A few hours before he had to send his Philadelphia Eagles against the Packers in Green Bay last weekend—an almost sure way to start the new season looking up from the bottom of the standings—Coach Joe Kuharich was trying to reassure himself and anyone else who would listen. "I was reminding the boys that in the opener four years ago we were big underdogs against the New York Giants, too, and we only beat them 38-7," Kuharich said, nervously sliding his glasses up and down in his breast pocket. "So don't be surprised what happens out there. Just don't be surprised."
Nobody was. Playing with a precision that made it appear to be an easy afternoon's work, Bart Starr completed 14 of 18 passes and the Packers beat the Eagles 30-13, exactly matching the pregame spread. The Eagles' frustration was typified by an incident at the end of the first half. Philadelphia was lined up to kick a field goal when the gun went off. According to the referee, nobody had remembered to tell him that the Eagles wanted a time-out.
Bad luck, injuries and errors tracked the Eagles all last season, and they are still hanging around. That this year might be as unpleasant as last was evident almost as soon as the team showed up in training camp. On the first play of the first Philadelphia exhibition game, Quarterback Norm Snead called a play that starts as an end run by Izzy Lang but winds up as a pass. Lang took the ball from Snead and threw the pass, which was intercepted. Snead turned back quickly as if to make the tackle. Without having been touched, he was suddenly on the ground with a broken left leg, his cleats having caught in the turf. "What a dastardly event," Kuharich says. "What an awful tragedy that was. In practice Snead had moved our offense down the field every time. He's a great leader with a terrific arm. He's one of the top four quarterbacks in the league in my opinion, and he was gone without a blow being struck him. But you have to learn to live with these things."
Losing Snead for the entire exhibition season and at least three or four league games was even more of a misfortune to Kuharich than it may seem. To replace Snead the Eagles had only veteran King Hill, who had reported to camp at a ponderous 230 pounds, and John Huarte, who had failed in earlier attempts with New York and Boston o the AFL. So while Hill shed considerable weight and divided playing time with Huarte, Kuharich tried to maintain a reasonably satisfied air in view of the fact that his offense had been deprived of its most important ingredient.
"Huarte has had a lot of good training [working behind Joe Namath and Babe Parilli], and where could we have got a college guy with all that knowledge?" says Kuharich. "He's a strong-armed kid. King Hill has been around and knows what's going on. Football is not a game you play strictly with individuals anyhow. In baseball, when Mickey Mantle is up to bat, the other eight guys on his club might as well be asleep unless they're on base, because it all comes down to does he hit the ball or doesn't he. But when a quarterback goes back to pass—I don't care if he's Unitas or who he is—he's got to have a bunch of other guys out there working in his behalf or he's nothing."
However, there is still more to it in the case of Snead. One of Kuharich's major trades, among many, occurred in the off season of 1964 when he sent Sonny Jurgensen and Jimmy Carr to Washington for Snead and Claude Crabb. Jurgensen is perhaps the best pure passer in the NFL. Kuharich has not been allowed to forget that trade. Nor does he wish to, he says.
"My kid is only 29. He'll be around this league for a long time after the other guy is finished," says Kuharich.
There were reports that Kuharich had traded Jurgensen, Tommy McDonald and a few others to break up cliques that grew among the Eagles after their championship year of 1960. "I don't know about cliques, but look at it this way," Kuharich says. "When we make a trade, we think about it first. We weigh all the factors and do what we think is best for the team. Every player has positives and negatives.
"Some of them are fringe areas that don't have to do with anyone's ability. Maybe one guy is not so hot but is good for the team, and another guy is great but not so hot for the team. Then you have to figure what you need and what the other clubs need. You don't give nothing for something very often. All right, so we traded Lee Roy Caffey to the Packers, and in the deal, through a traded No. 1 draft choice, they got Donny Anderson. So we got four good seasons from Jim Ringo and we got a good back we needed in Earl Gros. We traded J. D. Smith to Detroit because they needed an offensive tackle. For that we got Floyd Peters, who has been to the Pro Bowl three times for us, and we got some good years from Ollie Matson, and Detroit hardly got anything from Smith. That doesn't make Detroit stupid. You're never really positive how a trade is going to come out. But some people try to make it sound like all our trades are made by some nitwit."
If Kuharich seems a bit touchy about his trades and about his team, it is because almost any day of the week he can blister his fingers by picking up the Philadelphia newspapers to read the stories about the Eagles. He has been the head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Cardinals and the Washington Redskins, as well as for Notre Dame in a different league, but he has seldom encountered the opposition in print that he has met since he arrived in Philadelphia.