For the Detroit Lions' first playoff game in 12 years, Coach Monte Clark is placing his faith in quarterback Eric Hipple, who has thrown six passes in the last five games.
Four of those passes came in the fourth period Sunday against Green Bay, however, and all were completed. They led to Rob Rubick's touchdown on a tight-end reverse that carried the 4-5 Lions into Saturday's playoff game in Washington. So Hipple, the No. 1 quarterback at season's start, regained that position today, with Gary Danielson demoted to No. 2 after a five-game reign.
It is one more episode in a soap opera that began when Danielson broke his left wrist a year ago and Hipple directed a 48-17 victory over Chicago in his first start.
"Obviously, I'd like to have it so it's not necessary to switch back and forth," Clark said. "But under the circumstances, I think this is the best way to do it.
"I considered every element and phase of it and weighed my staff's opinions too. It came down to a gut feeling and I pray that it's the right decision."
Hipple was hoping the same. He was unquestionably awful in four previous starts this year, completing only 31 of 80 passes, with four intercepted.
"I was tentative and I couldn't figure out why," Hipple said. "It was tough to cope with it. I never really felt comfortable. I wanted to earn the job and I put too much pressure on myself.
"When I came into the league, Gary was really good to me, helping me out. So in a way I felt guilty that I had his job and I felt I had to prove I deserved it."
Now, Hipple claims, he has shed his mixed feelings. He acted confident and loose, an attitude veteran Lions watchers said he had not displayed before. In the past, Hipple seemed to be passing not to be intercepted rather than with confidence.
"The playoffs are the great part of it," Hipple said. "It's one shot and if you're good at it, you get another chance. You give everything you have. It's not like the start of a 16-game season, where you feel you have to pace yourself.
"I'm going into it with my thinking wide open. I'm loose and swinging, not nervous. There's no pressure. I'm just glad. Before there was all that internal pressure I put on myself. I've gotten over that. Maybe I've matured.
Hipple said Clark told him and Danielson of the decision this morning, without explanation. Hipple added that he wished the media would stop the "him-or-me" stuff that has gone on all season and included one "Point and Counterpoint" in which two local columnists chose sides and argued the merits of Hipple and Danielson.
"That's what I got irritated about at the beginning of the season," Hipple said. "They don't do that at any other position."
Sunday, the home crowd enthusiastically cheered Hipple's entrance into the game.
"It's nice to have them on your side, particularly since they booed me before," Hipple said. "But that only affects you on the first play. You can't really listen to them. One thing about being on the road--they always boo you. If I hear any cheers Saturday, I'll know it's because I'm doing a lousy job."
As for Danielson, the local boy whose injury-riddled career reads like a Shakespearean tragedy, he had only one comment to request for an interview: "No, thanks." Danielson has been through this scenario too many times before.