In the growing darkness of a spring evening, Sonny Detmer and
his younger boy, Koy, walk quietly, carefully through the dry,
dusty countryside of southern Texas. They are on a hog-hunting
expedition in a place so isolated that the nearest business, a
gas station, is a 50-mile drive down a rutted country road.
Sonny leads the hunt, eventually spying a feral hog meandering
through some black brush just behind a mesquite tree and a
cluster of prickly pear cacti.
"Three hundred yards away," Sonny whispers to Koy in his heavy
drawl. "Use the tree as a shield, and you should be able to get
within 100 yards. The wind shouldn't be a factor, so you should
have a true shot. Once you get close enough, take a rest so your
hands are steady. Make it count because this is your last chance
to get a hog before dark."
Koy nods his head, then slowly sidles away. When he's about 100
yards from the animal, he stops, draws a few deep breaths and a
careful bead, and fires his rifle. A dull thump echoes through
the humid air as the hog falls to the ground, motionless. A
perfect shot. Moments later, his hands bathed in blood as he
guts the 175-pound beast with a knife, Koy asks his father, "How
will this one eat?"
"It'll make great fajitas," he says. A soft smile creases
Sonny's Huck Finn face. "You did it just like I said."
July 15, 1997
Here, in the middle of nowhere, is the answer to how Koy, 23,
has been able to enter the rarefied air of the NFL and how his
older brother, Ty, 29, has been able to become one of the
brightest young quarterbacks in the game: They've always done
just as Sonny said.
Though the brothers are only six feet tall and have twigs for
right arms, they've flourished on the football field their
entire lives. Ty, a sixth-year quarterback, was the NFC's
fourth-rated passer last season with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Koy, a rookie quarterback for the Eagles, was drafted after his
record-breaking career at Colorado. Their success in football,
as in hunting, stems from Sonny, the coach of Mission (Texas)
High. He's been patrolling the sidelines of high school football
fields for almost 30 years, and the counsel he's given his boys
has meant everything.
"No question," says Ty, "the reason Koy and I play this game
well is that Sonny's always been there talking football, and we
learned from that even when we didn't know we were. [The Detmer
boys have always called their dad Sonny. "We heard Grandpa
calling him Sonny, and it just kind of stuck," says Koy.] I
think as a result we could read fairly sophisticated defenses
when we were still in high school, and we've both grown a lot
You can see this in how Ty plays, the way he seems to appreciate
the game in much the same fashion a painter appreciates the
potential of a blank canvas. Ty passes to places, to seams in
the defense, not to receivers. That's the way Sonny taught him,
and that style helped him set 59 NCAA records at BYU and win the
1990 Heisman Trophy. But this manner of passing--and the fact
that his physique is more Seinfeld than Schwarzenegger--did not
endear him to NFL scouts. He wasn't selected until the ninth
round of the '91 draft, by Green Bay, and in his first four
seasons he threw only 21 passes.
Yet those were valuable years for Ty. The game became a mental
exercise for him as he spent his bench time studying the
Packers' West Coast offense. Ty understood that with Brett Favre
and Mark Brunell playing ahead of him, his chances of starting
for Green Bay were slim. He learned. He waited. He did
everything you would expect a coach's son to do.
At the end of the '95 season, Ty became a free agent and
proffered his services to just two teams, both of them with West
Coast offenses: Kansas City and Philadelphia. Eagles coach Ray
Rhodes and his offensive coordinator, Jon Gruden, had been
assistants in Green Bay and had seen Ty dissect the first-team
defense in scrimmages. To Rhodes, the decision to sign Ty to a
two-year, $1.7 million contract in March '96 was a no-brainer.
"You could see how crafty he was," says Rhodes, recalling
Detmer's days on the scout team in Green Bay. "He'd be moving
the ball on us and I'd ask my linebackers what he was doing, and
they'd say, 'He's playing with us. He's staring us down, looking
right at us and throwing in a different direction.'"
Ty became the Eagles' starter after Rodney Peete tore his right
patellar tendon in a late-September game against Dallas, and he
led Philadelphia to victory in each of his first four starts. In
his second start, against Miami, Ty became the first Eagle since
Randall Cunningham in 1990 to throw four touchdown passes in one
game. In his third start, Carolina linebacker Lamar Lathon, all
6'3" and 260 pounds of him, tried to intimidate Ty by
administering a consciousness-rattling head-butt. He head-butted
him right back. No wonder teammates call Ty the Texas Terrier.
Ty's fourth start, in Dallas on Nov. 3, was the only game that
Sonny saw in person last year, because of his coaching schedule.
Ty outplayed Troy Aikman and led the Eagles to a 31-21 victory.
After the game, Sonny approached Rhodes in the catacombs of
Texas Stadium, embraced him and thanked him for believing in his
son, for believing in someone who is now the smallest starting
quarterback in the NFL. Some things, some people, Sonny never
forgets. "Not only does Rhodes believe in Ty," says Sonny, "but
now it sure looks like he believes in Koy, too."
Like his brother, Koy has dealt with questions about his size
since junior high. Though he was the most prodigious passer in
Texas high school history (he threw for 8,221 yards), many
recruiters considered him too slight and candy-armed to play
big-time college ball. Colorado offered him a scholarship; last
season Koy rewarded the Buffs' faith by setting single-season
school records for touchdown passes (22) and passing yards
(3,156). The Eagles selected Koy in the seventh round of the
draft even though they already have three entrenched
quarterbacks--Ty, Peete and Bobby Hoying. No team in the NFL
kept four quarterbacks on their active roster last season, but
Rhodes has said he won't hesitate to do that if all four play
well in the preseason.
Gruden says the fact that the Eagles are now the only NFL team
with brothers vying for the starting QB spot is no fluke: "It
was certainly in the back of our minds when we drafted Koy that
he had the same genes as Ty. They're both great situational
football players. Maybe Coach Rhodes drafted Koy to get Sonny up
here as an offensive coordinator."
"I didn't think I'd get drafted, so I'm happy with the chance,"
says Koy. "I've always tried to follow the footsteps of my
brother at each level, and I'm willing to wait and learn just
like he did. It certainly turned out O.K. for Ty."
That's because it was practically predestined. The elder Detmer
boy's first football experience was a game of catch with Sonny
in the family's front yard. Ty was three. As he grew, the
father-son game took on more purpose. If Ty threw a sidearm pass
or if his elbow wasn't propped up in the fundamentally correct
way, Sonny would stop and holler, "Ty, if you're not going to do
it right, we're not going to play at all."
Koy didn't have to wait as long to start. Ty conscripted his
still-diapered little brother to be his center and dragged him
outside to show him the delicate art of the snap. They both
remember lying on the living-room floor, listening to Sonny and
his assistant coaches break down game film, mesmerized by the
black-and-white images flickering on the wall. Sonny swears that
this is when his sons began picking up the finer aspects of the
game, staring silently at that wall, listening, thinking,
By the time the boys were in junior high, Sonny was teaching
them his sophisticated, passing-based offense. The Detmers have
an unwritten rule that football cannot be discussed by the
family at home, so the brothers would spend hours in Sonny's
office after school learning the precepts of his game, which are
similar to those of the West Coast offense. "Sonny stresses
flooding the zones and getting a lot of receivers out into
routes," says Ty. "It's the same idea with the West Coast. It's
getting the other teams to leave a hole in the defense and
having a receiver fill that open area."
Sonny was a wide receiver at Wharton County (Texas) Junior
College and later played three years (1967-69) in the
Continental Football League. Though he never made it to the NFL,
he had a sneaking suspicion that someday, somehow, his offspring
would. And so he named his boys with that hunch in mind. He
chose the name Ty because he'd once heard the name at a local
football game and liked how it sounded when it rolled off the
loudspeaker. "Ty Detmer," he said to himself. He had the same
feeling when he heard the name Koy at a University of Texas
In his day, Sonny was built just like his boys are now; he and
his wife, Betty, have two girls--Dee, 28, and Lori, 17--who
share their brothers' wispy physiques and athleticism. The size
issue has dogged the Detmer family for two generations now, but
Sonny is adamant in his belief that small quarterbacks can
succeed in the NFL--if they have the proper training. "If you
throw with touch and put the ball into the defensive hole the
receiver is running to, you don't need to be tall," says Sonny,
noting that two Pro Bowl quarterbacks, Steve Young and Jeff
Blake, are each just a hair over six feet tall. "What you need
is accuracy and a natural feel for the game."
As he speaks, Sonny feeds hay to the five horses he keeps on the
family's five-acre ranch outside Mission, just 15 miles from the
Mexican border. Lightning snaps across the sky as thunder booms
all around. "We love the outdoor lifestyle," he says. "Hunting,
fishing and football are all we've ever known. I've tried to
teach my boys to be tough and to go after it. If you start
something, you better well finish it."
It starts to rain, but Sonny isn't rushing inside. He's got a
feeding to finish.