It had to be the most inappropriate sports descriptive going since some depression-ridden writer was woefully inspired to nickname "Dizzy" Dean's brother "Daffy." Colorless Paul Dean was never daffy, and to Washington Redskins' fans, plodding Billy Kilmer never came close to being the Kid.
The Sheriff, yes. But not the Kid.
To qualify as the Kid in the pantheon of American folk imagery, the applicant must be quick on the draw, fast on his feet, and have the panache either to get the leading lady or flame out in Sensurround. Understand, it isn't necessary that the Kid win. Only that, whatever he does, he do it with panache.
It is the same in sports, our modern metaphor for the old Wild West.
Thus, when Sonny Werblin, who then owned the New York Jets, first laid eyes on Joe Namath - at the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1, 1965 - he knew the Alabama quarterback was worth more money than any other football player in history "just by the way the kid came off the bench and ran onto the field."
Werblin called it "charisma." Call it that or panache or style or flash, it is the sort of thing that leads to fan cults, lucrative product endorsements and, after the player retires, offers from Hollywood and the networks: The sort of thing, that is, which is visible to the camera's eye. Some have it, some don't.
Sonny Jurgensen had it. He was the Kid. But Billy? You could tell he didn't, just by the way he came off the bench and limped onto the field.
There was a time, they say, when Billy Kilmer was indeed a Kid, a quarterback who could run onto a football field. They say it, but I don't believe it. To this Redskin fan, there was never a young Kilmer. He was born furnace-faced and limping, an overachiever who was never cut out to be the hotshot Kid of the piece but the gnarled Sheriff. Not all that quick, but what he lacked in flash he more than made up for in qualities hidden to the camera's eye.
Oh, he got the job done, all right. It's all there in the record book. He got it done, say the people who know him best, his teammates, because he was a leader; which raises some interesting questions, in a town absorbed in that subject, about the difference between charisma and style, on the one hand, and leadership, on the other.
The two are not, as the camera's eye would make us think, synonymous. Whatever quality he possessed that made Billy Kilmer the best quarterback in modern Redskin history - the best, second to none, don't take my word for it, just check the record book - we, the people on the sidelines, couldn't see. Or appreciate.
So it was that we never took him to our hearts as a mythic hero or even a favorite - for all the records. One bad afternoon - even a bad pass - and we were all too ready to pounce, to scream for the coach to remove this limping impostor with his flutterball delivery, and put in the real Kid.
It was Billy Kilmer's fate as a Washington Redskin, you see, to play the stolid, uncharismatic Pat Garrett to somebody else's Kid. Indeed, in his best year he would have lost-2-to-1 in any popular referendum on who ought to be calling signals at RFK on Sunday afternoons in autumn.
And yet, despite the bad moments and flutterball passes, the man, as I say, seemed to have his consensus where it counted - not in the stands or on the bumper stickers, but on the field. We didn't see it, but others did: They took us to the Super Bowl in 1973, and Billy Kilmer led the way.
Lombardi, obviously, was wrong. Winning isn't the only thing, not when it comes to the judging of merit or the making of legends in the age of the camera's eye. Gnarled sheriffs got no panache. Out West they don't sing songs or make movies about Pat Garrett. An in Hollywood-on-the-Potomac as in Hollywood West, we like our heroes to look good coming off the bench.
Goodbye, Billy, and good luck. We're going to miss you in the autumns to come. It might even occur to some of us that, panache or no panache, it was Pat Garrett and not the Kid who got the job done in the final reel. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Richard Darcey