Parallel Lives: Richard Nixon and George Allen in Washington
November 23, 1971. President Nixon with Redskins Coach George Allen, Redskins football players and the coaching staff. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library)
By Charles Cauffman
Football season has come once again. With millions of viewers tuning in to Sunday and Monday night football it is not surprising that football continues to be one of the most popular sports in America. Interestingly, Presidents have had a close relationship with professional football. Presidents have invited football teams to the White House, have made picks for highly anticipated football games, and have even made vocal endorsements of their favorite team. However, no President has had a more intimate relationship with professional football than Richard Nixon.
When Nixon was President, he maintained a close personal relationship with NFL Hall of Famer and Washington Redskins football coach, George Allen. In many ways Nixon and Allen shared parallel lives in regards to personality and career trajectory. The two men came from humble beginnings and had worked hard to rise to the pinnacle of their professions, ultimately leaving legacies that would define and shape their respective professions.
George Allen and Richard Nixon had become friends long before Richard Nixon had assumed the presidency. They met at a NCAA conference in 1951 where Congressman Richard Nixon was guest speaking. Nixon took a personal interest in George Allen, who at the time was coaching Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College, where Nixon also played football for the Poets. After talking briefly about football stratagems and Whittier College football history, they hit it off becoming long time friends. They would continue to write each other throughout their lives, encouraging each other through thick and thin. “Rest and exercise sustain the body, but the loyalty of friends when the road is rough sustains the spirit…” Nixon wrote to Allen in May 1974. By 1972, both men had reached the zenith of their careers: By late November 1972, President Nixon had won re-election in a historic landslide victory over George McGovern, and George Allen, in only his second season as coach, had clinched the NFC title, and were set to take on the Miami Dolphins in Super Bow VII.
“Rest and exercise sustain the body, but the loyalty of friends when the road is rough sustains the spirit…” –Richard Nixon to George Allen (May 14, 1974)
Nixon and Allen’s friendship was such that Allen would let the President attend their practice games. On one occasion, Nixon recommended a reversal play in practice that turned out to be the winning play in the scrimmage, which impressed the head coach. There is a rumor that Nixon had even called in a play during the 1973 Super Bowl against the Miami Dolphins, but this cannot be confirmed. Nixon often called Allen, congratulating him in his victories and consoling him in his defeats. George Allen would often write Nixon in support for his policies regarding Vietnam and even helped campaign for him in 1972. George Allen even gave Richard Nixon a historic signed football from the Los Angeles Rams, whom he coached from 1961-1966. Nixon would often-invite George Allen to the White House, and wanted to throw a party in his honor. After long and successful careers, the two men even stayed in contact as they approached retirement.
“I liked your decision and to Hell with the second guesses!” – George Allen to Nixon (May 10th 1972)
In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency and by 1977 George Allen had stepped down as head coach of the Red Skins after failing to reach an agreement with his contract. The two giants struggled with retirement initially, found purpose in their later lives. Nixon would go on to be a prolific writer and statesman, occasionally advising presidents with international affairs, particularly China. George Allen would go on to coach several other teams, ending his career with a winning season coaching Cal State Long Beach in 1990. In retirement, President Nixon often invited George Allen to his beach house in San Clemente, La Casa Pacifica, to recount old times, old battles, and lasting legacies.
Correspondence; Richard Nixon to George Allen; November 22, 1972; box 9; White House Central Files: Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA
Correspondence; Richard Nixon to George Allen; January 19, 1970; Box 9; White House Central Files: Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA
Correspondence; George Allen to Richard Nixon; May 10, 1972; Box 9; White House Central Files: Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA
Correspondence; Richard Nixon to George Allen; May 15, 1972; Box 9; White House Central Files; Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA
Anderson, Dave. “George Allen: Won Games, Lost Jobs.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 1991