There are few battles for starting jobs with the Redskins this year. Just in case you’re yearning for a good, old fashioned August battle for a starting spot, here’s a look back at a few of the more memorable ones from the Redskins’ past:
1972: Billy Kilmer vs. Sonny Jurgensen -- This was the very height of the Sonny vs. Billy debate. Jurgensen, a future Hall of Famer, had suffered a shoulder injury in a preseason game the previous year. In came Kilmer, a veteran journeyman who was acquired in George Allen’s first trade with the team. All he did was lead Washington to postseason play for the first time in 25 years.
As they came to camp in Carlisle in 1972, Allen let the two battle it out. “George tried to create a rivalry at every position,” Kilmer said. Especially, it seemed, at signal caller.
The rivalry was a friendly one. “Sonny and I hit it off right away,” said Kilmer. “We understood that we had a good chance to be on a winning team so instead of being petty about things we decided to help each other.”
Not surprisingly in a city that loves a good leadership controversy, the fans took sides in the issue. Bumper stickers proclaiming that the car’s occupant liked Sonny or Billy were hot items. Unofficial counts around town showed a slim but certain margin in favor of Jurgensen. “I wasn’t surprised that the fans took sides,” said Kilmer. “Sonny is the guy and always will be.”
Both quarterbacks played well during the preseason, so Allen was forced to make his decision based on other factors. The week before the season opener in Minnesota, the coach announced that Kilmer would be the starter as a reward for his performance the previous season. Jurgensen would take over four games into the season and win all three of his starts before his year ended when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Kilmer came back in and earned Pro Bowl honors as he led the Redskins to Super Bowl VII.
1996: Gus Frerotte vs. Heath Shuler--While Sonny vs. Billy was a Clash of the Titans, Gus vs. Heath had a more mortal feel to it. Coach Norv Turner had declared that the two 1994 draftees would fight it out for the job in Frostburg, Maryland after Shuler, the man Turner handpicked to be his quarterback and the third overall pick, displayed a tendency to be both injury prone and erratic. While Frerotte, a seventh-round pick, didn’t possess Shuler’s upside, he appeared to be quite competent and more dependable.
While the two rivals weren’t enemies, they weren’t quite good buddies either. Frerotte said, "It's competition. On the field, you can't be buddy-buddy.”
Both played well in the early preseason games, but just when it came time for Turner to make his decision, they both stunk up RFK Stadium in a 28-7 loss to Cincinnati. Turner announced that the job was Frerotte’s, based on consistency. The decision essentially ended Shuler’s Redskins career as he got on the field for just one play in 1996 and was cut after the season ended.
1999: Skip Hicks vs. Stephen Davis--When the Redskins decided to release Terry Allen, who had led the team in rushing in each of his four season with the team, the heir apparent was second-year back Skip Hicks. The third-round pick out of UCLA was second to Allen in rushing in 1998 with 433 yards and scored eight touchdowns. Also allowed to compete for the job was Stephen Davis, a fourth-round pick in 1996 who had filled in as a fullback in 1998.
Rarely is the favorite to win the job knocked out of the competition in the early going, but that’s what happened here. After just a few days of practice, Turner was impressed with Davis rare combination of speed and power. Davis started the preseason opener and, essentially, the job was his right then and there. He rushed for 1,405 yards in leading the Redskins to the division title.
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