By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Former Washington Redskin Jon Jaqua has prepared himself for the flood of memories when he arrives at RFK Stadium on Sunday. After all, it was his work place for three years in the early 1970s, a place where George Allen's Over the Hill Gang revived the languishing NFL franchise and took it to its first Super Bowl.
"I remember everything about RFK as if it was yesterday," Jaqua recalled this week from his ranch outside Eugene, Ore. "The sites, the sounds and the people. But my most vivid recollection was standing on that field late in a game that I knew we had won, everything and everybody sort of in slow motion, the crowd noise in the background, just absorbing the experience.
"I remember saying to myself on more than one occasion that I wished this day would never end."
Jaqua, now 59, will return to the nation's capital this weekend not for a football game or a reunion (although he will head out to Loudoun County and stay with his old roommate, guard Paul Laaveg), but to watch a soccer match. For after his premature retirement in 1974 because of an arthritic condition, ending a career as a reserve defensive back and special teams standout, Jaqua helped raise a son, Nate, who turned into a pretty talented soccer player.
On Sunday afternoon, while the Redskins are in Dallas to renew their rivalry with the Cowboys, the elder Jaqua will be seated at creaky RFK to watch the younger Jaqua represent the Houston Dynamo against the New England Revolution in America's grandest soccer event, the MLS Cup.
It is not the first time Jon Jaqua will have come to RFK to watch his son, a 6-foot-3 forward in his fifth season in the 13-team league. He was here in 2003 when Nate was a rookie with the Chicago Fire and returned two years later for a playoff game between Chicago and D.C. United. On this occasion, though, a trophy is at stake.
"I know it means a lot to my dad to see me playing at RFK," said Nate, who accompanied his father to watch the Redskins' final game at RFK in 1996. "I never got to see him play, but he would talk about all the big games he played there and what it meant to be a Redskin."
Jon Jaqua arrived in Washington in 1970 from little Lewis & Clark College in Oregon. He played every game of his first two seasons, returned six kickoffs and fielded three punts in '71, and made eight appearances during the 1972 season, in which the Redskins won the NFC East and beat the Packers and Cowboys in the playoffs before losing to the unbeaten Dolphins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles.
The Super Bowl was Jaqua's final game in the NFL. Injuries sidelined him the following season, and after failing a physical with the Bears in '74, he called it quits.
He returned to Oregon, where he manages farming operations at the family's McKenzie Oaks Ranch, runs a metal stamping company with former Redskins teammate Tim Stokes and has served in the state's department of economic development. It was there at the ranch where Nate Jaqua developed his soccer skills. With Nate's mother encouraging her sons to pursue soccer and avoid the injuries that afflicted their father, Jon Jaqua carved a pitch into their farmland.
"My dad saw 'Field of Dreams' and got the idea," Nate said. "I think it was supposed to be a baseball field, but just became a soccer field. I actually wanted to be a professional baseball player, but soccer became my sport."
An Oregon high school player of the year, Nate went on to the University of Portland, where he played three years, scored 29 goals and was a third-team all-American as a junior. He left school early to sign with MLS and was the third overall pick in the 2003 draft.
Jaqua had 21 goals and 11 assists his first four seasons, including a career-best eight goals last year, but with the possibility that he would leave for Europe, Chicago left him unprotected in the expansion draft. Toronto selected him, but then traded him to Los Angeles. The prospects of collecting David Beckham's crosses intrigued Jaqua, but in the months before the Englishman's summer arrival, he squandered numerous scoring chances and had just one goal in 10 appearances.
In July, the Galaxy shipped him to Houston for defender Kelly Gray and a draft pick.
Jaqua has flourished in Houston, with six goals and two assists in 15 regular season matches and the go-ahead goal during a 2-0 victory over Kansas City in the Western Conference final last weekend. He is somewhat fortunate to be available to play in MLS Cup after being assessed just a yellow card (not a red, which carries a one-game suspension) for elbowing the Wizards' Jack Jewsbury late in the first half.
"We were having a rough time in L.A. and I saw it as a new opportunity," Jaqua said of the trade to Houston. "As a forward, it's nice to be able to put the ball in the back of the net again. I just hope to do it again Sunday."
For his father, the opportunity to see him play for a championship at RFK Stadium has brought both joy and memories.
"One of the [former Redskins] equipment managers sent me an e-mail the other day. It said, 'Keep from limping into the stadium and, in your old age, see if you can find your old locker,' " Jon Jaqua said, chuckling.