Less than three weeks after becoming the head coach in 1971, George Allen traded linebacker Tom Roussel and a pair of draft choices to the Saints for Kilmer.
"I didn't want to come to the Redskins because I was going to have to play behind Sonny Jurgensen. I wanted to go somewhere where I could play because I was going to be 32-years-old and I knew I didn't have too many years left," Kilmer told Skins Report.
"I came up and met with (Allen) about a week after I was traded. I told him ‘I appreciate it, but I wish you'd trade me and give me a chance to play somewhere else.' That was the day he made the trade for all the Rams. The Ramskins we called them, Diron Talbert, Jack Pardee and Myron Pottios. George told me we were going to have a big winner here, so I said ‘I'll stick it out for a year.'"
Kilmer's hesitancy to be a backup was all for naught. During Washington's next-to-last preseason game, Jurgensen injured his shoulder trying to tackle Dolphins safety Dick Anderson following an interception and missed practically the whole season. The Redskins won their first five games and finished the season 9-4-1, making the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.
The following season, 1972, the Redskins won 11 of their first 12 games and captured the NFC championship. Eight of their wins were by 13 or more points. Kilmer co-led the NFL with Joe Namath of the New York Jets, by tossing 19 touchdowns in Washington's run-oriented offense and admittedly had the most fun of his career.
"That was probably the most memorable season because of the team's success and the association with the guys that I played with. Every one of them were winning guys. It was fun to go to practice everyday, fun to go to meetings," he said. "The only bad thing was we didn't win the Super Bowl. And we were favored going in too! It wasn't really a well-played game on either team's side. We didn't play good offensively and of course, I didn't."
"Even though Miami beat the Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII, Washington fell in love with the team. It was pretty exciting. We kind of jazzed up all the fans. If you look back, it was the beginning of a long era in Redskin winning, going from George Allen through Joe Gibbs. I guess we could say that we started the trend. After thirty years when they hadn't won anything, hadn't won many games, we got the fans going. It was great."
During the four seasons that they were teammates, Allen and the fans were going back and forth in support of Kilmer or Jurgensen. It got to the point where you could spot "I Like Billy" and "I Like Sonny" bumper stickers on cars around the Beltway. The only thing was, the perceived quarterback rivalry didn't exist. Kilmer and Jurgensen were pals.
"As far as Sonny and I were concerned, we didn't want to rock the boat. He and I only wanted to win games. We got along good. We drank together, had dinner together and we're still great friends today," said Kilmer. "The big thing between us is that we wanted to be on a winning side and be on a winning team. We hadn't played on many winning teams in our career and we knew that no matter who was in there, we were going to win football games. Of course, both of us wanted to play, but you could only play one quarterback."
"I think the biggest problem was George was always cognizant of what the press was talking about and what they were doing. So if I lost a game, they'd start jumping down on me and so he'd replace me with Sonny. Sonny would play two or three games every year starting in the middle of the season and then he'd get hurt. I'd have to come in and finish up the season. It happened that way most of the time."
Allen was widely known as a defensive-minded coach, but he knew football was a rough game and certainly thought it was vital to have a capable backup quarterback. Kilmer says that part of the game hasn't changed.
"More quarterbacks get hurt today than we did in our day and the equipment is supposed to be better. The rules, they could hit you in the back and spear you and do everything in those days. And today, they protect the quarterback and they seem to be getting hurt more. I'm not trying to say these kids aren't tough enough because I think they are. I don't understand it."
"I think that most coaches would like to have their starting quarterback finish the whole season if he's playing good. Of course, there's always been a need for a good backup quarterback," he continued. "Look at Earl Morrall, who should probably be in the Hall of Fame. He took two teams to the Super Bowl. Baltimore, after (Johnny) Unitas got hurt. And then that Miami team that I faced in the Super Bowl. (Bob) Griese broke his leg and Morrall came in and did a great job. Teams always had to have a pretty good backup quarterback if they were going to go on."
Kilmer, who turns 60 in September, is enjoying his retirement in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, with his wife Sandy. He says he plays a lot of golf and sometimes gets lucky and breaks 80.
He has also kept track of the recent Redskins teams and said this: "They have to find more consistency at quarterback. That's one thing. They haven't been consistent there in a long time. They need team leadership really bad and that only goes with getting the right players."
Originally published in 1999.