to convince Graham to keep Krause.
“I went to the coaching staff and said, `Hey, I don’t know what you guys have planned, but you don’t ever want to trade a guy like Paul Krause,’ ” Huff said. “ ‘He’s a great football player. This guy can play weak-side safety like Willie Mays in centerfield.’ They said he can’t tackle and this and that. I said, `I make all the tackles, that’s what I get paid for.’ They traded him anyway, and guess who has the most interceptions in the NFL. But what do coaches know.”
Krause once played centerfield for real at the University of Iowa in the early-1960s, and he had a powerful throwing arm. Pro scouts drooled over his talents and tried luring him to the majors.
Krause, also a football star at Iowa, disdained the offers. But he badly damaged his shoulder in a football game in his junior year. Unable to throw with the same velocity, he shelved his baseball aspirations and concentrated on football, developing into one of the best players in the Big Ten Conference.
Drafted by the Redskins in the second round in 1964, he made an instant impact, showing soft hands and a keen sense of where quarterbacks place the ball. He picked off two passes in his first regular season game and recorded interceptions in seven straight games, one of the longest such streaks in NFL history.
The streak ended with two steals in a 36-31 win over the Giants on Nov. 29, 1964. Washington Post sportswriter Byron Roberts wrote of Krause’s sensational debut: “Like Francois Villon a prince of thieves,” a reference to the French poet and thief from the 15th century.
Krause’s 12 picks that year were two behind Dick “Night Train” Lane of the Los Angeles Rams (1952) and one behind Redskin Dan Sandifer (1948) in all-time single-season picks. He was named a consensus first-team All-Pro and a runner-up for NFL Rookie of the Year behind teammate Charley Taylor. He also played in the Pro Bowl.
Krause, who made the Pro Bowl again in 1965 after intercepting six passes, said he liked playing for Redskins coach Bill McPeak. But McPeak was fired after the 1965 season and replaced by Graham, a legendary NFL quarterback whose only head coaching experience was at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. After two seasons under Graham, Krause was traded to the Vikings.
“You throw that ball deep, Paul Krause was there,” Huff said. “We used him to just play free safety, to just play the ball. To get as many turnovers as he did, that’s what they drafted him for. Then they didn’t like him. It doesn’t take many moves like that before you say, `What the heck’s going on?’ ”
In Minnesota, Krause was a cornerstone on Vikings squads that played in four Super Bowls (IV, VIII, IX, XI), losing each time. He manned the secondary on some of the best defenses in NFL history, including teams that featured the “Purple People Eaters,” the famed defensive line of Alan Page, Carl Eller, Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall.
Krause played in six Pro Bowls and intercepted 53 passes in Minnesota, giving him 81 by the time he retired after the 1979 season, two more than the former all-time leader, Giants great Emlen Tunnell. His 1,185 yards on interception returns is one of the highest totals in NFL history.
In hindsight, Krause would have liked to play in D.C. his whole career.
“But that’s not the way it worked out,” he said. “I had 12 good seasons with the Vikings, went to four Super Bowls and had some great years. We had one of the best defenses ever to play football. That’s why we won so many football games.”
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. He was on the blue-ribbon panel that played a key role in selecting the 10 new names who are part of the Redskins’ 80 Greatest team unveiled this season, also known as the “10 for 80.” His web site is www.redskinshistorian.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.