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Another Year, Another Dose of Jurgensen's Optimism on Redskins

By George Solomon
Sunday, July 30, 2006; E02

On the eve of the Redskins' opening training camp in Ashburn, their venerable radio and TV broadcaster, Sonny Jurgensen, hesitated when told he's been involved with the team for 42 years.

"That would be a long time," said Jurgensen, 71. He and the legendary Sammy Baugh, 92, are the two Redskins quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jurgensen's longevity is a "tribute to medical science," said retired wide receiver Bobby Mitchell, who was witness to Jurgensen's partiality to the good life as a young man. "No one ever thought Sonny Jurgensen would live to be 72." Mitchell could have added that -- like the Steelers' reckless star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger -- Jurgensen sometimes exceeded life's speed limit. But Sonny, as his insurance agents would confirm, preferred fast cars to motorcycles.

But I digress, aware that I've already lost every reader under the age of 50. Let's return to the current state of the Redskins, who begin practice tomorrow. This is a Redskins team coming off a 10-6 year and a win over Tampa Bay in the postseason, with expectations heightened by a half-dozen promising free agent acquisitions, including wide receivers Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd, safety Adam Archuleta and defensive end Andre Carter.

Also, the addition of Al Saunders, a high-octane offensive coordinator from Kansas City, to Coach-President Joe Gibbs's staff at considerable cost ($2 million a year, I hear), has to help -- prompting a number of smart NFL observers to rate the Redskins among the elite teams.

"There's a good chance they could go 12-4 or 11-5," said Jurgensen, a perennial optimist. "They've made a lot of improvements on offense and defense. But the key to their season is whether or not [quarterback] Mark Brunell stays healthy. They'll play Jason Campbell a lot in the preseason. I like him; he's an accurate passer who is very athletic. But Brunell has to be healthy."

In the nearly five decades he's been in the NFL, including five seasons with the Eagles starting in 1957, Jurgensen said the biggest change in the game has been its evolution from the field to the sideline. A "coach's" game is how he described it.

"The coaches choreograph everything," Jurgensen said. "They call all the plays, make the decisions. But I still think the quarterback knows what's the best play to call, not the coach on the sideline.

"You'd be in the huddle, see for yourself who wants the ball, who doesn't, ask Charley Taylor, 'Can you beat this guy?' That's having the feel of the game in your hands."

Opining on Bonds

The appearance of Barry Bonds, along with the Alfonso Soriano soap opera and the Nats' six-game homestand sweep, made for a lively week of baseball in Washington.

Bonds, of course, was the main attraction. Few athletes have ever generated such hostility in every opposing ballpark.

For nearly five years, intense coverage of steroid use in baseball, with Bonds the focus, has dominated the off-the-field news. Drama of the daily beat never stops: Will Bonds be indicted by the current grand jury? Will his personal trainer testify or go back to jail? What will the George Mitchell-led investigation uncover? What's on Barry's mind, as he sits on 722 home runs, only 33 from all-time home run king Hank Aaron's record 755?

All those questions hung heavy on a steamy Wednesday night at RFK, where a half-dozen teenage baseball players from Federalsburg, Md., sat in the front row watching Bonds.

"Don't like him," Hunter Bennett said.

"Me neither," Bennett's friend said.

"He's on the juice," chipped in a third, so young he couldn't possibly know the meaning of what he said.

Each time Bonds came to bat Wednesday, he was greeted mostly by boos and catcalls. Nothing like Philadelphia, but still boos and catcalls. When the great Saul Rivera struck him out in the sixth, the cheers were as loud as they were for Austin Kearns's game-winning sacrifice fly in the ninth.

Except for the scattered fans wearing Bonds jerseys, including David Sklar, a Michigan student and third-generation Giants fan from New Jersey interning in Washington for the summer.

"I think it's a witch hunt," said Sklar. "It's not Bonds. It's the system. I admire him. He doesn't back down."

In front of Sklar, a Nats fan wheeled around and asked sharply, "Are you kidding me?"

Of such questions do sports-talk radio and sports bars exist.

Agassi's Last Go-Round

Barring a last-minute injury, soon-to-retire Andre Agassi will make his final appearance as a player in Washington in this week's Legg Mason Tennis Classic at the FitzGerald Tennis Center off 16th Street NW. The tournament is part of a popular series leading up to next month's U.S. Open and also will feature Andy Roddick, James Blake and Lleyton Hewitt.

The 36-year-old Agassi, who has played here 16 times, is among the top "seven or eight players of all time," says Donald Dell, who has run the D.C. event since it began in 1969. "He was a phenomenal shot-maker," Dell said. And the best player ever, according to Dell, once a top 10 player himself, "was Rod Laver."

Farewell

To Steve Mamakos, 87, a middleweight boxer from Washington who died this week. Mamakos had 49 fights and a 29-19-1 record, twice unsuccessfully taking on Tony Zale for the middleweight title (1941) and splitting two decisions with Georgie Abrams, another D.C. fighter of distinction. Boxing was a very big deal in Mamakos's day and his foes alone (Ezzard Charles, Izzy Jannazzo, Toots Bernstein, Tami Mauriello) makes you want to see "Cinderella Man" yet again. Mamakos worked in the mailroom of The Post after he retired from boxing.

Questions for the Beach

· If Alfonso Soriano makes the Hall of Fame some day, will his Cooperstown induction be in his Nats hat? And what's with Trader Jim Bowden writing columns for the Washington Examiner and commentating for Channel 4? If this trade happens and bombs, will he rip himself?

· Why are the Redskins charging $25 to park at FedEx Field for Saturday's scrimmage with the Ravens when there is no admission charge? Can you take Metro's Blue Line to Morgan Boulevard, or do the Redskins own the subway line as they do their own radio station/network? As area statesman Allen Iverson has said many times, "It's just practice."

· If Boston can have its "Great Fenway Park Writers Series," why can't RFK have a Feinstein Series?

No column next Sunday, so chat among yourselves for a week. But keep in touch attalkback@washpost.com.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company