He has enough money and he is happy out of football, but Billy Kilmer would play this season for a good team - or for one of the worst. Because the Redskins will pay him $240,000 this year, work or not, Kilmer's salary is fixed and only playoff money would change it. "So why go play for just anybody?" he said.
Yes, why waste time with, to pick a real dog, the San Francisco 49ers?
Funny you used the name of 49ers," Kilmer said. "I might like to go there. Because of Bill Walsh. Because of his mind. I could learn a lot from him. That would be incentive to go there even if they aren't a contender. They might be a surprise team, too. Bill Walsh I could play for."
Billy Kilmer wants to be a head coach in the National Football League. Walsh, the new coach of the 49ers, is a brilliant offensive innovator. Kilmer says he "would really consider it strongly" if the 49ers, a 2-14 team last season, wanted him to suit up for an 18th season at age 40.
It would be a nice step toward coaching, which Kilmer says "is the most natural thing for me to do next. Sure, I want to be a head coach. If assistant coaches don't want to be ultimately a head coach, they're just spinning their wheels."
As part of a purge of perceived malcontents, the Redskins two months ago dropped Kilmer. At the time, the only quarter-back ever to take the Redskins to Super Bowl said he still want to play. But no NFL team has picked him up and now Kilmer says. "I've come to realize it's probably the end. I've been gearing my mind to that - but not completely."
Kilmer isn't calling NFL clubs, begging for a job, a football junkie in withdrawal. But he swims, does calisthenics, jogs, plays golf, tosses a football around with neighbor kids and keeps his weight at 200, nearly 15 pounds under his accustomed offseason weight. If someone needs a quarterback, now or in midseason when injuries pile up, Kilmer says, "They know where I am."
If his passes wobbled in flight, and if he hobbled into the pocket like an octogenarian fleeing muggers, the beauty of Kilmer the quarterback was undeniable. He won big games. He won because he was a great athlete, which was the least of it, and he won because he wouldn't lose, which is the most of it.
This is hard to explain and sounds silly because it is so subjective, but Kilmer won football games - 51 of 69 he started for the Redskins - with his eyes. I have seen Kilmer's eyes full of the moving passion of the fight, narrowly focused and compelling, when the subject was no more important than what a sportswriter said in the paper that day. With a football game at stake, Kilmer's teammates surely saw in those eyes a guarantee the job would get done well or he'd be damned.
Sports, like war, exposes men. It is the fox-hole metaphor. You would want Kilmer next to you in that hole. He would find a way out. Driving inside the 20 against Dallas, he would find a way into the end zone. That was his mission, that alone, not fame or wealth, only to win a game. And his teammates, feeling no contrivance from this signlemined leader, played to his level of passion in the certain knowledge they would win - and, should they somehow lose, they knew no disgrace waited, for they had come out of the foxhole with all guns blazing.
"I can play," Kilmer said on a gloriously sunny day near the ocean in this city that collects old quarterbacks (Joe Namath lives here, too). "I do feel good and if you look back on last season, every time I got in a game I moved the ball. But if it's over, it's over. A lot of people thought I wouldn't last three years in the league, and I played 17. I've had a great career. I've done everything and seen everything. And I went out with a typical pass, didn't I?"
Kilmer laughed out loud at the memory, nearly spilling his afternoon glass of white wine. That last pass went 17 yards, first deflected by a defender and then caught by Jean Fugett for a touchdown.
"That was typical for me," Kilmer said. "It bounced off somebody to somebody else. It went end over end. And it went for a touchdown."
Since the Redskins released him, Kilmer has done a lot of nothing: fishing for four days in Mexico . . . a cruise . . . golf twice a week, including a quarterbacks' tournament in Texas with the likes of Bobby Layne, Don Meredith and Sonny Jurgensen ("Jurgy's the all-time best a magician who taught me how to throw"). Kilmer has seen his good 4-year-old thoroughbred, Raymond Earl, win three stakes and $96,000 since January ("We paid $180,000 for him and he has tripled in value"). Kilmer also has studied business opportunities ("Because the Redskins are paying me off, I don't have to jump into just anything and then be hopping around, being miserable").
Anyone who cared about the Redskins in the last decade will have a Kilmer moment to remember. It was Dec. 10, 1977, when Kilmer dropped back to pass against St. Louis in a game the Redskins had to win if they hoped to make the playoffs. The Redskins led, 19-13, early in the fourth quarter and faced a third-and-11 situation, only 42 yards from a touchdown.
Looking to pass, Kilmer could find no receiver. So he ran with the ball. Like an old man hobble-hopping across the street before a car runs over him. Like a creaking quarterback on second-hand legs. Like running with a new invention. "The way Billy runs," tailback Calvin Hill said that day, "I couldn't tell if he was running for real or still going to pass."
Everyone east of the Himalayas and west of Hackensack knows Kilmer cannot run. An automobile crash 15 years ago nearly tore off his left leg, and the left foot even today hangs loosely, as if attached by a thread. But on third and 11, Kilmer came out of the foxhole, running. He ran furiously if not fast. "People do crazy things when they're scared," said tackle Diron Talbert, explaining his buddy's dash.
Needing 11 yards, Kilmer ran for 12. Three plays later, the Redskins scored a touchdown that assured victory.
"I lived for it," Kilmer said when someone suggested the quarterback played above his ability when it meant the most. "I loved it. That's when I wanted to be in there. I didn't want to be coming out."
Coming out . He spoke the words as if they smelled.
"I wanted to be going in ."
Kilmer in retirement is bitter at the Redskin management for releasing so many old-timers by telephone. "They wouldn't let us go out with any dignity," he said.
Mostly, however, Kilmer is content. He would like to play and he would like to coach, but for the moment he is at ease, relaxing. He will, he said, accomplish an unexpected feat this Sept. 5 when he turns 40.
"I will finally have caught up with Jurgy," Kilmer said, laughing. "He's been 40 ever since I knew him. He was 40 when I came to the Resdkins 10 years ago and he's 40 now."