DALLAS -- Still the best pure passer I ever saw, Sonn Jurgensen never lost his touch. The only difference today is he throws tight verbal spirals.
Jurgensen is an especially keen observer of the quarterback position he played to Hall of Fame distinction. He was known then as the Red Baron. He shot passes from the hip with a quick-draw motion.
Sonny is known now for sharp, often barbed commentary over the Washington Redskins radio broadcasts. He shoots from the lip there, and just as pointedly over the telephone.
A perky example yesterday spun off mention of wholesale injuries to starting quarterbacks. The Dallas Cowboys have faced three rookies the last two games, four during the season and a total of 11 substitutes.
Jurgensen said the Redskins were on the same roll. He harked to the last three quarterbacks beaten by Washington.
"[Stan] Gelbaugh, [Timm] Rosenbach and [Kent] Graham. What's that . . . a law firm?" he said. "It's hard to find a starting quarterback still playing."
Rypien only recently flashed winning form. What ails him other than prolonged recovery from a holdout and offensive line woes? Jurgensen did not offer sympathy.
"Like any other quarterback under heat, he has problems," Jurgensen said. "When no one is around, it's like a seven-on-seven drill. The difference is when he gets rushed. He makes mistakes when he's reloading.
"He's thrown 12 touchdown passes. He had 28 last year. He's last in NFC passing. We have an owner [Jack Kent Cooke] who wants value for his money. He has to be saying, 'I'm not getting $3.5 million worth out of this guy.' "
Strong and critical words. But Jurgensen has a critical eye, and strong beliefs about quarterback function.
"He [Rypien] goes with the team. He hasn't lifted their play," Jurgensen went on. This remark reminded him of a chat with Miami's Dan Marino.
"I asked Marino what he thought made the difference in quarterbacks. He said a winner keeps his team in the game when everything else is going bad. When your defense is playing poor. When you can't run.
"But he makes a big play when nothing else is happening. How many times has John Elway done it? Marino or [Joe] Montana?"
Aikman does not yet have that reputation. Jurgensen has become a huge fan of the Cowboys operator, anyway.
"To me, he's the next superstar in this league," Jurgensen said. "Besides being tough mentally and physically, things don't bother him. I see someone who enjoys the competition of the game rather than fearing it."
L Jurgensen added a semi-technical thumbnail sketch of Aikman:
"He has the arm strength. He's quick. Nothing wasted. Consistent. Good fundamentals. Sees the field well.
"Some quarterbacks want to beat you with their arm instead of their head. He will beat you with his head.
"I enjoy watching him play. I know he makes it difficult for a defense."
As for all the quarterbacks who keep get ting beat up, Jurgensen offered a few simple remedies. Remove face masks from head gears to cut down on spearing techniques. Allow quarterbacks to intentionally ground the ball to avoid a sack. Tear out every fiber of artificial turf.
"Take that cage off and people will stop spearing. It's a weapon," he said. "They let quarterbacks ground the ball to stop the clock. Let 'em do it to save themselves. And get them off that concrete they play on."
The game changed. So did Jurgensen.
A teetotaler today, Jurgensen once lived and drove cars into lampposts as hard as he played. One of the touchstone vignettes of his career came after he missed a season with an arm injury and threw five touchdown passes in his first game back.
Jurgensen was nursing a high-proof soda on the charter flight home when coach Otto Graham approached.
"How's your arm?" Graham asked.
"Hurts real bad," said Sonny.
"What are you gonna do about it?"
Without pause, Jurgensen replied: "I'm gonna drink left-handed."