George Allen, former Virginia quarterback, governor and U.S. senator, might appear more affable than his father, famed Washington Redskins coach George Allen, who used to prowl and scowl the sidelines as a big-time winner.
It’s apparent after reading the younger’s new book, “What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports,” however, that the son is every bit as savvy and “get-it-done” as the man who preferred experience over flashy young players.
This is one entertaining read, as Allen makes several salient points:
- Sports require playing by the rules, something foreign in the political savagery of the nation’s capitol.
- Our current political leadership is anything but focused on playing as a team, as partisan politics rules. Can you imagine Lombardi winning with, say, the U.S. Senate?
- Sports referees stay out of the action and let the game unfold. In political America, the “referees” think of self first and rule through regulation and tight controls of the people.
It is perhaps ironic that Allen, who played quarterback at the University of Virginia, also played rugby! What better way to prepare for the brutish sport of politics? How wonderful, though, that he recognized the vanity (and folly?) of political life. What a sharp contrast to, say, Sen. Robert Byrd, who passed away this week after five centuries – I mean decades – in the Senate.
In any event, Allen’s new book is a fresh look at common-sense approaches to fixing what’s grotesquely broken in politics.
The book opens with a fabulous story that is a perfect metaphor for the points he makes throughout.
On the day after Christmas in 1971, the Redskins were on the verge of a huge playoff win at San Francisco. Taking an early lead, George Allen’s team was driving to score again when an almost inexplicable playcall soured everything.
Earlier in the season, President Richard Nixon had seen a perfectly executed trick play in practice and urged Allen to use it in a game. Care to guess when the “end-around” was trotted out? You guessed correctly. When “Sweet Pea” Jefferson was thrown to the rain-soaked turf after a 13-yard loss, the 49ers seized momentum and took the game from Washington.
Fans were incensed, and the point was obvious to everyone: Politicians, stay out of the lives of Americans!
In “What Washington Can Learn,” Allen goes on to point out that the 2008 bailout was much the same as Nixon’s horrid playcall. When the “strategy” involved creating government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae – managed by Washington insiders – the predictable mortgage fiasco threw the American people for a devastating loss.
As Allen points out in his book, though, this game isn’t over, and there is still time to get back in it and win.
Although he is painfully familiar with Washington’s seamy side, Allen does reference political figures who do get it, such as Jack Kemp. The former congressman, vice-presidential candidate (and football player) epitomizes the type of leader that Allen clearly believes could turn the political climate toward a winning gameplan.
In Chapter Four, “Defense Wins Championships,” Allen makes the superb point that policymakers in Washington “govern with an overly sentimental view of how the real world works.” This causes them to believe, for example, that our enemies surely want peace. The result is continually botched opportunities to advance our national interests. The diplomatic solutions proposed are hopeless and hapless. It is here that Allen makes the salient point that a strong national defense is imperative. As with other points, the author clearly shows the path to achieving success in the real world.
Another superb story, and one that perfectly shows what happens when sports and politics collide, involves the 1972 Olympics, in which America endured a “red”-letter basketball game with the Soviets.
With the score tied and three seconds remaining on the clock, the United States’ Doug Collins sank a free throw to put his team ahead. As the Russians inbounded the ball, an official stopped play due to commotion at the scorer’s table. Secretary General R. William Jones of the Federation Internationale de Basketball interfered and insisted that three seconds be put back on the clock. Incredibly, another blown call shortly after enabled the Soviets to “win.” Rather than letting the players play and the game unfold (read: let the American people solve their own problems, long a successful strategy), policymakers excel in mucking it up.
This book is one sure to be enjoyed by a wide audience, given the fact that so many Americans love sports, endure politics and rise each morning determined to survive and thrive. Allen has penned a sensational, absorbing book. It is game, set and match for the gentleman from Virginia. Is it too much to hope that there is a political comeback in his future?
In the book’s photo section, there is an image of a young Allen, athletic and full of determination, running through an attempted tackle. He is resolute and one realizes that if the still photo was video, we would see him run over his opponent and head toward the goal.
It is an apt symbol of what America might still achieve. Here’s to George Allen and those like him, who have the will and skill to get us there.