By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5:15 PM
Sam Huff insists his return to the Redskins radio booth for the 2007 football season never really was in much doubt, even if he admitted the other day that he occasionally asked himself a few times during the offseason if he really did want to come back for his 35th year as the longest running broadcast analyst in team history.
He hadn't gotten a raise for several years, and that long drive down Route 50 and around the beltway from his farm out in Middleburg to FedEx Field seemed to keep getting longer with each passing game. Still, the more Huff thought about it, the more he knew he'd be back for another year with his long-time partner and best friend, Sonny Jurgensen.
Before we go any further, let me offer a disclaimer here. I'm in the tank for my friend Sam Huff, and have been ever since we collaborated 20 years ago on his biography (Tough Stuff, available now in your local rare book store at 50 cents a copy/paperback 10 cents), a worst-seller that allowed me to pick Huff's fertile mind and have a jolly grand time talking about old-time football for three hours once a week for more than three months in the winter of 1986.
I also know there is a small minority of Redskins fans who may have grown tired of the Sonny and Sam act, the offense vs. defense back and forth they've developed over more than 25 years as partners in the booth. I'm not one of them. In fact, the day Daniel Snyder breaks up that team -- and you know, like everything else involving the Redskins, at some point he'll meddle here, too -- the whole town ought to rise up and protest.
After all, Redskins may come and go -- at the most alarming rate in team history since Snyder bought in '99 -- but Sonny and Sam are truly a Washington institution and really ought to be able to stay on in perpetuity, or at least until they decide to walk away from the game broadcasts on their own.
Listening to both of them talk about doing the games every fall, it doesn't sound like that's going to happen any time soon.
"I'm talking on the radio about the game I love more than anything else," Huff said the other day. "I loved to play it. I love to be around it.
I never played for the money. I only made $38,000 in my best year and I started at $7,500 as a rookie. So why would I stop doing this now? It would make no sense. What else am I gonna do on Sunday."
Huff did hire an agent to negotiate his contract this time around, simply because he did not want to haggle himself as he's always done in the past. He told his man he'd like a bump up in salary, perhaps to Jurgensen's level, but when news came back from the Redskins that budgets were tight (after all, Snyder just spent a fortune on American bandstand, for heaven's sake) and there would be no raise, he swallowed hard and still signed on the bottom line.
Huff said he spoke to Jurgensen, who didn't have to do much convincing for Huff to decide to come back.
"What the hell, I just love doing it," Huff said. "I love working with Sonny. Now if he didn't sign, I wasn't going to sign. But we talked and he told me he'd sent his contract in. What am I going to do? I consider him like one of my brothers, and I'm closer to him than some of the members of my own family. It's a friendship I hope never ends."
Jurgensen seems equally enthusiastic about another year in the booth with Huff, and play-by-play man Larry Michael.
"The chemistry is what makes it work," Jurgensen said this week. "With me doing offense and Sam doing defense and Larry refereeing, it just seems to click. It's funny, I'll be sitting there saying something and I'll look down in the crowd and people are listening to the broadcast and turning around to give me the thumbs up sign. That's kind of neat."
Of course Jurgensen and Huff, who joined the Redskins in 1964 via two separate but very controversial trades, are pulling for their adopted home town team. Neither man denies it, but neither man also ever hesitates to criticize the Redskins when they believe it's warranted.
"We're the Redskins' broadcast team," Jurgensen said. "We're not trying to do an objective network game, and we make no bones about it. When we do the post-game show in the locker room, the last thing you want is to go interview the losing team. So sure you want them to win. It makes it more fun for everyone. But when we have to, we get on them, there's no question about it. That's part of the job, and I think we've been able to do that and get our point across."
Jurgensen also insisted that not once in Snyder's reign of error has the owner ever told him to take it easy on his team, to pull a punch or three.
"Going all the way back to Jack Kent Cooke, no one has ever said don't criticize," Jurgensen said. "I don't think we do it unjustly. We look at the game and we observe what they do. We're certainly objective about that part of it, and if we see things are not working well, we'll say it. That's not going to change."
Best of all, nothing will change with Sonny and Sam in the broadcast booth in 2007.
"We're going to do the same broadcast we always have," Jurgensen said.
"We don't know any other way."
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com