Not Exactly a Heads-Up Play
By Thomas Boswell
Frerotte celebrated his one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the New York Giants last night by deliberately smashing his head against the padded stadium wall beyond the end zone.
The $18 million Redskins quarterback knocked himself so loopy that he was taken to the hospital for X-rays of his stiff neck and missed the second half and overtime of the Washington Redskins' most important game of the season. Diagnosis: sprained neck.
Forget the spike, the Chicken Dance and the Lambeau leap into the crowd. In the annals of end zone celebration, we now have a new, undisputed winner: Gus's Goof.
When Frerotte left, the Redskins led, 7-0. Without him, they ended up in a 7-7 overtime tie, their offense hopeless without him.
"It was a stupid thing to do," said Frerotte. "... I've butted heads with people many times."
But people aren't the same as walls.
"I've never thought to tell a guy not to hit his head against a wall," said tight-jawed coach Norv Turner. "We'll put that in our preseason coaching points next year."
Frerotte's replacement, Hostetler, played like a man who was virtually unprepared. Which, in fact, he was. In overtime alone, Hostetler threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, all on plays near midfield. In each case, a decent chance for a short drive and a winning Redskins field goal was turned into a comparable opportunity for the Giants. In all, Hostetler was 19 for 41 for 213 yards and three interceptions. If Frerotte had stayed compos mentis and led the Redskins to a single point in the final three periods, they might have had the most important victory of Turner's four years as coach.
Forget the complex permutations. Make it elementary. What did this tie mean to Washington? If the Redskins had won, they'd have had an excellent chance not only to make the playoffs, but to win the division. Now, thanks to this tie, they remain a game behind the Giants in the NFC East and are merely part of an enormously complex wild-card fight.
Please, don't say that Frerotte was unlucky. At least there's a league rule that forbids players from taking off their helmets during an end zone celebration. That rule might have saved Frerotte from the NFL's first accidental suicide attempt.
In a sense, Frerotte probably should be forgiven. For weeks he's been second-guessed and criticized for playing exactly as he has throughout his entire Redskins career. Cautiously. Unspectacularly. Intelligently. With a few erratic throws. All in all: Pretty well. All his stats this year are identical to 1995 and 1996. Or a bit better.
Yet Frerotte came into this division showdown, with the Redskins trailing the Giants by one game, as a man under enormous pressure. In recent weeks, Turner has, by his play selections, shown progressively less confidence in his fourth-year project.
When Frerotte ran away from 295-pound Bernard Holsey, then scampered inches past the end zone pylon to break a scoreless tie in the second quarter, he could not contain his joy. His scoring run brought him to a halt inches from the padded wall in the end zone. First, he heaved the ball against the wall in celebration. But, in this era of extravagant exhibitions, that hardly seemed sufficient. When others have done flips and handstands, spun the ball like a top and hugged their linemen, doesn't a quarterback on the hot seat have to do something to express himself? And, perhaps, inspire the troops, too?
Give Frerotte credit. It was just a quick, hard head-butt. Yet it definitely did the job. Frerotte had enough marbles left to hold for the point-after attempt, then locate the bench unaided. But, soon, trainer Bubba Tyer was inches from Frerotte's face, asking for pertinent data. Like his name and who's buried in Grant's Tomb.
Minutes later, as Frerotte walked toward Turner on the sideline, the coach asked, "What happened?" A question for the Redskins ages.
With 1 minute 31 seconds left in the half, the Redskins got the ball again. Frerotte reentered the game and threw four straight passes. Two short ones were complete. Two missed badly. For the half, Frerotte was an undistinguished 9 for 19 for 104 yards and no interceptions.
When the second half began, Hostetler was at quarterback. How long will he stay there? With most teams, the answer is simple. The expensive young quarterback returns to his job as soon as his head is clear. (And everybody has stopped laughing.) It's not that simple with the Redskins.
How foolish was Frerotte's blunder? Remember, Hostetler isn't your normal backup quarterback. It's not just that Hostetler is in perfect health. Hostetler has the 11th-highest career quarterback rating in the history of the NFL (82.1). In fact, the worst rating of Hostetler's six full seasons (80.8) is better than the best rating of Frerotte's three years as a starter (79.3)
Try any other measuring stick you want and Hostetler has done more and gone further than Frerotte ever has. He once led the Giants to three playoff wins and a victory in Super Bowl XXV. He had the second-highest passing yardage total in one season of any Raiders quarterback. And they've had plenty of great ones. The only thing wrong with Hostetler is that he's 36. This is not the man you want to give a free shot at your starting job.
Unfortunately, Frerotte's true culpability is that he left his team virtually naked in its most vital game of the season and, perhaps, in Turner's entire four years.
Hostetler has taken snaps in practice with the first team on only two occasions this season. Think Hoss was a little rusty? Last night was the first time he's been rushed by something faster than a tackling dummy in a year. And he looked like it.
During his Redskins career, Frerotte has been known for intelligence, good judgment and durability. That's the irony. Last night was the worst injury of Frerotte's career since he became a starter. It was also by a light year his worst moment of bad judgment.
For years, it's been said that a tie is like kissing your sister. Maybe it's actually more like beating your head against a wall.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company