Jul 22, 2009, 5:20 PM EDT
This was the very height of the Sonny vs. Billy debate. Jurgensen, a future Hall of Famer, had suffered a shoulder injury in a preseason game the previous year. In came Kilmer, a veteran journeyman who was acquired in George Allen’s first trade with the team. All he did was lead Washington to postseason play for the first time in 25 years.
As they came to camp in Carlisle in 1972, Allen let the two battle it out. “George tried to create a rivalry at every position,” Kilmer said. Especially, it seemed, at signal caller.
The rivalry was a friendly one. “Sonny and I hit it off right away,” said Kilmer. “We understood that we had a good chance to be on a winning team so instead of being petty about things we decided to help each other.”
Not surprisingly in a city that loves a good leadership controversy, the fans took sides in the issue. Bumper stickers proclaiming that the car’s occupant liked Sonny or Billy were hot items. Unofficial counts around town showed a slim but certain margin in favor of Jurgensen. “I wasn’t surprised that the fans took sides,” said Kilmer. “Sonny is the guy and always will be.”
Both quarterbacks played well during the preseason, so Allen was forced to make his decision based on other factors. The week before the season opener in Minnesota, the coach announced that Kilmer would be the starter as a reward for his performance the previous season. Jurgensen would take over four games into the season and win all three of his starts before his year ended when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Kilmer came back in and earned Pro Bowl honors as he led the Redskins to Super Bowl VII.
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