August 23, 2011
When I hear the name Sonny Jurgensen, I typically think Washington Redskins. However, Jurgensen played the first 7 years of his career right here in Philly. A 4th round pick out of Duke, he was a backup for the first four seasons of his career. He watched from the bench as Norm van Brocklin led the Birds to a 1960 championship win over the Packers, then finally got his shot in 1961. He didn’t waste much time in showing Eagles fans what he could do. He threw for new NFL records 3,723 yards and 32 touchdowns, doing so at a time when football was considered “3 yards and a cloud of dust”, a sport suited for running between the tackles. (His 32 TDs is still the Eagles team record.) Throwing the ball was risky, and defensive backs could grab, shove, and interfere, meaning deep balls were coin flips. It’s no wonder, then, that the gunslinger Jurgensen threw 24 Int.’s in 1961 and 26 Int.’s in 1962.
For some reason, right out of the gate Eagles fans had it in for Jurgensen. These comments from Jurgensen come courtesy of the Eagles Encyclopedia:
Philly is a tough town. My rookie year, I won 3 of my 4 starts, and they still threw beer cans at me when I came through the tunnel. I said, “My God, what’s going to happen if I do bad?”
One game against Dallas in 1961, I was booed when I was introduced. I mean, I was booed by everybody. The first pass I threw was intercepted. The booing got worse. The 2nd pass I threw was intercepted, and fans started coming out of the stands. Our trainer got in a fight with a couple of them behind the bench. I thought we were going to have a riot.
I wound up throwing 5 touchdowns and we won going away. The fans were cheering my by the end, but they weren’t loud cheers. It was polite applause, like you’d hear at a tennis match. I couldn’t please them. A friend of mine went to the game. He told me, “Man, I never heard anything like that. Everybody around me was booing you.’ I asked him what he did. He said, “I booed you, too.” It was the thing to do.
Apparently Jurgensen suffered from “Abreu’s disease”, as I call it. He made things look too easy, he smiled too much, he seemed to be having fun no matter what the score was. That doesn’t go over well here now, and it didn’t go over well then. Things only got worse in 1962, as the team staggered to a 3-10-1 record. Jurgensen spent much of the 1963 season injured, and at that point the Eagles decided to trade him to the Redskins for QB Norm Snead and cornerback Claude Crabbe. The trade took place on April Fools Day, and I’ll give you one guess as to which team played the fool. Jurgensen put up Hall of Fame numbers for the Redskins for the next 11 years (though, notably, never leading them to a postseason win), while Snead would suffer through the Joe Kuharich era, the darkest period in Eagles history. He would then bounce around the NFL, ending his career with 61 more interceptions than touchdowns. Jurgensen, meanwhile, would get to play his former squad a few months after the trade, and absolutely destroy them. Video highlights of his superlative performance can be found here. Happy birthday, Sonny.