ASHBURN, Va. - The reverence of NFL fans is such that their favorite players often get to be known by their first names.
On the Washington Redskins, there was "Sonny" (Jurgensen), "Billy" (Kilmer) and "Coach Joe" (Gibbs).
So it was with the team's radio broadcasters: Sonny, Sam and Frank.
Head coaches came and went - six in the past dozen years alone - but the broadcast trio was, for many fans, a comforting mainstay of their game day routines.
At least until this season.
WJFK-FM announced in February that it was replacing play-by-play man Frank Herzog, breaking up the team of Herzog, Jurgensen and Sam Huff that has called Redskins games since 1981. The station said it wanted an in-house broadcaster instead of Herzog, whose full-time job has long been with WUSA-TV (Channel 9) as its sports anchor.
Jurgensen and Huff will remain on the radio team and will be joined by Larry Michael, who had previously done pre-game and post-game shows for the station.
The move has made it an odd summer for Herzog, who was at Redskins Park yesterday watching training camp. He plans to provide the call for a preseason telecast on Aug. 21, but after that his broadcast future is uncertain. His contract with WUSA expires at the end of November, and the station has said it is not renewing the pact.
One of the only upsides to being fired is Herzog says he gets to hear how much fans appreciate him.
"I heard from grandmothers and little kids and some movers and shakers," said Herzog, of Gaithersburg, Md. "I told my wife if I would have known it would have been this great, I'd have gotten fired three years ago."
His signature call was "Touchdown, Washington Redskins!"
"I think it was in the second year I started to do that," he said. "I figured that getting into the end zone was a team effort."
Jurgensen and Huff are both ex-Redskins. But Herzog said the broadcast trio managed to keep enough distance from the team that they were able to be critical when warranted.
"I never walked away happy just because the Redskins won," Herzog said. "I walked away happy when we had a good broadcast. I think we built a reputation as a [no-nonsense] group."
Fans often said they enjoyed the trio's casual repartee, which sounded like the banter of the old friends that they are.
"It was a good chemical mixture, and good chemistry is hard to find," said Redskins fan Don Soules of Fairfax, Va. "I would always watch the TV and listen to the radio."
NOTES: NFL officials briefed Redskins coaches, players and the media Sunday and yesterday on rules changes for the coming season. The league is cracking down on choreographed end zone celebrations of two or more players, and is emphasizing the rule against impeding a receiver more than 5 yards downfield. "I think a lot of the changes would be to have a more exciting game, so if it's too defensive-sided that's not an exciting game," referee Ed Hochuli said in an interview after the briefings. ... The team's new media guide might have been expected to feature Gibbs, who is returning after 12 years. But team officials said the coach doesn't want his likeness adorning much merchandise, so the guide's cover depicts only the Redskins logo on a pigskin-looking background.