Monday, September 24, 2012

Billy Kilmer's Inland Valley connection

Many of you probably don't know the name Billy Kilmer, but I certainly knew that name when growing up in the Washington DC area in the 1970s. Kilmer was one of three Washington Redskins quarterbacks during that decade (Sonny Jurgensen and Joe Theismann were the others), and Kilmer was the quarterback during the Redskins' Super Bowl loss to the perfect Miami Dolphins during that decade.

When I was growing up, however, I did not know that Kilmer grew up in Azusa, California. Not that this would have made any difference to me, since I wouldn't have known where Azusa was.

Kilmer was a local hero out here, playing for Citrus Union High School and UCLA, and turning down an offer from the AFL's Los Angeles Chargers to sign with the San Francisco 49'ers.

Then he broke his leg in a traffic accident.

If Kilmer had listened to his father, he probably would have become an dry cleaner out here in the Inland Valley. But Kilmer had other ideas.

He was determined to come back for the `64 season. “I always wanted to be a professional athlete and I wasn’t going to give it up easy. I loved the life and I loved to play, I loved everything about it. So I was determined that I would come back and play quarterback.

“Another motivating factor was that my dad owned a dry cleaning business. When I got out of the hospital and went back home he said, `You’ll never play again. So you might as well learn the dry cleaning business.’ I was pressing pants in Pomona, California in August when it was 100 degrees outside and the steam from the press was hitting me in the face. I said, `I am not going to do this for the rest of my life.’ So I worked even harder in re-hab.” He did return for the `64 season and played in 10 games for the 49′ers at quarterback.

Kilmer eventually moved eastward, playing for the New Orleans Saints until they drafted Archie Manning, and then moving to the Washington Redskins to battle Sonny Jurgensen for the starting quarterback job. But for Kilmer, there was no "controversy":

As far as Kilmer was concerned, there was no controversy. “Allen liked me, there’s no doubt about that. But when I won, he played me. When I lost, he put Jurgensen back in. Then Jurgensen would get hurt and I would go back in. It had nothing to do with me and Sonny. And Allen never tried to put a wedge between me and Sonny.

“There was a personality conflict between George and Sonny but I didn’t know why. George wanted Sonny to go along with the program and Sonny would bump his system from time to time. But there was never anything between me and Sonny. The way I look at it is that I got my shot. When you get a chance to play, you better perform. That’s what an athlete does and if you don’t perform, you’re not going to play. I don’t care what sport it is. When I got my chance to perform, I won and it was hard to get me out of there when I won. I didn’t have a controversy with Sonny. I knew my place and I knew that if Jurgensen was healthy he’d be playing.”

And it certainly beats dry cleaning in 100 degree heat.

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