When Sonny Jurgensen threw 32 touchdown passes for the Eagles in 1961, it was historic stuff. He tied the NFL record for TDs in a season — set two years earlier by the Colts’ Johnny Unitas — and broke the Eagles' record of 25, set in 1948 by Tommy Thompson during the Eagles' first championship season.
Nobody realized back then — 56 years ago — just how historic Jurgensen’s season was.
Because that franchise record for touchdown passes that Jurgensen set in 1961? It still stands.
Jurgensen, now 83 years old and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has over the last half-century taken on all challengers to his Eagles TD passing record.
Norm Snead, Ron Jaworski, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb and Nick Foles all went after Jurgensen.
As Carson Wentz becomes the latest to challenge Jurgensen’s mark, this a great chance to put into perspective just exactly what Christian Adolph "Sonny" Jurgensen III accomplished back in 1961 and marvel at just how long his record has stood.
Jurgensen, the Eagles' fourth-round draft pick out of Duke in 1957, barely played his first four years. He backed up Bobby Thomason as a rookie, although he did go 3-1 in four starts, and then he backed up Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin in 1958, 1959 and in the 1960 NFL Championship season.
Van Brocklin retired after the 1960 season, and Jurgensen had instant success in 1961, quarterbacking the Eagles to a 10-4 record, setting an NFL record with 3,723 passing yards (in just 14 games) and also leading the league with both 32 TDs and 24 interceptions.
Jurgensen is best-known for his 11 seasons with the Redskins, but 56 years after he threw 32 touchdown passes for the Eagles, that record still stands.
The Eagles and Oilers/Titans have the oldest TD pass records in the NFL. George Blanda threw 36 touchdown passes for the Oilers in 1961. They were in the AFL at the time, but when the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, all AFL stats became NFL stats.
Wentz is the latest Eagles quarterback to challenge Jurgensen but definitely not the first.
In 1967, Snead — who the Eagles acquired from the Redskins in 1964 in the ill-fated trade that sent Jurgensen to Washington — threw 29 TDs in 14 games. Snead had three games with four touchdowns and three more with three touchdowns, but in the Eagles' eight other games he had only eight TD passes and was never really in a position to make a run at Jurgensen's mark. Interestingly, that was the only season Snead had more than 19 TD passes as an Eagle.
In 1980, Jaworski was on pace for 33 touchdown passes after 11 games. He had 23 touchdowns with five games to go but threw only four in the Eagles' last five games and finished with 27. Jaws had only one other year in his career with more than 20 TDs — 23 in 1981.
In 1990, Cunningham became the first Eagle since Jurgensen with 30 touchdown passes in a season. He had 26 with three games to go but threw only four the last three games of the season and fell two short of Jurgensen. That was Randall's only season with more than 24 TD passes until he revived his career in Minnesota.
McNabb was on pace to break Jurgensen's mark in 2004. After throwing five TDs against the Packers in early December, he had 28 TD passes with four games to go. But he had only one each the next two games, then — with the Eagles already clinching the No. 1 seed — he threw only three passes (with one TD) the last two weeks of the season and finished with 31. He never came close again.
Foles threw 27 touchdowns in 2013, but he didn't start until Week 6. If he played the whole season? He may have thrown 40. But he didn't.
Which brings us to Wentz.
With four games left, the 24-year-old has 29 touchdown passes, most in the NFL and already the fourth-most in Eagles history behind Jurgensen, McNabb in 2004 and Randall in 1990.
Wentz has thrown at least one touchdown pass in all 12 games the Eagles have played. He's the only NFL QB to throw at least one TD in all 12 games this year.
With the Rams, Giants, Raiders and Cowboys left on the schedule, Wentz needs just three touchdowns to tie Jurgensen and four to pass him. Considering that Wentz is averaging 2.4 touchdown passes per game, the record should finally fall.
But it probably should have fallen a few other times.
More than half a century after he last played for the Eagles, Jurgensen keeps finding ways to cling to his record.
Wentz has had a remarkable year, maybe an MVP year, and it looks like the record will soon be his. But Jurgensen has been incredibly resilient. The Red Roach has protected his record for 55 years. Can he do it again?