Make no mistake, I am a die-hard Redskins’ fan. The first quarterback I cheered—and booed—was a fellow by the name of Norm Snead, the player traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for the beloved Sonny Jurgensen in 1964.
I was elated when Vice Lombardi came to Washington and devastated when he died after just one season in the big chair. I watched as George Allen made the franchise a winner and saw Joe Gibbs make a winner a champion.
So yeah, I’ve got a Redskins’ pedigree.
But I also lived in Seattle in the late 1970s and early 1980s and watched a moribund, rag-tag team of castoffs try to reach respectability behind a short, quick-footed lefty quarterback from Cal Poly Pamona.
His name was Jim Zorn.
He led the expansion Seahawks to winning records in just their third and fourth seasons in the league. He passed for more than 20,000 yards and rushed for almost 2,000, thanks to his shifty, behind-the-line, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to get beaten into the ground so I’d better get out of here” running style.
Though he guided the Seahawks to just 40 wins in 128 games, he was a star like no other player on the roster. Try to picture Sonny Jurgensen’s fame during his prime.
Back then, I ran one of the first sports apparel businesses that sold authentic jerseys and caps. At least once a year, NFL players were contractually required to do meet 'n' greets at the local stores that sold their team’s merchandise.
My store got Jim Zorn.
There were at least 2,000 fans waiting patiently in a line that snaked through the Tacoma Mall when he showed up in true Jim Zorn style. “Z-man,” as he was known, pulled up at the mall door in his Nissan 280-Z. He high-fived the crowed as he sprinted through the corridor that led to my store, his long hair flopping in his self-made breeze. He jumped the counter to the shrieking delight of the fans.
He grabbed his Sharpie and began to sign a foot-high stack of 8x10 glossies.
He was wearing a lumberjack flannel shirt, well tailored and expensively designed. On the cuff was a stylized “Z-man” logo, the same that adorned the special edition Jim Zorn Nissan that he drove.
His shirt was his own creation, styled and sold by his own corporation.
Washington politicians had nothing on Jim Zorn.
He’d look up and shake the hand of each and every person as they came up to his table. He’d look them over and try to find something positive and personal to say to them.
High-fives. Handshakes. Hugs. That was Jim Zorn.
After three hours, his smile was still real and the photos were almost all gone. The store closed and the fans left and he finally had a minute to take a deep breath. He glanced to his left and finally noticed that there was a police officer two feet away. This wasn’t a mall cop, mind you. He was a chisled, tall, 10-year veteran of the Tacoma police department.
Zorn looked puzzled.
He pointed at the officer and said with a grin, “Why do we have police here tonight? I’m not that big of a deal!”
The policeman stared me down and shook his head. He placed one hand on his revolver and the other on the flashlight hanging from his belt.
Nodding at me, the policeman barked, “You mean he didn’t tell you about the death threat?”
Zorn looked at me, then at the police officer, and then back at me. “Death threat? No, didn’t hear a word about that. What’s up?”
The cop stared me down. Zorn stared me down.
I fessed up. “Well, Jim,” I began, “about three hours before you showed up, I got a call from a guy who said he was going to kill you.”
“Why?” Zorn begged.
“He doesn’t like your politics,” I told him.
Zorn cocked his head, closed his eyes, and shook his head, slow at first but picking up speed as he thought about the absurd situation that he was dealing with.
He tapped the Sharpie on the counter a few times, grunted, shrugged his shoulders and leaped back over the counter. “I don’t understand that at all,” he said. “Now, that last interception against the Raiders last week, darn right I deserve to get ‘offed’ for that!”
Just before he reached the door, he spun on his heals, pointed directly at me and shouted, “Whose you’re favorite quarterback??”
“Sonny Jurgensen!” I shouted back.
He stared at me for a moment, than burst out into laughter.
“Jack Pardee once told me that there’s nothing like a Redskin fan. I guess he was right.”
And with that, Jim Zorn, wearing his Z-shirt, hopped into his Z-car, and was long-gone into the night.
No, Jim Zorn didn’t do a great job for the Redskins, but Jim Zorn was supposed to be a green, inexperienced Offensive Coordinator, not an even greener head coach with absolutely no experience.
He was set up to fail. But good men can fail, and I hope that Redskins’ fans remember that he did the best he could.
We just can’t ask for any more than that.
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