Man and boy, from the sixth grade through high school, Duke and 18 years in the National Football League, he was a quarterback. THE quarterback, some said. And now, at age 43 and more than two years into retirement, Sonny Jurgensen still may be seen throwing a football.
"Strictly back-yard stuff," he was saying during one of his few uncluttered moments the other day. "Funny, though, after all those games I'd thrown wet footballs and couldn't lift my arm to brush my teeth the next morning, I always thought I'd end up with a dead arm. But it feels strong.
"Of course, I've been resting it a few years."
Out of football but not out of the spotlight, Jurgensen is in reruns this week - jogging our memories of an athlete far ahead of his time in so many ways and launcher of All Those Wonderful Spirals.
His infamous stomach ("I'm not out of shape," he always argues, "I've go a bum tailor.") has been pulled toward scads of fancy luncheons and dinners lately, with the honors peaking during the long-overdue "night" tonight in RFK Stadium.
Socially, Jurgensen was pulling Namath-like capers when Broadway Joe still was a pup in Beaver Falls, Pa. He and King Hill staged a training-camp walkout long before that tactic became fashionable. With him, the Redskins attracted sellout crowds long before Vince Lombardi and George Allen brought winning football to Washington.
"I think it was '63 when King and I walked out," Jurgensen said. "It was close to an exhibition game, and the Eagles didn't have any quarterbacks for practice. It was over something like a $5,000 raise, and King and I went to Philly and played golf.
"I remember when the reporters caught up to us, on the 12th hole. One of them said: 'What's your next move?' I said: 'Well, I've got to get down in two from 50 feet or I lose the hole."
Jurgensen said the Eagles soon gave him the raise he wanted, to about $30,000, but asked him to sign his contract with Hill absent. No, Jurgensen, we went out together, we might as well sign together. The Eagles agreed.
"Later," he said, "I found out that if I had signed without him they'd planned to really stick it to King. Goodbye. You know how it works. As it was, we got about what we wanted."
Ironically, Hill lasted longer with the Eagles than Jurgensen, who became a Redskin April Fool's Day in '64 in a trade that sent Norm Snead and Claude Crabb to Philadelphia.
The Redskins were a winner just one year that Jurgensen was full-time quaterback, Lombardi's one season. Yet he remains just behind Walter Johnson and Sammy Baugh as athletes for whom the area has lavished its deepest affection, the fans recognizing that what he did might not have brought victory but was speical nonetheless.
Baugh all but invented the forward pass; Jurgensen perfected it.
"I enjoyed competing against the best defenses," he said. "The Colts, the Giants and some others. Once in '62 against the Giants, I threw 57 times, and always on first down because we simply couldn't run against them. I remember Rosey Grier chasing me and then walking back to the line muttering: 'You're gonna have to run one sooner or later.'"
Since Jurgensen rarely admitted he knew less about offensive football than the coaches, there often was talk that Sunday's game plan was not the one constructed during the week. Not quite.
"Game plans, you see are for coaches," he said, "and everything possible is in there, so if the other team runs something odd the coach can't say we didn't have the answer in the game plan.
"There'd be 50 plays, and the most you might reasonably expect to call was 10. I remember when Mike McCormack was here he'd come up to me before a game and ask me what my ready list was, what plays I planned to use, so his blockers knew what to prepare for.
"I never really made things up. I just abbreviated game plans, used what I felt comfortable with. In Philly, I remember once we were down 35-0 at the half against the Packers and they only gave me three plays to catch up with. I used to go over to an ex-coach's house and study film."
There was one bit of advice Jurgensen did heed, from Doug Atkins, one of the largest - and meanest - NFL helmet squashers.
"I think Billy (Kilmer) was with the Saints that day, too," Jurgensen said. "Anyway, we were leading, but I completed a long one to Jerry Smith on third down late in the game. When Doug and I were going back to our huddles he said: "Hey, you run out the clock or I'm gonna get you.'"
"You take that sort of thing seriously. But when I got in the huddle, everybody's saying, 'Let's score; let's score.' And I'm saying, 'Naw.' Because I'm the only one who knew Doug was coming after me."
Looking back, Jurgensen said he takes pride in "doing the best we could," although others, including at least a teammate or two, would quibble about the pronoun, suggesting the vertical one was all he worked at polishing.
Whatever, when one talks of pure passers, those who could throw a football with memorable accuracy and speed, long and short, the only challengers to Jurgensen are Norm Van Brocklin, Y. W. Tittle and Johnny Unitas.
And part of marveling over Jurgensen was how he produced such magnificent numbers (more than 400 yards in one game five times; more than 3,000 yards in one season five times) doing what he had done the night before.
Usually, Jurgensen said, breaking curfew came only during training camp. Now and then he would get caught, nearly always in the company of a teammate or so. Once he took the coach's son along.
"I did get caught once before a regular-season game," he confessed. "The last game of the '61 season, we're in Detroit and the head coach and a reporter see me very late. We won the game, though, and I was something like 27 for 35 for 400 yards (it was 27 for 42 and 403 yards and three touchdowns) and we lost the division title to the Giants because Ray Renfro of the Browns drops a touchdown pass against them that day.
"There's a lot of pressure when you get caught. You certainly cannot lay an egg in the game."