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Throwback Thursday: Redskins Equipment Man Speaks To The Superstitious Ways Of George Allen

Posted Nov 23, 2017

For today's Throwback Thursday moment presented by SUBWAY® restaurants, Redskins.com spoke with a former equipment manager about some great stories of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen.

For today's Throwback Thursday moment presented by SUBWAY® restaurants, Redskins.com spoke with a former equipment manager about some great stories of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen

George Allen was a superstitious man. If he felt something would help his team win football games – no matter how peripheral it was in the whole scheme of things – the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach would be reluctant to alter course.

Former Redskins equipment manager Tommy McVean had a front-row seat to Allen’s superstitious ways beginning in the 1971 season, Allen’s first year coaching the Redskins.

Several days before the regular season opener against the St. Louis Cardinals, Allen asked McVean if he wanted to have dinner with him. The Redskins had just built a state-of-the-art practice facility called Redskin Park in Chantilly, Va., and Allen liked to eat dinner nearby at the Dulles Airport Marriott. McVean had eaten a lot of pizza and wasn’t hungry, but he agreed to have dinner with the coach.

“George was so dedicated and 100 percent football that at dinner time, the coaches would kind of disappear because they didn’t want to go to dinner with him,” McVean said. “George would never relax. He was always football, football, football.”

Without much of an appetite, McVean ordered a small meal that he could spread around his plate: a cheese omelet.

Not only did the Redskins beat the Cardinals to open the Allen era, but they proceeded to upend the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers and the Cardinals in that order to go 5-0.

During the streak, Allen insisted that McVean should continue eating cheese omelets when they met for dinner at the Marriott.

“The day after our games, he’d work out at lunchtime,” McVean recalled. “After a run, he’d say, `Hey Tommy, got to go to dinner tonight, we got a streak going.’ I said, `Yes sir, yes sir.’ So I didn’t eat anything the whole day. At the Marriott, the lady takes his order and asks me what I’d like. I said I’ll have a steak and lobster. George said, `Tommy, I remember you had a cheese omelet. We can’t change. You’ve got to get the same thing. We’ve got something going here.’ So I’d get a lousy cheese omelet.”

The Redskins lost their sixth game to the Chiefs, prompting Allen to end McVean’s consumption of cheese omelets at the Marriott.

Then there’s the spring water story, which originated when the Redskins were at training camp in Carlisle, Pa.

“One day, some guy standing 20 feet away yells out, `Hey coach, I’ve got something to help you win a game,’ ” McVean said. “And coach says, `Tommy, go see what he’s got.’ The guy said, ‘I have some spring water from West Virginia. It’s guaranteed to be the purest water you’ve ever tasted and can help you guys win games.’ So I told George about the pure mountain water. He said, `Let’s try it out.’ ”

McVean acquired 12 huge jugs of the water and put them in the locker room. Allen, his coaching staff, and the players consumed it, but when the supply began to run out, McVean became inclined to get more. He thought the water was stored a few miles from Redskin Park. But it was really from a company about two hours away in Berkeley Springs, W.V.

“So I said I’ll go to Berkeley,” McVean said. “I’ve got a pickup truck. I’ll load that sucker full of water. Monday was our only day off back then, so I go all the way and get the water, and we won the second game.”

McVean continued obtaining the spring water – or so everyone thought – for the rest of Allen’s coaching stint in D.C. And why not? The Redskins went 69-35-1 during Allen’s seven years in Washington, a stretch featuring five playoff seasons and an appearance in Super Bowl VII, a 14-7 loss to the Dolphins.

But McVean eventually soured on driving all the way to Berkeley to get the jugs. He circumvented the process by filling the empty jugs with shower water, all the while wanting everyone, including Allen, to think he was leaving the property to get the spring water in Berkeley.

But was Allen fooled?

“On Monday afternoons, I’d say, `I’ve got to go get the water,’ and instead I’d go to the movies or play golf and get a couple of hours off,” McVean said. “I’d come back in when it got dark and fill the water bottles up and cap them off. Once, when I had the water running in the shower, I turned around and saw a shadow. It was coach Allen. He says, `Tommy, Tommy, I thought this was a water break, what are you doing? All these years we’ve been drinking this water?’ I said, `Coach, I’m just filling these bottles up. It’s a long ride to West Virginia, and this is pretty good water we’ve got here.’ ”

Allen was “sly like a fox” and probably knew all along that it wasn’t really spring water, McVean said. But the key, in the coach’s mind, was that everyone else thought the water was helping the team win.

“Mind over matter, Tommy,” the coach said at the time. “You made them believe.”

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