Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Fare Thee Well
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I never saw Washington Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen play a single down and I have been in his company but twice: once at an autograph show in Chantilly, VA and again at The Gingerbread Man in Carlisle, PA where he was having a pre-training camp lunch with then NBC 4 sportscaster Wally Bruckner a few tables down from my wife and me. For the record, I avoided fanboy mode and let the man eat in peace. Still proud of myself. Rare restraint.
Undeterred by my lack of personal experience, I have created – with the help of research, random videos and stories from elders – a mythical football hero of Jurgensen. He is – correctly - a swashbuckling, beer-bellied, golden-armed gunslinger who, had he played on better teams, would have been considered among the greatest of all time and not just of his era. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. Greater minds have the gods of Greek mythology; I have Sonny Jurgensen.
As a child of the 80s, my exposure to Jurgensen was through his long, do-all-things-‘Skins media career. Jurgensen’s on-air style reinforced his reputation as a player. Whether it was television pre-game shows, live broadcasts from the ‘Skins’ team facility or post-game locker room interviews, Jurgensen carried himself with hall of fame cool accompanied by a dash rascal – playful needling of co-hosts and “I know something you don’t” wry smiles were part of his routine and charm.
Making a “People to have a beer with” list? Add Jurgensen…now.
Despite numerous accomplishments as a media member, Jurgensen’s post-playing career legacy is his nearly 40-year run doing color commentary for ‘Skins game day broadcasts. Along with Frank Herzog and fellow Hall of Fame player Sam Huff, Jurgensen formed one of sports’ very best radio teams and provided ‘Skins fans the soundtrack to the greatest moments in team history. Sadly, Herzog was nudged out in 2004. Huff retired in 2013. And last week, Jurgensen, the franchise’s living legend and one of the last links to the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s, called it a career. There was no attention-seeking, self-aggrandizing farewell tour; Jurgensen just quietly called it quits before a preseason game and bid ‘Skins nation adieu.
It has been an abysmal 25-year stretch for ‘Skins fans. The once elite franchise is now among the most dysfunctional in professional sports. Pride was first replaced by frustration. Frustration gave way to embarrassment. Embarrassment is now being displaced by indifference. Jurgensen’s ever-presence was at least something to feel good about, something to remind us of better times and something by which to maintain hope for a brighter future.
Since Jurgensen’s retirement, I’ve been thinking about that long ago afternoon when our paths crossed at The Gingerbread Man. Had I been so inclined to approach him, what would have I asked Jurgensen? The first thing that comes to mind is his timing. Does he regret not being able to play in this modern, pass-happy era of football? He could have compiled video games statistics while carving up helpless defenses. Jurgensen was Drew Brees…30 years before Drew Brees became Drew Brees.
I can imagine Jurgensen’s answer. He’s chewing on a cigar, cracks a smile and says, “Forget the stats, it’s the money I could be making today…that’s my beef with my D.O.B.” A loud, authentic, infectious and room-filling belly laugh would follow.
Jurgensen is a character who is full of class. He will be missed. Recalling a roadside quote I saw off Route 50 heading out from Ocean City a few years ago will temper the melancholy: “Don’t be sad because it’s over, be happy because it happened”. Good advice – for expired vacations, retired broadcasters and life in general.
Bill Walton – another Hall of Fame athlete turned broadcaster – did color during an Angels baseball game last week. Walton, being a huge Grateful Dead fan, reminded me of a quintessential Dead phrase that is perfect to send Jurgensen off on his next adventure. So Mr. Jurgensen, if you happen upon this piece, thank you…and “fare thee well”. A simple ending from an extraordinary band to accompany a simple exit by an extraordinary man.