Thirteen NFL seasons later and the sack-o-meter now reads 102 for Washington Redskins defensive end Tony McGee.
"Go ask my kids and they'll tell you about the sack," says McGee, 34. "They know that's what allows us to eat."
In his time ("It's been a long, long time," McGee allows), McGee has sacked quarterbacks named Tarkenton, Staubach, Namath and even one named Theismann.
"You hang around long enough, and you'll get them all," says McGee, one of four current defensive linemen to have played at least 13 seasons. Houston's Elvin Bethea, the Raiders' Lyle Alzado and the Rams' Jack Youngblood are the others.
For lasting so long, locker room grief often comes McGee's way. "I call him Way Back When or Old Man," says rookie defensive lineman Charles Mann, 22, five years older than McGee's oldest son. Respectfully, Mann adds, "I hope I can grow up to be as successful as he's been."
McGee is a 6-foot-4, 245-pound history book, a man equal parts on-the-field rage and off-the-field sage. Drafted from so-small Bishop (Tex.) College by the Chicago Bears in 1971, McGee was traded to New England (for two draft picks) in 1974 and remained there, sacking away, until coming to the Redskins at the start of last season for a 1984 draft choice.
"I've played with players people dream of playing with," said McGee, a.k.a. Mac the Sack. "I got to see Gale Sayers run to the outside. I got to see Sam the Bam Cunningham leaping over piles.
"You know my career really got started in 1971, when we (Chicago) were playing Washington. When the starting defensive tackle got hurt, they put in another guy, a guy named Dave Hale. But Dick Butkus called time out and came over and told the coach he wanted me to play instead. So I went in.
"I remember Billy Kilmer was driving the Redskins late in the game. They wanted to bring in Curt Knight to try for a field goal. But I blocked one of Kilmer's third-down passes. They were out of field goal range. The next day the Chicago papers read 'Good Knight, McGee Saves Day.' I still have that paper."
It's simply not enough to prod McGee observers to find out about the second-year Redskin who, on game days, enters the lineup on passing downs, wearing No. 78 and those evil-looking black cleats.
"Just relentless," says Lavern (Torgy) Torgeson, Redskins defensive line coach. And Coach Joe Gibbs adds, "You have got to respect Tony McGee. He is definitely one of our team leaders."
Quite simply, McGee lives for the sack. He has two so far this year. "Used to be a time when old quarterbacks were around long enough where they would be easy to sack," said McGee. "That's what made Joe Namath easy. His knees were bad. The two toughest guys to catch, I think, were Fran Tarkenton and Joe Theismann. They would start running and you wouldn't know whether they would keep going or not. We had a quarterback at Chicago, Bobby Douglass, who was a good runner. But when he started running, you knew he'd never stop."
Because individual sacks were not officially recorded until last year (McGee's 102-sack total is derived from game-by-game stat sheets), McGee possibly has been prevented from gaining a precious perch in the NFL record books.
Seymour Siwoff, director of the Elias Sport Bureau, the league's official statistician, said yesterday that team sacks have been kept since 1963. Individual sacks are difficult to maintain, Siwoff says, because sometimes it's difficult to figure which player really sacked the quarterback.
"I have assistant NFL coaches calling me in the middle of the week now, asking to change the player who was credited for a sack," Siwoff said. "So we go and look at the game films and check it out. Otherwise, we get our numbers from the official stat sheets. We've got players now getting credited with one-third of a sack, half a sack. Probably in time, there will be more uniform scoring of sacks. People will demand it."
Siwoff noted that no statistic can be extended retroactively. Consequently, the NFL's career sack leaders entering this season were Minnesota's Doug Martin and Philadelphia's Dennis Harrison, who each had 10 1/2 last season. McGee, who once had 14 sacks in a season for New England, had 6 1/2 last season.
McGee frets none over the affair. His has been a career of no absence-inducing injuries. Knocking on a wooden bench, McGee said, "Lord willing, I'll be able to keep playing for awhile to come.
"The pass rush is all desire. When you have the guy who is holding the ball right in your hands, well it's just one of the greatest feelings you can get on the football field. Last week, I got one against Kansas City and it felt good."
Perhaps the only part of McGee's history that causes him to fret is a quarterback he didn't sack: Green Bay's Bart Starr.
"He ran right over me once in my rookie year and I've never forgotten it."
McGee added, "I used to look up to other defensive linemen, guys like Carl Eller and Deacon Jones. But you know, now all those guys are gone."
McGee looked across the room at offensive tackle George Starke, another 1971 draftee (same as Riggins, Theismann and 13 others still in the NFL). McGee smiled and added, "Every time I start feeling old, I just look over at George Starke." McGee playfully limped out of the locker room. Starke laughed.
Center Jeff Bostic bruised his left shoulder at practice yesterday. It is not believed serious. "Somebody hit me from behind," Bostic said. "I'll be fine." Strong safety Curtis Jordan's bruised thigh seems almost entirely healed. He has been practicing with the first team and is expected to start Sunday at Seattle.