Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Jurgensen: Washington, D.C. a 'Special Place to Play'

Legendary Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen was honored at the Redskins-Eagles game on Nov. 11 at FedExField. Jurgensen spoke with TV last summer as the franchise geared up for its 75th Anniversary celebration. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

Q: Did you watch Sammy Baugh growing up?

A: "I didn't. I didn't get that opportunity. He was a little ahead of me. I did get the chance to go and talk with him after his career was over so I went down to Rotan, Texas, and visited with him. We did 3 hours on tape and I think we could 30 minutes because he was a real character. That was the most fun thing I'd ever done on television. To sit with him and talk with him and he was in his late 80s and he was so excited about football still. He watched it, he talked about wide receivers. He had such a love for the game. I really did enjoy it. He didn't want you to leave once you got there."

Q: Did you see his throwing motion?

A: "Yeah, he was kind of side-armed. He wasn't a T-formation QB. He would take a direct snap. He talked about formations and things they did, I was kidding him about leading the league in punting and he said he didn't punt on fourth down. Riley Smith was the punter. He punted on third down. They played two deep and if they left the receiver open, I'd throw it to him, and if they covered him, I'd quick kick. That's why the ball would roll and roll and roll."

Q: How about his games with six TD passes?

A: "That was amazing. He was accurate. He was like the Peyton Manning of that era because he worked at it. He was possessed with being the best. That's the way he played. Punting and throwing, he was in his late 80s and he was working on his chip shot. He was a competitor."

Q: How did you feel about coming to Washington, D.C.

A: "To be very honest I was shocked in a way. I had just met with the new coach of the Eagles who had come in with the new owner. I met with this guy, sat in his office for a few hours talked about what we were going to do, what offense we were going to have and that we were going to win again. I left, went to lunch, met some friends of mine. Someone came in and said you were traded to the redskins. I said, 'No, it's April Fool's Day, you're kidding me. He said, 'No, I'm not kidding I just heard it on the radio.' So I was shocked. I didn't understand why. I knew we'd gone on hard times. When I looked back on it, being shocked initially, it was an opportunity to start fresh. To start a new and it was a team I had followed because the skins were in the South, I had come up to see them play as a high school team. My family could come up and see me play. I enjoyed that. Then when you get there and look at the organization, they had been losing for a long time and it was a team that expected to lose. I'll never forget we go up to play one our first games and Sam Huff came up and we go to play the Giants. They go down to the end of the games, they're on our goal lines, and they run a play where they miss the handoff, and the QB staggers into the end zone on a busted play to beat us. Boy, that was upsetting. We go into the dressing room and I'll never forget this, I had tears in my eyes, I'll never forget looking and hearing guys who had been on the team saying boy we kept it closer then we usually do. They expected to lose. They didn't want to put forth the effort to win and that was disappointing coming to that team. That had to change around. We changed coaches, and didn't turn around until we got Vince Lombardi in."

Q: Did you think Charley Taylor would become a great wide receiver?

A: "He came in as a running back and you could see the skills that he had but he was undisciplined. He would actually, we'd run a sweep and he'd pass the guards and they'd be saying wait for us. He was undisciplined and they figured the best way to utilize his talents was to put him out wide and as soon as you did that it was a mismatch for cornerbacks because he was so strong. He would punish safeties. Sean Taylor? He would back down from Taylor. He'd be hunting him, he and the tight end Jerry Smith, one would go low one would go high, because it was a game downfield. The DBs could really go after the wide receivers, knock them down at the line of scrimmage and everything, boy he didn't take anything from anybody. He was probably the best and most complete wide receiver I ever threw to."

Q: Did the fact that you and Sam Huff were both starters make you naturally became friends?

A: "I think so, yes. We had won the world championship in 1960, and then '61 we go 10-4, had a big year offensively, then to fall of because of the injuries we had and people retiring, Chuck Bednarik quits, and more than anything else I think it was when we got there. Here's Sam, we became friends and we have remained friends. Never had an argument and he's like a brother, and all we wanted to do is find a way for this team to be successful and to win."

Q: 72-41, Washington, D.C., over Giants, what's the real story behind the time out?

A: "It was Sam that called the time out. I came to the sidelines because we were running out the clock, and I came to the sidelines saying, 'What is this? What is going on here, we got 69 points. Why call a time out?' Sam said, 'I hate that [coach] over there.' He said, 'He traded me away, let Gogolak go in there and kick a field goal.' That's when Otto Graham said, 'He needs the work, let him kick a field goal.'"

Q: What were your feelings when Lombardi was coming to D.C.?

A: "Excited. I was very excited. He was a guy who knew how to win, a guy that had won, he'd won 2-3 times already. When he came here I had talked with Horning and talked with McGee and Starr and we talked about what they did and every one of them said Sonny you're going to love him. And I did. He was so organized with so many coaches, nine different coaches in 18 years, he simplified the game. He simplified it where everyone else tried to complicate it. Let me give you an example: 29 ways to run around an end in Philadelphia, 29 ways to give the ball to the back, and so many different blocking schemes. With Lombardi, one way. We're going to do it one way and we're going to do it right. We had five plays. Five running plays in the two-minute drills. But it's execution. It's the number of plays. When he came and I met with him and everyone had warned me what he was going to be like, he told me when we first met that Young man I've heard some good things and many bad things about you. He said I'm sure you've heard some good and bad things about me. I said yes sir. He said the only thing I want you to do is to be yourself. I don't want you to try to immolate anyone else, be something you're not. We will win, we're going to win. Meeting is over with. Didn't mention my weight. I asked him about that later and he said I knew you'd be in shape by the way we practiced. And I was. It was more fun. Bart Starr had told me, 'You know the games are fun because you were ridding yourself of this because you were never surprised on the field by something they were doing defensively.' You'd never get surprised, and it was the most prepared I had ever been. The game was more fun then it'd ever been. I recall one thing that happened in the very first practice. I threw a few passes he had called. He said, 'You're throwing it too quickly, give that thing time to develop.' He said, 'We'll give you the best pass protection you've ever had,' and I said, 'I'd go along with that.' After the year, we'd looked at my sacks and he came in and congratulated me on the year we'd had and we had a big year offensively. He said you completed 65 percent of your passes. Next year you'll complete over 70 percent, and I said look at how many times I got sacked you said I was going to get great pass protection and he said, 'Well, you knew the personnel better than I did.'"

Q: What was the feeling like when the Redskins finally clinched a winning record in 1969?

A: "We won and it was a hard fought game and it was a struggle. We didn't out-personnel anyone. We had good offensive players we struggled defensively. We had outscore people most of the time. Lombardi was disappointed that we lost five games, we'd only won a few more then we lost. He wasn't satisfied. He said this isn't acceptable. I liked that. Yes, for the Redskins, from the time I had been there until then, we hadn't put a winning season together. The thing about all those teams, we laid it on the line every week. We gave it everything we had, we played hard, we never quit. We didn't come out on top. Lombardi said in 1969--he said the same thing--we didn't lose that game, time ran out on us. If we had continued to play we would have won that game. I think that's the way the team came together."

Q: What was it like to see Lombardi basically diagnose Larry Brown's hearing problem?

A: "Not only that, the very first practice we had in Carlisle, Pa., Brown walked out and he had on some overall. Lombardi said, 'See that young man right there in the overalls? When the rest of the backs are gone around here, he will still be here. He is the real thing.' He recognized that then. The story about the hearing? It happened accidentally. In the old days, when you were introduced, if the offense was on the field and we were introduced, we would run a play. We wouldn't just turn and go off the field. When we were doing that, Larry was on the wrong side, and he got next to me, I was on his good side then, and he heard the play. You know how he was getting off the ball? Watching the ball before he'd start. He's got to be delayed to start."

Q: What was the team like when players found out Lombardi wasn't going to make it?

A: "For us to have had that opportunity, the 18 years I played, the one I played under him was the highlight of my career. The highlight. Having an opportunity to play for a coach like Lombardi and to understand why Green Bay was so successful, you go back and say why couldn't I have had him for some period of time? Some period of time would have been a wonderful experience. The short time was the highlight. I think we had to play a preseason game in Tampa and it was the biggest downer in the world. The fact that we were going to lose our leader. The whole city was down because for once we were going to have a winning football team. We had the best coach in the league and then he was taken from us. What a tragic thing."

Q: Did your feelings for Lombardi make George Allen more difficult to swallow?

A: "Well, it did. Allen was a defensive genius and Lombardi was an offensive genius. So he was coaching me, I was spending time with him. With George you had no contact with George except to meet, he was with the defense. He'd brought his Ramskins in. You were a second-class citizen on offense because it was all defense. We were used to scoring points--score 30, we'd lose 31-30, but we were used to scoring 28, 30 points. And that's what we shot for each week, but with him it was, 'Don't make any mistakes offensively, we'll win defensively.' There's nothing wrong with that theory but you kept everyone in the game that way. We didn't attack people the way we had before. They even changed when Billy came because Allen brought Billy with him, he had played in the Lombardi system in New Orleans. The keys to the passing game. It was an easy read, you'd throw to the weakness of the defense. We understood that. We talked about it. When they came and Allen came, they changed all the keys and went opposite from what we'd been doing. I kept talking to them about it. This guy's open but I'm forcing the ball here, and they said you're not going along with the program. That's all I heard. I said, 'This guy's open. I can get it to him.' They didn't want that. They were stubborn enough to do that. I would have gotten along a lot better with Allen--but it was a power struggle."

Q: Did he take the fun out of it?

A: "Oh, without question he took the fun out of it. I couldn't please him. Billy got zapped against the Jets, I come in and go 11-for-11, throw two TDs, win the game, and then Billy starts the following week. But if Billy and I weren't friends and hadn't been friends, then we'd have split that team right down the middle. The only thing we wanted to do was win, and to do the best we could to help the team win. It was tough for both of us."

Q: What did you and Billy Kilmer think about the bumper stickers?

A: "We thought it was funny. It was funny, we hung together all the time, we partied together. We'd go down the beltway and Billy would see an 'I Like Sonny' sticker and he'd start yelling at people and if we saw an 'I like Billy' one, I'd do the same thing. The fact that we didn't win, but the people still loved the Redskins and came to see them, we realized we were going to lay it on the line all the time."

Q: What did you think of the 'Three Cheers for the Redskins?'

A: "I didn't participate in that. That was George Allen's way. He believed in all of that. It wasn't me or my personality. It didn't help that I didn't like or participate in that."

Q: What is it about Redskins fans that make them special?

A: "It's the only game in town. It's changed now. Yes, they have the Wizards, now they have the Nationals, but Redskins is a community thing. It's just something that brings everyone together. When you won, everyone just loved it, loved you. It minimized the problems they were having in the government or whatever job they had, everyone was happy. If you lost, now it magnified their problems. It made the Redskins bigger than life, it was a very special place to play. Everyone talks about the New York Giants, New York City was the place to play, and all that. But to play in the nation's capital, you can go into the White House. I'd rather play here more than in New York City. I played hard every week. I played injured. I got injections into my knee on the bench. We played hurt in those days. They wouldn't do that now. That was expected that you play hurt."

Q: What was the toughest pass to throw?

A: "I think the long ball is the easiest. A deep out to me was throwing a deep out to the left side of the field. To the right, it's easy. A lot of times you'll see quarterbacks throwing the ball down the left side, say a go route, just a fly pattern. They'll pull the ball out, the right side, they won't. The most difficult was a 15-20 yard fade. Getting it away from the defender was tough. Any quarterback that's playing now or then could complete those passes if there was no pressure."

Q: What was the wackiest pass you ever completed?

A: "I was two-thirds left handed. I think the one behind my back. We played in 1961, the college all-stars--it used to play the team that won the NFL championship would play the college all-star team. Billy was on that team. We played them in Chicago. It wasn't a game. We had a lot of offense, that was a big game for me. This is like the kickoff game. I was a little uptight. I'd played a lot and started in my rookie year. I wanted to throw an out to the left and a defensive lineman came in and jumped in my face. As he jumped, I wanted to throw it there, but I couldn't. My reaction was to throw the ball behind my back, I could throw it 40-45 yards that way. I completed it for about 30 yards."

Q: Is greatness more about mental ability?

A: "Without question. It's more mental then physical because we had to call the plays. We had a game plan to follow. Yes, we knew what we wanted to do, but today it's more complex, coaches are calling the plays. Today's game is a coaching game. Coaches lose games, players win it. You hope Jason Campbell takes advantage of his opportunity. This is a special place to play quarterback."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.