Bye week for the Washington Football Team seems like a good time for stories of better days. Lord knows this franchise has plenty of those, although with the passing of each wretched season under the ownership of Dan Snyder, you have to reach further and further back for one story that will make you smile.
The Over-the-Hill Gang made many Washington fans smile.
This was the group of veterans that George Allen brought from his Los Angeles Rams squad and other places around the league to Washington for the 1971 season.
One of those transplants was a defensive end from Joe Namath’s Super Bowl champion New York Jets who is often overlooked when fans remember the Over-the-Hill Gang. But to teammates, Verlon Biggs was unforgettable.
“There is hardly a day I go through where I don’t think about Verlon Biggs,” Hall of Fame safety Ken Houston told me when I was researching the book, “Hail Victory: An Oral History of the Washington Redskins.”
“He was the light of that team,” Houston told me.
Doing the interviews for that book, I was always struck by how many players from those great Allen teams spoke in such fond terms about Biggs — more than any other player.
So, like many of his teammates, I smiled when Biggs’ name surfaced last week among the finalists for the 2021 class for the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
Biggs played at Jackson State University from 1962 to 1965. The 6-foot-4, 270 pounder was drafted in the third round by the Jets in 1965. He would go on to be a three-time American Football League All Star and was part of the Jets’ historic 1969 Super Bowl team. But he was unhappy with his contract and was traded to Washington in 1971, where he helped anchor the great defense that led to an NFC championship in 1972. He retired in 1974.
Along the way, Biggs was perhaps the most colorful character of an unforgettable group of football players.
“He was a funny guy,” Diron Talbert told me. “One day he invited me over to his house. He was showing me how he had some nuts on the shelf by his kitchen window. He would open it up in the daytime, and he said the squirrels were coming into his house and stealing his nuts.
“He said, ‘Talbe, that son-of-a-gun takes these nuts right here and puts them in that tree over yonder. The first day I got home he took the whole thing full of nuts.’ I said, ‘What did you do?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ Then the next day he took almost the whole thing.’ I said, ‘What did you do then?’ He said, ‘I got a ladder from the maintenance man and I crawled up in that tree and stuck my hand in the hole and got my nuts back.’
“It’s a wonder we didn’t have more wrinkles in our face than we did, because we laughed all the time,” Talbert said.
Then there was the locker room, where Biggs was notorious for one thing in particular — snatching teammates’ lunches.
“Verlon and I were good friends,” Roy Jefferson told me. “My wife used to fix my lunch in camp. A lot of guys brought their lunch with them. She would fix pork chops, good sandwiches, elaborate lunches. A lot of times I would share them with Jerry Smith.
“Biggs had a tendency to steal people’s lunches, and this day my wife had fixed six pork chops and other stuff, and he got into my lunch and ate every bit of it. I was furious. We were all getting ready to go out to practice after lunch, and I was going to get him some kind of way. So I stayed back in the locker room. He stayed back because he was worried about what I was going to do. But they blew the whistle for practice and he didn’t want to be late. I didn’t care at that point because I was so mad.
“He left, and I took every trash can in the place and dumped it in his locker, and then filled one of the trash cans with water and dumped that over his stuff, all his clothes. He had to wear football shorts home. Then I went out to practice. He was hot, but he knew he deserved it.
“Once I had my wife make four tuna fish sandwiches. Then I told her to fix me four other sandwiches. I left one set in the trunk of my car for three days. Then I brought them in and put them in a bag in my travel bag on the top of my locker. Sure enough, he ate them, and he was sick for two days.
“He was so funny, and sometimes he wasn’t trying to be. But he was a good guy,” Jefferson said.
On the other side of that defensive line was another former AFL great, Ron McDole, a two-time All-Star with the Buffalo Bills and two-time AFL champion. There is always talk about the great defensive end duo of Dexter Manley and Charles Mann, but I’d put Biggs and McDole up there with them.
“Verlon did some of the funniest things,” McDole said. “One time we went to play the Giants in New York. They had a kid named (Willie) Joe Young. He was an offensive tackle. I played against him sometimes, and on this day Verlon was going against him.
“Verlon asked me for a copy of the game program. He was cutting out Joe Young’s picture. He had two of them, and he was taping them on his shoes. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘The one thing you don’t want to do is get the other guy mad you are playing against. You’ve got one of the best guys on the line, you can see over him and everything.’ And he knew him, he knew him personally.
“We play the first half, and playing them all the time is tough. So the score is 7-3 or something and we come into the locker room. Normally when you’re rushing the passer in a game, and you almost get to the quarterback when you are playing the ends, you kind of run into each other once in a while.
Verlon was sitting in front of his locker, with his head in his hands. I said, ‘Verlon, I haven’t seen you the whole first half.’ He said, ‘He’s pissed. I can’t get off the line of scrimmage.’ I said, ‘I wonder why? You went out there with his picture pasted on your shoes.’”
After his time in Washington, Biggs returned to his hometown of Moss Point, Mississippi, where he was a local legend. “I think he was mayor of Moss Point or something,” Talbert said. He passed away in 1994 of leukemia at the age of 51.
If Biggs gets inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame, there won’t be any shortage of tales to make people smile.
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