March 31, 2011

1964: Eagles Trade Sonny Jurgensen to Redskins for Norm Snead

Following the 1963 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles began a transformation under a new owner, Jerry Wolman, and a new head coach/GM, Joe Kuharich. Having finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in both 1962 and ’63, Kuharich decided that a housecleaning was in order. The first major deal was the trade of popular star flanker Tommy McDonald to the Dallas Cowboys for a kicker and two backup linemen. If that wasn’t enough to shock Eagles fans, on March 31, 1964 he swung an even more significant trade, sending QB Sonny Jurgensen and CB Jimmy Carr to the Washington Redskins for QB Norm Snead and CB Claude Crabb.

Kuharich justified the deal by indicating that he was trading for youth - Snead and Crabb were 24, while Jurgensen was 29 and Carr was 31. Head Coach Bill McPeak of the Redskins looked at it from the other side. “Winning in 1964 is imperative. Jurgensen, at this stage of his career, is more advanced than Snead, and I think, with the right supporting cast, he can take you all the way.”

The 6’0”, 200-pound Jurgensen (pictured above) had been drafted by the Eagles out of Duke in the fourth round in 1957. After a promising rookie season, he sat on the bench for three years backing up veteran QB Norm Van Brocklin, who was obtained from the Rams in ’58. Van Brocklin led Philadelphia to the 1960 title and retired, and Jurgensen was thrust into the starting lineup. He responded with an outstanding season in 1961, setting a new NFL record for passing yards (3723) and also leading the league in touchdown passes (32). The Eagles nearly repeated as Eastern Conference champions, finishing a close second to the Giants.

However, in the ensuing Playoff Bowl against the Western Conference’s second-place team, the Detroit Lions, Jurgensen suffered a severe shoulder separation that hindered his performance the next season (and even beyond). While he again led the NFL with 3261 passing yards, he also threw a league-high 26 interceptions (as opposed to 22 TDs). The team was riddled by injuries and plummeted to the bottom with a 3-10-1 record. Jurgensen began to hear the boos from the disgruntled fans at Franklin Field.

During 1963 training camp, Jurgensen and backup QB King Hill walked out in a joint contract holdout. The dispute was resolved in short order by GM Vince McNally, but not without rancor, and Jurgensen hardly endeared himself to the organization. During the regular season, injuries limited him to nine games for the 2-10-2 club, and he threw for only 1413 yards with 11 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

Still, dealing Jurgensen came as a surprise to fans, as well as to him - “I talked to Kuharich 10 days ago and we talked about a lot of things but he didn’t mention the trade or any other trade,” said the quarterback immediately after the deal was announced. “Sure, I was surprised.” (it was reported that he was first offered to the Vikings for Fran Tarkenton, but Van Brocklin, now coach in Minnesota, vetoed the trade). Jurgensen was considered one of the best pure passers in the NFL, with a strong and accurate arm. But while a flashy and exciting competitor, he also was known as an off-field carouser during his years in Philadelphia (he joked that “when I left Philadelphia, all the bartenders wore black armbands”).

The less colorful Norm Snead had been drafted by the Redskins in the first round in 1961 and started every game of his rookie season. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, and with a strong arm, he had the tools, but Washington was a dreadful team that ended up at the bottom with a 1-12-1 record – they only avoided a winless season by beating the second-year Dallas Cowboys in the finale.

While Snead took plenty of lumps, he also received credit as a rising talent. When the Redskins got off to a 4-0-2 start in 1962, he and flanker Bobby Mitchell, the ex-Cleveland halfback who had been obtained during the offseason, were the talk of the league. But the Giants exposed Washington’s weak pass defense in a 49-34 pounding at Yankee Stadium, Mitchell was slowed by an injury as well as increased coverage by defenses, and the Redskins finished at 5-7-2. The whispers were already beginning that the young quarterback didn’t seem to be improving, and the talk became louder (as well as boos from the fans) when the club went 3-11 in ’63 and Snead tossed a league-leading 27 interceptions.

As for the defensive backs that were almost afterthoughts in the trade, Carr had been with the Eagles since 1959, had started during the 1960 championship season, but was on the downside of his career (he lasted two years with the Redskins before retiring). In two years with the Redskins, Crabb, who had been a fullback and linebacker in college at Colorado, intercepted 9 passes, but was part of a much-maligned defensive backfield in Washington. Like Carr, he played two undistinguished years for the Eagles before departing for the Rams, where he lasted for three seasons in a reserve role.

Jurgensen played in Washington for 11 years, finally retiring at age 40 following the 1974 season. Along the way, he led the NFL in passing once, in passing yards three times (breaking his own record with 3747 yards in 1967), and completion percentage twice. He was a consensus first-team All-Pro selection in 1969 and was named to the Pro Bowl four times.

The Redskins were a mediocre team during his prime, however. While Bill McPeak might have hoped that Jurgensen would immediately lift the team to a winning record, Washington went 6-8 in both 1964 and ’65 and he was let go. Otto Graham, a former all-time great quarterback in his own right with the Browns, emphasized the passing game in three years as head coach that produced an overall 17-22-3 record. The arrival of Vince Lombardi in 1969 brought improvement (and Jurgensen responded with an outstanding year), with the team posting a 7-5-2 tally. However, Lombardi’s tenure was cut short when the legendary coach died of cancer just prior to the 1970 season – the last in which Jurgensen was the full-time starter. The Redskins were 6-8 under Bill Austin.

Washington’s fortunes improved with the coming of George Allen as head coach/GM in 1971, but it was Bill Kilmer primarily lining up behind center, not the increasingly-brittle Jurgensen. Still, the team went 10-2 in games that Jurgensen started during his last four years, a sign that he played well even if no longer often. At the time of his retirement, the paunchy redhead was the top-rated passer in NFL history - he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

As for Norm Snead (pictured at left) and the Eagles, the road was far more rocky. After a fair year for a 6-8 club in 1964, Snead had a good season in 1965, passing for 2346 yards with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, and earned selection to the Pro Bowl. He had his most productive statistical season in 1967, passing for 3399 yards and 29 TDs (as well as 24 interceptions). However, in between, he had a dreadful year in 1966 and was benched in favor of backups King Hill and Jack Concannon during the last month of the season – the Eagles finished 9-5 that year, their only winning record during Snead’s tenure with the team.

Following the big performance in 1967, Snead broke his leg in the first 1968 preseason game and returned to the starting lineup four weeks into a disastrous 2-12 campaign. Despite his late start, Snead led the NFL by being picked off 21 times. A new owner (Leonard Tose) fired Kuharich in favor of Jerry Williams, but Snead remained and the result was much the same as he again led the league in throwing interceptions (23).

After one more mediocre year in 1970, he was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings, where he split time with Gary Cuozzo in ‘71. It was on to the New York Giants in 1972, in the trade that brought Fran Tarkenton back to Minnesota. Snead led the NFC in passing for the 8-6 Giants, but fell back into his old ways, tossing a league-leading 22 interceptions against just seven TD passes in 1973. Midway through the ’74 season, he was traded once again, to the 49ers, and eventually returned to the Giants as a backup for his final season of 1976.

Lacking Sonny Jurgensen’s quick release and ability to read defenses, Snead was prone to making poor decisions that, as the record indicates, resulted in far too many interceptions. His lack of mobility also caused him to be sacked many times, and he was not a strong leader. He was relentlessly maligned by the frustrated Eagles fans and, during his time in Philadelphia, lived in the shadow of Jurgensen; as if it were not enough, in games between the Eagles and Redskins with Snead and Jurgensen facing off, Washington went 9-2-2 (the Eagles won a game against the Redskins in 1966 with King Hill at quarterback).