The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination is next week, and in advance of it NBC conducted a series of interviews with various figures in American culture about their memories of that time. Three of those people are former Redskins Bobby Mitchell, Sonny Jurgensen and Carl Kammerer. You can watch the interviews here, and below is a transcription of their stories about the assassination.
Kammerer was at Redskins practice when he heard the news from a groundskeeper.
“I can’t remember the groundskeeper’s name, but he was always a funny, telling jokes kind of a guy. So he saw some of us coming out and he just said, ‘Hey, the president’s been shot.’ And we thought, okay, he’s gonna give us a punch line. And then in tears, he said, ‘No. He’s dead.’ And so we all gathered around the radio to listen to what was going on. But that was the first occasion of hearing about the death of the president.”
Jurgensen was in his final season with the Eagles, who were scheduled to play the Redskins two days after the president’s death.
“I remember when we heard it. We were leaving practice at Franklin Field, and there was a little truck where we’d get something to drink sitting up on the sidewalk for the students at the University of Pennsylvania. And we heard it then, and it was a shock. And I’ll never forget, we had a team meeting on Saturday night where the discussion was whether or not they were even going to play the schedule of NFL games the following day. Most of the players did not want to play. There were other things being canceled all over the country, and here our commissioner was saying we’re gonna go ahead and play the full schedule.
“In that particular meeting, there were people that wanted to play. People who were Kennedy fans — President Kennedy — they were very shaken by it. There were other people that weren’t that said, ‘Well, we gotta play football. Let’s just play football.’ And it was give and take and people hollering in the meeting and everything. And it actually broke into a fight. A real battle royale, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It just split the team. Nobody wanted to play the game.
“We walk on the field, there was no buzz in the crowd. The players weren’t motivated. You’re just going through the motions. It looked like a bad Pro Bowl game, is what it looked like. People just trotting around out there. And the score indicated it. The Redskins won, 13-10. It was just a game. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where there was no emotion, no passion for playing the game. And it’s a wonder a lot of people didn’t get hurt, because that’s when you have a lot of injuries, when people weren’t going 100 percent.”
Mitchell, who was at practice with Kammerer when he heard the news, was a friend of Bobby Kennedy’s.
“We never really talked about our decision to play the game, but I received a call at home. [Bobby Kennedy] wanted me to come to downtown Washington, where a playground was going to be named the John F. Kennedy playground. They was having a groundbreaking ceremony and his office called to say he wanted me there. Well, I’m nervous because of all the stuff and I didn’t want to go, and so they said, ‘We’ll send a car for you.’ And I said, ‘No, no. I’ll drive.’
“When he arrived, I had moved to the back of the group. Mayor Washington and everybody was up front. And Mayor Washington told him, ‘Bobby Mitchell is back there, Bobby.’ And that’s when he told me, ‘Get up here. Get up here.’ And I came up there, and when we leaned over he said, ‘I want you to help me with this shovel, because I’m weak.’ And I remember leaning over with him to pick up the dirt, and I had his arm and it felt like his arm was about that big. He was so drained. He was shaking and I was shaking and that was just…I’ll never forget that, what it had done to him in that very short time.”