As I watched our home opener, quarterback Billy Kilmer was viciously hit by two NY Giants pass rushers and suffered a cut on his nose that would take five stitches to close later. On the sidelines, the medical staff worked on the cut like they do in boxing matches. The gutsy quarterback returned with a band-aid on his bloody nose and with 45 seconds left, he threw the winning touchdown to Mike Thomas. Redskins win! HTTR!
Another time, Billy Kilmer was in the hospital in 1973 and left to play in the last game versus the Philadelphia Eagles and threw 4 touchdown passes to end the season 10 and 4. I appreciated the passing of Sonny Jurgensen and the gutsy leadership of crippled Billy Kilmer. I liked them both and that combination worked well for the Washington Redskins.
Kilmer was the perfect quarterback for George Allen because Allen only wanted a quarterback to manage the game, protect the football, and mix the run and pass in a conservative offense. Allen knew his defense would score and keep the other team from scoring many points. I remember back in those days Redskins fans would argue about who should start between Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer. Jergensen had a “golden arm” and probably was the best pure passer in the NFL. Injury to his shoulder in pre-season opened the door for Billy Kilmer. Even though fans chose sides and there were bumper stickers that said, “I like Sonny” or “I like Billy,” the two quarterbacks were close friends.
Billy Kilmer was “the most underrated player I ever coached,” said Head Coach George Allen. Coach Allen knew Kilmer’s heart and admired his courage and all that Kilmer overcame to still play football. When with the Los Angeles Rams, George Allen wanted Billy Kilmer because of his “grittiness, toughness and smarts.” After a terrible car accident, the doctors wanted to amputate Kilmer’s leg. He refused and rehabilitated so well that he was back playing in the NFL with the 49ers.
I used to laugh when Sonny would throw precise spiral passes deep to Charlie Taylor, or work the sideline for 1st downs then hit Jerry Smith in the end zone. When Billy Kilmer threw a pass it resembled a “wounded duck,” all wobbly most of the time. But Billy was a competitor and a winner. He is in the 70 Greatest Redskins.
Redskins fans today that are young and missed the George Allen years (1971 to 1978) should search YouTube for videos of that era. The rules on defense especially were different. The quarterbacks were not protected like they are today nor did they have the modern equipment and current medical technology. The defenses were famous. In the 1970’s we had the Dallas Cowboys “Doomsday Defense” and the Pittsburgh “Steel Curtain” and the Redskins “Over-The-Hill Gang.” Blows to the head, “clotheslining” and “horse collaring’ were all legal.
George Allen never had a losing season, His lifetime coaching percentage was .667, winning 2 out of every 3 games both on the collegiate and professional levels. How did he accomplish that? He had the ability to read people. Allen would take a crippled like Billy Kilmer who lost his mobility over the best passer in the NFL. He would take a chance on a player other teams said was “over the hill, too old to play anymore.” Allen was there with his hundred bucks and a draft pick to give away to get those experienced players. This was before free agency and mega bucks and contracts. Ex-All Pros who were given one more chance to play and prove they had something left in the tank loved George Allen and would run through a wall for him. I hope you enjoyed this Redskins blast from the past showcasing famed quarterback Billy Kilmer.
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