They are statistical lookalikes as Washington Redskins quarterbacks. For a moment, pull out the yardstick and measure Joe Theismann against Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen.
This will be Theismann's 11th season with the Redskins, matching Jurgensen, who retired after the 1974 season, although each was the fulltime starting quarterback only seven of those seasons. Theismann has thrown 3,235 passes going into Sunday's critical game against the Dallas Cowboys, 80 more than Jurgensen threw. Theismann has thrown for 344 more yards.
Jurgensen completed 58 percent of his passes, Theismann 57 percent. They have identical interception rates (3.7 percent), although Jurgensen threw more touchdowns (179 to 149) and possesses a superior mark in the complex quarterback rating system (83.8 percent to Theismann's 79.0).
Jurgensen won league passing titles by throwing for the most yards in 1967 and 1969. Theismann was the league's most valuable player in 1983.
The fact is, though, Theismann is correct when he says, "The only thing that's similar between me and Sonny are the numbers."
"It's a different era," says Jurgensen, now a sportscaster for WDVM-TV-9. "Just look at the passing numbers over the last three years with all of the rule changes. Here's a second-year guy (Miami's Dan Marino) with 40 touchdown passes. Tell me it hasn't been made easier to pass."
The lasting images of the two quarterbacks, who were teammates for the 1974 season, are quite different. Jurgensen was the big-bellied North Carolinian who always looked older than he was, standing in the pocket until breathing space had evaporated, then letting it rip. Usually, the pass went deep. Nearly always, it went accurately.
Theismann is the natural athlete who always looks younger than he is, sprinting out of the pocket. Born in New Jersey, bound for Hollywood. Always, there seems to be more zip than rip to his passes.
"Joe's much more mobile than I was," Jurgensen admits. "If I ever tried to run, the defense laughed."
It's easy to play and savor point-counterpoint with these two. True, Theismann has been to two Super Bowls and Jurgensen played in just one playoff game as a Redskin. He threw three interceptions as a fourth-quarter replacement for Billy Kilmer in that 19-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in 1974.
But hasn't Theismann played with superior teams, those equipped with better defenses, better offensive lines and better running games? Remember, Jurgensen didn't have the blessed presence of running back Larry Brown until 1969, and Kilmer became the starter, for the most part, in 1971. Jurgensen had humble fellows named A.D. Whitfield and Gerry Allen.
"(Theismann) is at the right place at the right time," Jurgensen says. "Our defense in the late '60s couldn't stop anybody. We had to outscore everybody to win.
"I remember once (in 1966) we had 49 points against the Giants and they had 41. (Redskins linebacker) Sam Huff came over to me and said, 'You better keep scoring them.' That was the game we won, 72-41."
True, Jurgensen has thrown 30 more touchdown passes than Theismann, but didn't Jurgensen spend most of his career with his team behind, and didn't he have to pass? And don't the current Redskins usually give the ball to fullback John Riggins once they penetrate an opponent's 10-yard line, stealing scoring passes from Theismann's stat book?
True, Theismann has the advantages of rule changes that benefit the passing game, but didn't Jurgensen throw into a lot of man-to-man coverages that were far less complex than today's disguised zones?
True, Theismann has had class receivers such as Charlie Brown and Art Monk to throw to the last three years, but didn't Jurgensen get to pass to Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor for 11 years and to Hall of Fame receiver Bobby Mitchell for five years and to tight end Jerry Smith (421 catches in the NFL) for 10 years? Don't forget, Taylor, Smith and Mitchell are the Redskins' three all-time leading receivers.
To this day, Mitchell, now the Redskins' assistant general manager, remembers Jurgensen's tight spirals, thrown even under great pressure.
"Because we were behind all the time, defenses knew we were going to pass," Mitchell recalls. "I remember the defensive guys would be yelling, 'Charley (Taylor) is going here, Mitchell is going there and Jerry Smith is going there.'
"And then Jerry and I would be running downfield, screaming at each other, telling each other where we were going to run. We had to adjust our patterns on the run. We had to improvise a lot. Sonny was good at knowing where we would be and he would put the ball in there.
"All of a sudden the ball was sitting on our nose. It went right by the defensive guys' hands . . . There was one thing Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell and Jerry Smith always knew: If we ran a halfway decent path, the pass would be there."
True, Theismann spent his first three professional seasons (1971-73) laboring in the Canadian cold. But how much were Jurgensen's Redskins records helped by his spending his first seven professional seasons with Philadelphia (1957-63), where he threw 76 touchdown passes and twice led the league in passing yards?
True, Jurgensen played in several snowstorms but no domed stadiums. It is true Theismann mostly has played 16-game seasons and Jurgensen 14. But hasn't Theismann been far more durable, having missed just one start his seven years as the team's only starting quarterback?
"That's because of his quick feet," Jurgensen says. "There were times that I had to play wearing a fiberglass vest. It was like wearing a suit of armor. When I got knocked down, I needed help getting up."
Theismann, now 35, says, "I think numbers regarding a passer have a lot to do with the system you play in and the (offensive) concept. We're a running team first."
So what about comparing the systems? Jurgensen is quick to note that Theismann, since becoming a starter in 1978, has played under only two coaches, Jack Pardee (1978-80) and Joe Gibbs.
"How many did I play under? I had Bill McPeak (1964-65), Otto Graham (1966-68), Vince Lombardi (1969), Bill Austin (1970) and George Allen (1971-74)," Jurgensen says, adding that with each change of coach came a change in offensive philosophy.
Jurgensen called his own plays. "Lombardi used to say that if he couldn't coach me into knowing by Saturday what play he would call in the game, then he was failing."
Nowadays, Gibbs calls the plays. How much has Theismann benefited from Gibbs' offensive ingenuity? Before Gibbs arrived, Theismann had thrown 67 touchdown passes and 69 interceptions and had a 68.5 rating under Allen and Pardee.
In the nearly four seasons under Gibbs, Theismann has thrown 84 touchdown passes and 52 interceptions, and has an 87.5 rating. Simply put, Theismann has advanced from the middle of the league to the top of the league as a matured quarterback in Gibbs' system.
One observer close to the Redskins scene reasons, "If Sonny was playing in Theismann's system, his records would be greater. If Theismann had been playing in Sonny's system, his records would be less."
"It would be a lot of fun to be in my prime and throwing with these rules," Jurgensen says. "The talent I had throwing was with accuracy and that's what it calls for today. It's pitch and catch."