The tradition of the Five O’clock club is one that runs deep in Washington Redskins lore. Popularized by John Riggins and the Hogg’s as an exclusive player’s only fraternity, the Five O’clock clubs’ origin stems from a most unlikely place.
During the mid 1950’s the New York Giants held training camp in Vermont. As one of the largest markets in the NFL, the Giants were key in expanding professional football’s popularity and growth.
The Mara’s, owners of the Giants made sure that they, along with head coach Jimmy Lee Howell and all assistant coaches were easily accessible to sports writers and media. The NFL still trailed Boxing and Baseball in popularity so any mention in a newspaper had to be taken advantage of.
The Five O’clock club as we now know it occurred after practices often in famed sports trainer Doc Sweeney’s dorm room. It was a time to tell stories, throw back drinks and smoke cigars. In attendance was none other than Offensive Coordinator of the Giants Vince Lombardi. Along with Lombardi was New York’s Defensive Coordinator, none other than future nemesis of the Washington Redskins, Tom Landry.
Lombardi was an extrovert. He was able to relax by enjoying others company and thus brought the Five O’clock club tradition with him to Green Bay. He viewed it as a necessity to stay in the good graces of the media, but more importantly for his own sanity. It helped him come down back to Earth from the intensity of his practices.
After spending a year in misery as the General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi became head coach of the Redskins in 1969. Once again he brought the Five O’clock Club with him.
The tradition commenced at Redskins training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle PA. They would meet in a Victorian house which had seen better days, located across the street from the player dormitory. The “off the record” sessions were ruled by Lombardi and dictated by his moods.
After Vince Lombardi’s untimely death in September of 1970, the Redskins players would carry on the Five O’clock club themselves. Sonny Jurgensen and Len Hauss would transition the club from the coaches to the players.
Before there was Riggins and Grimm and Sonny and Billy throwing back a few after practices, there was Lombardi and Landry doing the same decades earlier.
The camaraderie developed by the Five O’clock club was given much credence from those involved to the teams’ success. Despite the less than stellar arrangements, the idea nourished a bond between players that translated into their performance on the field.