It’s known in Redskins annals as “the swap,” when the Redskins traded quarterback Norm Snead to the Eagles for fellow signal-caller Sonny Jurgensen in the 1964 offseason.
Today, Jurgensen is a Redskins legend and one of the most popular sports names in town. In 11 seasons in D.C., he used his golden right arm to light the skies, established himself as one of the most prolific passers ever, and entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
But what about the other quarterback in that trade? Whatever happened to Snead and why did the Redskins part ways with him in the first place?
First-year Redskins coach Bill McPeak had high hopes for Snead when he was drafted with the No. 2 pick in 1961, the same spot that the Redskins took
“The boy’s intelligent and has ideal temperament for the quarterback position,” McPeak said of Snead in The Washington Post. “Can he throw long? He can throw the ball a mile.”
Snead was named to two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, although his statistics were unspectacular on three losing squads. He completed 531-of-1,092 passes (47 percent) for 8,306 yards, with 36 touchdowns and 71 interceptions.
His best season was in 1962, when Bobby Mitchell arrived in D.C. from the Browns and caught 72 passes for 1,384 yards and 11 touchdowns, all NFL highs. Snead and Mitchell became one of the most sensational passing-catching combos to hit the NFL in years.
But by the 1964 offseason, McPeak was running out of patience with Snead and his inconsistency. At the same time, first-year Eagles coach Joe Kuharich, a Redskins head coach in the 1950s, was overhauling the roster of a team that had lost at least 10 games in each of the previous two seasons.
Kuharich traded stars such as wide receiver Tommy McDonald, a future Hall of Famer, and Jurgensen, who set several Eagles passing records after becoming the starter in 1961. In that season, he led the Eagles to a 10-4 record, while leading the NFL with 235 completions, 3,723 yards and 32 touchdowns.
McPeak considered Jurgensen one of the league’s top passers, along with Baltimore’s Johnny Unitas and New York’s Y.A. Tittle, and the deal was consummated. Defensive backs Claude Crabb of the Redskins and Jimmy Carr of the Eagles also swapped teams in the trade.
Critics questioned why McPeak dealt the 24-year-old Snead for the 29-year-old Jurgensen – or young for old. The coach defended the move by saying Jurgensen, who was entering his eighth season, was much more advanced and could win quicker.
“If given the supporting cast, he can take the Redskins right to the top of the Eastern Division,” McPeak said at the ceremony where Jurgensen signed a team-record $30,000 contract.
Snead believed McPeak was under pressure to make a major move in light of the Redskins’ 3-11 season in 1963, after which team management apparently gave the coach an ultimatum to win.
“We gave Washington a taste of victory in 1962 when the Redskins won five games, lost seven and tied two after a fast start, and (management) expected big things last season,” Snead said at the time. “But a lot of things seemed to go wrong, including injuries to key players.”
The trade left McDonald dumfounded.
“To this day, I’ll never understand why Kuharich traded Sonny to the Redskins,” McDonald said. “Bill McPeak must have been the happiest person on Earth when he got Sonny. The Philly fans absolutely loved him. Who doesn’t want that type of quarterback, my gosh? I’m sure when he came back to play the Eagles, the fans hated to see that.”
Many Eagles fans resented the trade and booed Snead mercilessly at times.
“Snead was not exactly welcomed with open arms,” said Ray Didinger, a long-time Eagles beat reporter and co-author of The Eagles Encyclopedia. “Then Jurgensen put up huge numbers in Washington, and the fans kept saying, `Look at what he’s doing down there.’ Norm always seemed to suffer in comparison.”
While Jurgensen was a perennial superstar in D.C., Snead was very good at best in his final 13 seasons in the NFL.
He played seven years in Philadelphia before quarterbacking the Vikings, Giants and 49ers, once leading the league in completion percentage (60.3). He retired after the 1976 season after passing for nearly 31,000 yards and making two more Pro Bowls.
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. He was on the blue-ribbon panel that played a key role in selecting the 10 new names who are part of the Redskins’ 80 Greatest team unveiled this season, also known as the “10 for 80.” His web site is www.redskinshistorian.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.