Pals reunite on-air with Frank Herzog, 'the voice' of the Redskins
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
For one last time, it was just like old times.
Sonny, Sam and Frank -- true Redskins fans don't need last names -- were back on the air again Monday, if only for an hour and if only to say goodbye to one another.
The occasion was Frank Herzog's retirement after 41 years as a TV and radio broadcaster in Washington, but the sub-theme during a tribute program on WTOP-FM was the 25 years Herzog spent calling Redskins games -- 23 of those with football legends Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff as his wingmen.
The Sonny-Sam-Frank team had seemed inseparable through all those Redskins glory years, when the team was winning Super Bowls and Herzog was stamping his signature call -- "Touchdown, Washington Redskins!" -- into the ears of a generation of fans. Herzog moved off the broadcasts in 2004 (Jurgensen and Huff continue to do games) and became an anchor at WTOP, the all-news station.
Although it has been six years since they've been on the radio together, the three men fell quickly back into their old form Monday morning, when Jurgensen phoned in from Florida and Huff called from his home in Middleburg. There was the old banter, the sometimes loopy give-and-take, the old towel-snapping humor and plenty of mutual respect.
"I didn't know much about football when I started," Herzog said on the air. "I really didn't. Just being around those two on the bus and on the plane -- I got my master's degree in professional football from these guys."
"He was the voice," Huff said. "We were there to help him. . . . We were a team, and Frank was the leader of me and Sonny."
Jurgensen agreed: "Frank was the only professional in the booth."
Herzog recalled being initially intimidated by working with Huff, who intimidated opposing quarterbacks and running backs as a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Redskins and New York Giants. In one of the first games they worked together, Herzog jumped up for the national anthem and promptly struck his head on a fluorescent light fixture. As the glass rained down, Herzog recalled thinking, " 'Oh, God, Huff's going to kill me. He's going to throw me out the window.' " Instead, Huff was laughing. "I said, 'Okay, I'm going to be all right,' " Herzog said.
Just to make the Redskins nostalgia complete, Herzog was joined in the studio by John Riggins, another Redskins legend-turned-broadcaster. Surprise call-in guests included former coach Joe Gibbs, cornerback Darrell Green, Hall of Fame Bullets player and coach Wes Unseld, and local broadcast icons Gordon Peterson, Johnny Holliday and James Brown.
Gibbs recalled that Herzog was the first to suggest that former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke was going to fire Gibbs after he started 0-5 in his first season as coach. Gibbs said he replied, "If I was [Cooke], I would." He added with a giggle: "I heard Frank is retiring, and it's about time. He forced me into two retirements, so it's about time for him."
Some of the more affectionate comments seemed to leave Herzog, who is 65, a bit tearful. "Allergies!" he insisted later.
Amid all the good wishes, the abrupt circumstances of Herzog's departure from the Redskins radio booth in 2004 were almost overlooked. Almost: WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin brought up the subject at nearly the end of the hour. "The owner of the Washington Redskins should apologize and ask Frank Herzog back," ranted Plotkin. "No one can even remember the name of the guy who replaced him." (That would be Larry Michael.)
Herzog explained later that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder wasn't behind his firing; he was dumped by radio station WJFK-FM, which then held the rights to broadcast Redskins games.
"It was a money thing," Herzog said. "They wanted to use one of their employees, who had other responsibilities, so they could save one salary." As for Snyder: "He did all he could. I saw him later, and he looked me in the eye and shook my hand and said: 'I don't interfere with the decisions of other companies. It's their call to make.' "
On the other hand, he misses the Redskins. "If they were to ask me back, I'd think about it," he says. And after thinking about it, he adds, "Yeah, I'd go back."