Sonny Jurgensen, sportsman, was gracious about it and said all the proper things when Joe Theismann walked off the field two Sundays ago with one of Jurgensen's proudest Redskins records in his pocket.
No longer the man who threw for more passing yards than any other Redskins quarterback, Jurgensen said, "Joe deserves the record . . . he's a gifted athlete."
Not always were Jurgensen and Theismann locked in mutual admiration. In Theismann's early years with the Redskins, it was perceived by some that he was getting an all-pro snub from the resident starting quarterbacks, Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer, devotees of the status quo and uneasily aware of the ambitions of the cocky young athlete from the Canadian Football League.
Theismann was the rookie in a hurry, so impatient sitting on the bench that he volunteered to return punts, was the backup punter and often played wide receiver in practice to help out the defense. He had come to the team brimming with ideas of becoming the No. 1 quarterback without undue delay. But the wait was too long, the acceptance too slow and the team friendships too tepid. Those were the years 1974-77.
When Theismann last month preempted one of the prize Redskins records owned by Jurgensen, it could have been a special fulfillment for him. And he had exceeded 22,706 passing yards in his mere seventh season as a starter.
But for all of his spectacular feats -- he has taken the team to two Super Bowls and last season was voted the NFL's most valuable player -- it is most questionable that Redskins history will salute Theismann as the team's supreme quarterback. Also on the ballot are two considerable fellows named Jurgensen and Sammy Baugh, with surpassing credits of their own.
If Jurgensen's credentials are imposing, Baugh's deeds with the Redskins (1937-1952) will be awesome to those who seek comparisons. In his 14th year with the team, Baugh was the NFL's leading passer, for the sixth time, an efficiency that was helping him to earn an $18,000 salary in 1950, somewhat shy of Theismann's reported $1 million a year.
Baugh owned 17 NFL passing records when he quit, including a .703 completion percentage in 1945. But there is much more about Baugh, a 60-minute player in the era before the platoons: He led the league in punting three straight years.
A word about those 11 interceptions alongside Baugh's name in 1942: they weren't his passes that fell into the hands of the enemy. They were interceptions by Baugh when he was playing defense and setting a team record -- at the time -- in that department.
In style, they were diverse. Actually, Baugh wasn't even a quarterback until his eighth season. Before the Redskins switched to the T-formation in 1944, he was a tailback, throwing from single- and double-wing formations, the ball cocked at the ready behind his right ear as he scrambled for position. He was the first pro quarterback to pass extensively on first down, and perhaps the first to drill the ball to receivers. With his accuracy, he could be credited with starting the forward pass revolution.
Like Jurgensen, Baugh called his own plays. He also had the option to quick-kick on third down if he noted the safety playing up close. Baugh's line-drive quick kicks included many a 70- and 80-yarder, including bounces.
When Redskins fans in 1945 presented Baugh with a shiny new station wagon at a Griffith Stadium testimonial, he expressed his gratitude in the most sincere terms -- by throwing six touchdown passes against the Cardinals.
Jurgensen was strictly the drop-back passer, unlike Theismann, who often leaves the pocket for an ad-lib scramble. Jurgensen once said, "Sure, I stayed in the pocket. Can you picture me scrambling? I couldn't get out of my own shadow."
It was gospel in pro football that Jurgensen was the "pure" passer, that he was the practitioner of the quick release that gave him an important advantage. In a recent outbreak of modesty, Jurgensen scoffed at that reputation. "Quick release?" he said. "Those guys on defense told me how quick to release the ball."
Jurgensen completed 58 percent of his Redskins passes. Theismann went into this season with a career percentage of 56.4, and has a shot at that record.
Who could throw the ball farthest when necessary? Jurgensen. Who was the most accurate, especially when zinging it? Baugh is the belief here. Who has displayed the most derring-do? Theismann, the masterful clutch performer who also may be the most error-prone of the three. However, Jurgensen does not discount Theismann as a long passer, saying in the argot of quarterbacks, "Joe gets good air under the ball."
Theismann has been operating with an advantage denied Baugh and Jurgensen, who often had to search for their receivers in the years before the bump-and-run rule was modified. Now, a defender is restricted to one bump of a receiver, and that within five yards of the scrimmage line.
Nor did Baugh and Jurgensen have the protection that Theismann enjoys behind a big offensive line trained in the martial arts. It isn't naughty any more to block with the arms and hands extended. Blockers used to be restricted to shoulder blocks, with arms held close to the body.
The sum-up here is that the Redskins have had three gifted quarterbacks, two already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the third getting a bead on it. Who, at this point, ranks as the best: Baugh, Jurgensen or Theismann? Taking them alphabetically could be the answer, while denigrating none.