"It's a blast," Jay Schroeder kept saying. "It really is." If the Redskins' quarterback weren't so confident, if he did not genuinely believe he had a right to pick up in about five minutes what most players need about five years to master, he would have been pinching himself all the way back to Washington last night.
Yes, it's for real. His career not yet a week old, he is 2-0. Most kid quarterbacks leave Three Rivers Stadium limping through a mental fog; he left with another victory over the league's top-rated defense.
The Giants one week, the Steelers the next. Yawn and count up his two-game numbers: 28 for 48 for 385 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and two clean uniforms.
He is the dreamboat star in a script written by Joe Gibbs and co-produced by enormous blockers who refuse to allow nasty defenders very near their new quarterback very often.
In case you missed it, the Redskins' best blockers, Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm, have missed 10 of the last 12 quarters. A center, Jeff Bostic, played left guard the second half yesterday. Rick Donnalley played center with his broken left hand as mobile as a rolling pin, wrapped in plaster and foam.
"My first play," Donnalley said, after Grimm's injury forced a reshuffling of the Hogs, "(John) Goodman (Pittsburgh's nose tackle) says to me: 'Just don't club me to death with that thing.' "
For much of this afternoon, it seemed as though the NFL really was being overrun by human kitchen appliances. First there was the Refrigerator; yesterday, a couple of pop-up toasters got completely unboxed.
The Steelers' Scott Campbell was the other quarterback off by himself this season, also unnoticed and unused until starter David Woodley awakened yesterday morning with flu.
For three-plus quarters, Campbell and Schroeder were defying all the laws of pro sport. With about as much preparation as Schroeder had against the Giants, Campbell also was quite good against an excellent defense.
This led to some intriguing conjecture: If a 308-pounder untrained for the task can score touchdowns running and receiving, as the Bears' William Perry has done, and if two quarterbacks with almost no advance warning can be effective, is there any mystique left in the NFL?
Jack Kent Cooke and the other owners can slash expenses merely by ordering, say, Dave Butz to play fullback now and then. Next, Bobby Beathard and his general manager colleagues will be calling minor league baseball managers and asking: "Got any bright strong-armed catchers we can borrow this week?"
Of course, it ain't nearly that simple. Campbell -- bless him -- proved that in the Steelers' final 10 plays, by being sacked once and throwing six incompletions and an interception.
This made Schroeder's performance all the more stunning, although, in truth, he mostly became a hero by not trying to be one. That is perhaps his most impressive football trait: He tries very little beyond what he can do and very little beyond what the opposition allows.
To drop a glitzy name, John Elway of the Broncos also made his NFL debut as a starting pitcher here: He was one for eight and left with a battered elbow.
"His was a different situation," Schroeder said. "I feel sorry for John. He was thrust into having to be the hero, trying to win by himself. I'm one of 11 guys on offense, one of 45 on the team. If I let everyone do his job, everything'll fall into place.
"Last week was kind of an unknown. I didn't know what to expect (from his offensive teammates) and they didn't know what to expect from me. Last game was reacting; this week I could make real good reads."
The touchdown lob that Clint Didier ran under and outfought a Steeler for was the most productive of Schroeder's 16 completions; his proudest may have been a 24-yarder to Gary Clark in the fourth quarter that kept the ball from the Steelers for another couple of minutes.
"It was an all-out blitz," said Schroeder, sitting atop an equipment locker, soda in hand. "Man-to-man coverage. The line held everyone out; Gary and I made the right sight adjustments . . . This is definitely fun. You work all week, and then it comes together on Sunday. Then you make adjustments on the sideline (to cope with unexpected defenses) and they click."
He said the Steelers "threw a bunch of different looks at me." There were not very many blitzes, however, because the Steelers have done very well against more experienced quarterbacks without that being necessary.
"Why change?" Schroeder said, reasonably.
Also, a crowd that has made life very confusing for Bernie Kosar and other quarterbacks this season affected Schroeder.
"There were times even the guards couldn't hear me," he admitted. So what did he do?
"Picked the cadence up a bit louder," said one of the guards, Bostic. Well, fine. That certainly is proper. When thousands of feverish fans yell loudly, the quarterback is supposed to yell louder. The same holds for the rest of his game.
If the defense allows nothing but a five-yarder to Art Monk, the quarterback is obliged to yell: "Yo, Art!" And if the defensive backs have the receivers well covered, the prudent passer heaves the ball to a hot-dog salesman and reloads.
Lots of older and more experienced quarterbacks forget those fundamentals under fire. Schroeder has been most effective by not messing up what his friends have given him. He does not yet try to create chicken salad from chicken feathers. Just now, it's okay by him to be part of the help instead of the chef.