Senator George Allen gave the speech at Canton when his father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
(by Adam Schefter, Special to NFL.com)
Football flows through their family history the way political discourse now flows through this country. His father, George, was a Hall of Fame coach; his brother, Bruce, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager; his other brother, Greg, is a psychologist; his sister, Jennifer, is the author of Fifth Quarter; and he is the United States Senator, George Allen (R-Va).
Senator Allen is the Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And the day before Election Day, we find out where he stands on a number of issues.
Adam Schefter: Can an offense be too conservative for you?
George Allen: I usually don't worry about the word conservative. But yes, I think an offense can be too conservative for me. I think there ought to be an audaciousness to an offense. Clearly, when you're running out the clock, that's understood. But sometimes offenses become very unimaginative.
Schefter: Has Tampa Bay's offense been audacious enough this year?
Allen: I'll tell you, it would be great if they had Charlie Garner and Michael Pittman and Joey Galloway. Pittman coming back has been a big help. Michael Clayton's developing very well. [Charles] Lee's coming through. And Ken Dilger somehow caught a 45-yard touchdown. I was following it on the Internet and I said, "Forty-five yards? Dilger?"
Schefter: You follow football on the Internet?
Allen: Yeah, unless the Buccaneers are on TV. If you follow the play-by-play on the Internet, you get all the stats -- attempts, completions, yardage. If you actually follow a game that way, it really gets you thinking about the strategies. What are they going to do here? Then you see what the actual play is. And hopefully you're happy and not saying, "What do you mean he jumped offside, that jack ..." But that's a great way to follow the game. You're actually into it more, I find, than if you're watching it and listening to the commentators.
Schefter: Is there any family as distinguished as yours?
Allen: All families are distinguished. Ours is a pretty diverse batch. And we have a great mother as well who speaks five different languages. She can speak French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic and English -- and knows Latin. My mother is still e-mailing back and forth with all sorts of different memories. In fact, with the Buccaneers winning in New Orleans; New Orleans has always been a special and lucky place for the Allen family through the years.
Schefter: How's that?
Allen: When my father was with the Bears he was also a scout as well as a coach. We'd spend every New Year's in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl because in those days in the '60s the draft was early. So we'd spend a lot of time in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. On New Year's of '65, my father got asked to coach the Rams and we were at the Roosevelt Hotel. Good games there all the time. In 2002, the Super Bowl was in New Orleans and Bruce and I were down there when we found our father would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And Bruce's first regular-season win as general manager of the Buccaneers also came in New Orleans.
Schefter: What went through your mind when your father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Allen: I was giving a speech in New Orleans when I found out he got elected. Bruce was where they were taking the vote and I told him I would leave my cell phone on and call when he found out what happened. So I'm in the midst of a speech, and lo and behold, the phone rings and it's Bruce. I found out right in the middle of the speech. Appropriately enough, when we found out, Jack Kemp and Pepper Rodgers and Terry Donahue were part of the group I was speaking to. And it was just perfect that Jack Kemp was there because when my father was coaching in college at Whittier, Kemp was at Occidental. And they were rivals. But they were longtime, good friends.
Schefter: What are your memories of Canton?
Allen: I was asked to be the representative for the family and it is just one of the highlights of all our lives. It was very emotional. I just wish I had been out there sweating in the stands, watching my father give the speech. So in composing that speech I tried to think of what my father would say. That made it even more emotional, especially when talking about my mother and how he would use his phrases and call her "sweetie." And also thinking of all the different assistant coaches, the staffs, the great players throughout the years. He would have said it was a team victory, a team success, because anybody who gets into the Hall of Fame has been surrounded by very good people.
Schefter: What was it like to speak after Deacon Jones?
Allen: That was great. The one thing that was interesting was there was a parade that morning. Deacon and I were in the back of a convertible and we were sitting there getting ready before the parade started and I was looking at a building and I said, "That's a nice little building, nice architecture to it." And so Deacon said, "You know, your father mentioned that exact same thing when I was coming into the Hall of Fame."
Deacon had said he had asked my father to do his presentation. And when he said that my hair stood up.
Schefter: Best advice your father ever gave you?
Allen: Be a leader, not a follower. That was by far the best. He didn't care what others did. He said, "Set your own standards and be a leader, and not a follower." He also told us, "Work hard and you'll have a great future." And the other one that always kept me going was, "Keep fighting, no matter what. So long as they don't kill you, you can keep fighting."
Schefter: Ever tempted to go into football yourself?
Allen: I played in high school and college. I played at the University of Virginia. We weren't very good then. This was before George Welsh was there as head coach. I made the Academic All-ACC Team, not the athletic All-ACC Team. But I enjoyed playing there. I went to UVA because I wanted to get into law or architecture and end up in law school. But the sport I actually enjoyed playing the most was rugby. I played rugby throughout law school and afterwards. Gosh, it's a great sport.
Schefter: When was the last time you played it?
Allen: 1979 -- because I got my knee wrecked in a spring game. And this is another thing my father would always say: "Play your position." Well, I got on an onsides kick and got my knee all twisted around and needed an operation. So that was the end of that because I was just starting my law practice, running for office, and it really didn't do much good to be on crutches.
Schefter: Top coach in the game today?
Allen: I like Jon Gruden the best. That's who I'm rooting for. And I think he's an outstanding coach. I love his intensity and his brilliance. But let me say this. There are a lot of coaches doing a great job, whether it's Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Tom Coughlin. I don't think he has that great of talent, but they're winning. And Dick Vermeil -- he's one of our family's best friends and is a great guy and a great coach.
Schefter: I notice you didn't mention Joe Gibbs?
Allen: I was going to get into Joe Gibbs -- I was. Joe Gibbs is not only a great coach, he is just an outstanding individual. If it were anybody other than coach Gibbs, everybody would be in gloom and despair. But when you have a quality person like coach Gibbs, the Redskins will come out on top. I think so much of coach Gibbs, when I got elected governor and he was with NASCAR -- we had all the new agency heads, department heads, cabinet secretaries together -- and I asked coach Gibbs to come and talk to them all; to talk about teamwork. Coach Gibbs is a man I respect and revere. His team isn't doing all that well right now, but coach Gibbs will get them on the right track.
Schefter: Did you get to meet George Halas when your dad was coaching under him in Chicago?
Allen: Yeah, I was just a young pup then. I'd go to training camp at St. Joseph's College in Indiana, in the middle of cornfields. All the excitement was a dirt racetrack nearby in a rock quarry where you could go swimming. I do remember one thing -- George Halas, in those days, had a bad hip. He would go around in a golf cart or with a cane. And he would get the players running around in a circle and he would be screaming and yelling at them and using some exhortations that will not be repeated. I was maybe 10 years old at the time and he saw me and some other kid there watching this and he said, "Hey, you boys get a football and go play over on that other field there." He didn't want us hearing the words he was using, which looking back on it was highly considerate. That's a sign of decency.
Schefter: What is the one memento from your office that you're most proud of?
Allen: Oh gosh, there are so many of them. But probably the best is a plaque from Ronald Reagan that my father had on his desk that I had on my mantle as governor. It's a plaque that says, "If not us, who? If not now, when?" This was a Ronald Reagan quote that my father had, and when he passed away, they said, "You ought to have this." That quote says, "Take action, take responsibility, don't dawdle, get moving rather than sitting there and killing grass under your feet." Ronald Reagan was the one who motivated me to get into politics. My father motivated me in everything I do in my life. And the fact that Reagan's quote was on my father's desk motivated me and our teams -- and I do call our folks, "teams" -- that's the most meaningful.
Schefter: Yet isn't Thomas Jefferson, not Ronald Reagan, your political hero?
Allen: I call myself a common sense Jeffersonian conservative. I trust free people and free enterprise, and don't like restrictions and limits and think that people only should be limited by their own hard work and their ingenuity. But the one who motivated me to get involved in politics was Ronald Reagan. In fact, all of that comes back to football. When my father was with the Rams, he came in 1966, and that fall was when Ronald Reagan was elected governor. And he would actually come to practices. That's when I got to meet Governor Reagan. And then we moved to Virginia in late '70, '71 and I was telling everyone how great Ronald Reagan was. But I only took one political science class. I had no idea that I would actually get involved in politics. Well, in 1976 Ronald Reagan was running for president and they asked me to be chairman of Young Virginians for Reagan. I said, "Well, I don't know anything about organized politics." They said, "Well, we know you like Reagan." I said, "Of course, but I don't understand the intricacies of politics." They said, "You'll do fine, just tell people why you like Ronald Reagan." I did it, we won Virginia, and lost the national nomination. But that's what got me involved, Ronald Reagan.
Schefter: Reagan's legacy?
Allen: I loved his ideas in California -- the welfare reform, cutting taxes -- all those great ideas. Ronald Reagan was just a wonderfully optimistic, principled man. I think he was the greatest leader of the 20th century. He embodies all those foundational principles of our country, but then applied them to the advancement of freedom in present-day circumstances. Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 so fundamentally changed all the dynamics of the Cold War. Prior to that it was containment and co-existence, and he changed it to the advancement of freedom. And if you want to measure greatness, measure how many people's lives were impacted by someone? I'm the Chairman of the European Affairs Sub-Committee, and hearing all these countries come into NATO from Lithuania to Latvia to Slovakia to Bulgaria to Romania, you think there are hundreds of thousands of people who are now free. They are truly our allies. And prior to Ronald Reagan they were behind the Iron Curtain and they were our enemies. They're free thanks to Ronald Reagan advancing freedom. Ronald Reagan is the embodiment of modern day Jeffersonian principles brought to everyone.
Schefter: Who wins the next presidential election?
Allen: President George W. Bush. The people of America recognize that this election is the most important one since 1980. Decisions made in the midst of a war are consequential and have profound impacts on people's lives and the future of our country. And in this present war against terrorism, people want a leader who is strong, who is decisive, who will persevere. President Bush is the right man at the right time in our nation's history.
Schefter: Who wins the presidential election in 2008?
Allen: It will be wide open -- I don't know. But here's another thing from my father. Pay attention to the task at hand. I'm chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee so I'm worrying about all the Senate races we have. I want to strengthen our Republican majority. There are five open seats where the Democrats have retired, and they're exactly the NFC South states. That is the task at hand. We need to come out of the NFC South with a strong winning record.