THIS CAPITAL is in a crisis the likes of which it has not experienced in a decade. Perplexing questions of leadership, competence and the popular will must finally be confronted -- the times will brook no further delay. But however these matters are resolved, bitter disputation will continue, creating deep policy divisions in Washington and having repercussions across the nation. Yes, once again, the Redskins have got a two-quarterback problem.
Not since the Billy Kilmer/Sonny Jurgensen days of the 1970s, when many people took to stating their quarterback preferences right on their Redskins bumper stickers, has the Washington area faced such a difficult choice between capable leaders. In the '80s there has been just one quarterback at a time: Joe Theismann until he was carried off the field two years ago and then Jay Schroeder, who replaced him in that game and has been the regular starter since.
In Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, however, Mr. Schroeder -- healthy but passing the ball poorly for the third straight game -- was replaced by Doug Williams, his highly regarded understudy (and elder by six years), who then led the Redskins to a dicey victory over the lowly regarded Lions.
Coach Joe Gibbs announced immediately afterward that Mr. Williams would start next week's game, but as those who remember the "We-want-Billy/We-want-Sonny" era can attest, that won't do much to quiet the debate.
In the '70s, the issue was whether a quarterback should be a great leader (Mr. Kilmer) or a great passer (Mr. Jurgensen). In the current case, the contrast between the two quarterbacks isn't so clear, and may in any event be irrelevant. For in Sunday's game, the crowd at RFK Stadium highlighted a developing trend in pro football: on key plays when the visiting Lions had the ball, the crowd set up such a din that the quarterback couldn't make his signals heard, and thus was unable to change plays at the line of scrimmage. As one Redskins fan remarked of the crowd's behavior, "That stuff used to be called bush league, but now it's part of the game." Which means, of course, that the Redskins will be on the receiving end of it when they play away from home, and that the truly essential quality of the starting quarterback of the future may be not the arm of a Jurgensen or the charisma of a Kilmer but the voice of a Nebraska hog caller.