Aug. 12, 2000
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Things have always come slowly to Billy Kilmer.
Because of injuries, his college career didn't really flourish until his senior season at UCLA. He was in the NFL more than a decade before he really became a star with the Washington Redskins.
So it might be fitting that it took him nearly 40 years after playing his last game at UCLA to be enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame.
"This time I'm surprised, very surprised," Kilmer said. "I don't know why now. I'm just honored."
Kilmer, Herschel Walker of Georgia, Ross Browner of Notre Dame, John Hannah of Alabama and Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma are among the 22 players and coaches who will be enshrined Friday night in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Kilmer is probably best remembered by football fans for guiding the Redskins to the Super Bowl in 1972. He also played a part in two of the most memorable plays in NFL history.
In 1964, while with San Francisco, he fumbled a ball that Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall picked up and ran 66 yards the wrong way for a safety. In 1970, while with New Orleans, he threw a pass that led to Tom Dempsey's 63-yard field goal, the longest in NFL history, on the final play of the game to give the Saints a 19-17 victory over the Detroit Lions.
His favorite play, however, is an 89-yard run against Army his senior season.
"I think it was the longest run I ever had. It was in the mud and rain," he said. "You don't forget things like that."
Kilmer played single-wing halfback for UCLA and led the nation in total offense his senior season in 1960 with 803 yards rushing, 1,086 yards passing and averaged 42.2 yards a punt.
"It was a unique position because you ran, you threw, you punted, you did everything. It was a triple-threat position and it's the only reason I went to college to play football," he said. "If I couldn't play single-wing halfback, I probably would have been a baseball player or something else."
Kilmer was critically injured in a car crash in 1962, jeopardizing his career. He recovered, however, and became a reserve running back with the 49ers.
He was picked by the Saints in the expansion draft in 1967 and returned to quarterback. When George Allen became coach of the Redskins four years later, he traded for Kilmer.
"I learned to respect him when I was with the Rams because of the beating he took with that Saints team around him and still stayed in there," Allen once said.
While with Washington, Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen competed for the starter's job.
"We made it work because when your older you're not out to prove anything. All you want to do is win. We made it work because we didn't want to break up the chemistry of the team."
Kilmer is retired and living in Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Sandy. He said he's proud of his career.
"I just wanted to last as long as I could for as much as I could. I made it until 40. Not many people can say that."