Bruce Allen in 2015
Bruce Allen in 2015 Credit: Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

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Bruce Allen may be gone, but after knowing him since he was a teenager, I certainly won’t forget him.

I knew him when he was a peach-fuzzed punter at Langley High School and then at the University of Richmond in the 1970s.

I knew him when he was a player agent in Phoenix.

I knew him when he joined the Oakland Raiders and worked for the team’s owner and Hall of Famer Al Davis, one of the shrewdest (and most devious) characters in the history of the NFL.

And I knew him when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and served as general manager there, enjoying modest success while working with then coach Jon Gruden.

The man who served as Washington’s reviled team president and de facto GM over the last ten tumultuous years, I did not know quite so well. I was actually astounded by what seemed to be total incompetence from an NFL lifer. I covered his late father, George Allen, the Hall of Fame coach, for the Washington Post for a half-dozen years in the 1970s.

Back then Bruce was often on the team’s sideline, along with his big brother, George, a former University of Virginia quarterback and once the Virginia governor and U.S. senator. Bruce was a ball boy, and he and George were the main characters in several intriguing stories which they both always used to sort of deny, with a smile.

One year, the brothers were allegedly on the Washington sideline at RFK Stadium when a penalty flag, for who knows what, went flying. It was against the home team, and Bruce and young George apparently began screaming at the men in the striped shirts. It went on for a while, to the point where the game referee went over to their father, the head coach, and asked about those two obnoxious kids. If they didn’t stop yapping, the ref said, there would be a 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike conduct in the team’s future.

George Allen looked over at his sons and told the official he had no idea who they were.

Years later, it was Bruce again who caused his father to fib once more.

In 1977, the coach was pressing for a contract extension from then team president, the late Edward Bennett Williams, who had once said of Allen, “I gave him an unlimited budget, and he exceeded it.” Williams had grown weary of dealing with Allen, who the writers used to call “Nixon with a whistle.”

One day late in the college football season, George Allen told the media after a Friday practice that for the first time in his NFL career, he was going to miss a Saturday walk-through session the following day. He told us he had never seen Bruce punt at Richmond, and would be attending the Spiders home game the next afternoon.

I later learned that when Allen left the team’s practice facility on Friday, he had his driver take him to Dulles Airport instead. Allen boarded a late flight to Los Angeles, met with Rams team owner Carroll Rosenbloom the next day to talk about coaching the Rams in 1978, and got back in time to coach his own team on Sunday.

George Allen was fired by Williams that season and did indeed end up as the Rams head coach. Briefly.

Rosenbloom fired him even before training camp had ended because his players were in near revolt against a quirky coach they quickly grew to despise. Allen had also alienated Rosenbloom’s son, Steve, a team executive.

George Allen never coached in the NFL again.

In some ways, the Bruce as an excuse story ultimately and very indirectly led to the greatest era in Washington football history. Majority team owner Jack Kent Cooke relieved Williams in 1980 and took over. Allen’s replacement, Jack Pardee, was not the mercurial Cooke’s kind of guy, and he fired his coach after three years.

And who did the team hire? Joe Gibbs. Four Super Bowl appearances and three championships ensued over the next dozen years for the Hall of Fame coach.

When team owner Dan Snyder purchased the franchise from Cooke’s estate in 1999, it was the beginning of the end, what I’ve always called the reign of error. Allen came aboard ten years later, and the rest is so much dismal history.

Let’s be clear here. Bruce Allen deserved to be fired, if only because you can’t fire the owner, the real villain in this piece. And Snyder, as usual, showed absolutely no class in getting rid of a guy he once seemed to consider his best friend. In his statement announcing his dismissal, Snyder never even had the good sense to thank Allen for his dedicated (though disastrous) service.

Typical for the worst owner in the lNFL, if not all of professional sports.

Allen also qualifies as among the worst team executives in the league. And like his father, he may never have a chance to work in the NFL again.   

Leonard Shapiro retired in 2011 after 41 years as a sports reporter, editor, and columnist at the Washington Post.