Jim Jensen, the Miami Dolphin wide receiver who doubles as backup quarterback, shattered his first passing record when he was six. It was a Motown R & B platter that was passing through his backyard. His mother, Anne, worked the night shift at the Motown record factory near the Jensens' Doylestown, Pa. house and brought her work home. "Chubby Checker, The Jackson 5, Dee Dee Sharp," she says. "Whatever was around." Jim and his two older brothers, Steve and Tom, flipped the 45s like Frisbees, trying to decapitate each other.
"Knock it off," Anne would yell from the patio. And if that didn't work, she would engage in a little flinging of her own. "Baseball gloves, tin cans, spikes from horseshoe sets," recalls her husband, Karl. "Whatever was around."
"In a way," Anne says, "Jim learned to catch to protect himself from me."
Twenty years later, Jensen is still playing catch-as-catch-can football. Since being drafted from Boston University by the Dolphins in 1981, Jensen has been a wide receiver, quarterback, split end, slotback, placekick holder and special-teams handyman—whatever's around.
September 23, 1984
Last month in a preseason game against the Raiders, Jensen completed three of six passes for 66 yards, caught two more for 16 yards and scored the winning touchdown on a three-yard scramble. He was on the receiving end of two Dan Marino TD passes in the season-opening victory over Washington. A week later he took a lateral at the Patriots' 44 and threw a touchdown pass to Mark Duper, the secondary receiver.
Jensen's experience as a signal-caller makes, him a better receiver. "When the quarterback calls the plays, I can just picture the total offense in my mind," he says. "I know everyone's routes and timing. And it's easier to read coverages."
The 6'4", 215-pound Jensen is a throwback to the days when football was played by men with names like Nagurski, Bednarik, Butkus. A teammate once had to intervene before Jensen singlehandedly took on a couple of 300-pound tag-team wrestlers called The Roadwarriors in a Fort Lauderdale bar. Yet Jensen also has a sensitive side. He gave the ball from a TD catch against Washington to Betty Wilbur, a wheelchair-bound fan he calls his "Florida mother."
Jensen earned the nickname Crash for a tackle he made three years ago in an exhibition game. He put such a violent headlong hit on the Kansas City kick returner, it seemed they might be permanently fused together, like Rosey Grier and Ray Milland in The Thing With Two Heads. Jensen's helmet flew off on impact. Now he locks it on with a double chinstrap.
He also brings along a couple of sets of shoulder pads—one for receiving, one for passing. "I never know where I'm going to be from one play to the next," Jensen says. "It keeps me on my toes and my mother worried."
Anne Jensen is responsible for Jim's interest in sports. "When Jimmy was young," she says, "I told him, 'It's either sports or working part-time delivering papers, 'cause you're not staying around the house and getting in trouble.' To avoid work, he picked football."
Versatility is nothing new to Jensen. In American Legion baseball he played every position, though pitcher was his best. He had two kinds of knuckleballs, four knuckle curves, a fastball and a side-arm slider. Sometimes he got them over the plate. But the batters were perhaps more intimidated by Anne. "She used to razz the hell out of them," says Karl.
Jensen had control problems when he played quarterback at Central Bucks West High in Doylestown. "They'd put Jimmy in with the team ahead 45-0," says his brother Steve, "and he'd fumble all four downs." The coach remedied that by having Jensen take the ball to bed. "I don't think a football is what he sleeps with now," says Mom.
Ignored by most major colleges, Jensen wound up at BU, where he sat on the bench until midway through his sophomore year. He wanted to play so badly that he asked coach Rick Taylor for a shot at wide receiver. He ended up as a quarterback and a wideout and even snapped for a punt. He finally stuck to quarterbacking as a senior and passed for 1,554 yards to break Harry Agganis's 30-year-old school record.
Jensen was selected to play in the 1981 Senior Bowl, but the game didn't improve his draft status. Since Portland State's Neil Lomax was showcased, Jensen saw only about five minutes of action. One of his few completions was a quick hitch to a split end named Dave Shula, now his wide receiver coach in Miami. Shula remembers gaining five yards on the grab. Jensen, on the other hand, recollects that Shula got nailed for a two-yard loss. "I think that ever since I threw that pass to Dave," says Jensen, "his dad has thought better of using me as a starting quarterback."
Dolphin coach Don Shula drafted Jensen—in the 11th round. "I was an underdog fighting like a mad dog," Jensen says of his 1981 rookie camp. Versatility won him a spot on the roster over Brad Wright, a fourth-round pick from New Mexico who only played quarterback.
As for which position he prefers, Jensen says, "I'd like to be the Dolphins' No. 1 quarterback." He has this thing about ones. "I was born in November, the 11th month," he says. "I'll look at a clock, and it'll be 11 a.m., or I'll be driving down the highway and see Exit 11." Jensen's first NFL start came in the Dolphins' first game this season. He caught his first TD pass with 11:13 left in the first half. Eleven is his number; 13 is Marino's.
Since the sensational Marino is Shula's one-and-only, Jensen's throwing will only be a sideline. But if nominated he will run, and if elected he will pass. All of this has left Don Shula in something of a quandary. "I just don't know what to do with Crash," he says. "He does so many things so well." Jensen's contract runs out at the end of the season. He can't wait to see what his versatility is worth.
Is there anything beyond Jensen's grasp?
"I don't do windows," he says.