Seeing as how there's nearly two weeks until the Washington Redskins' first playoff game -- enough time, let's say, for Doug Williams to reinjure his back and still fully recover -- I don't know why Joe Gibbs would be in such a hurry to name his starting quarterback. Why not milk all the suspense he can? Treat it like Miss America. Dress Williams and Jay Schroeder in evening gowns, and bring in Bert Parks to open the envelope and croon to the winner.
Your guess is as good as mine. But since we've got some time before Gibbs' official announcement on Wednesday, we should all get a chance to influence the decision-making process.
Wouldn't you like to be Coach For A Day?
Sure you would.
So just like they do at ABC and USA Today, we'll hook up these 900 numbers. You can call and voice your choice on the key Redskins questions.
900-DOUG: Williams should start.
900-JAY: Schroeder should start.
900-TRADE: Williams should start, and Schroeder and George Rogers should be packaged to the Raiders in return for two No. 1 draft picks, fresh gravel from the pits in Irwindale and three custom-tailored black sharkskin just-win-baby suits from Al Davis' closet.
900-JESS: Sheikh, you're beautiful, babe, thanks, ciao.
900-DOMINO: I tried calling J. Schroeder's All-Pro Restaurant, but they say if Williams is the Redskins' quarterback the place may become a pizza delivery, so bring me one with sausage and mushrooms.
900-DIEHARD: Bring back Babe.
I'm going to call 900-DOUG, and those of you who read this column regularly know that's a departure. I've been inclined toward Schroeder for two reasons: One, although his completion percentage is slim and his accuracy uncertain, he can go over the top and score in bunches, as he proved in the Giants game. Yes, you could get a coronary waiting, but nobody ever promised you Bart Starr. Two, Schroeder is better suited temperamentally to starting. Look at that pose on the sideline. Does he look like a happy camper?
But those reasons no longer hold. Explicit in the first is the notion that you must stick with Schroeder for a full game because you never know when he's going to ignite. But what if you're down 14 in the fourth period and he's still throwing grounders? The playoffs are single elimination. A team can't afford to fall too far behind while waiting for Godot.
Implicit in the second is the notion that Williams should suffer because he has the more compliant personality. That's unfair.
Williams has once again earned the starting slot, as he did after replacing Schroeder against Detroit. Some will suggest now, as I did then, that Schroeder ought to remain the starter, and Williams ought to remain the reliever, because that's a proven, workable system. But nothing in Joe Gibbs' coaching background indicates he's comfortable with that kind of uncertainty at quarterback. It took him seven seasons to yank one quarterback. Now you want him to do it every week?
Anyway, Gibbs established precedent one month ago when Schroeder reclaimed the starting job with that exceptional, Captain Cardiac second half against the Giants. Were Gibbs to send Williams back to the bullpen now, it would seem there was a double standard on the Redskins.
Schroeder supporters have to face the fact that he hasn't improved through the season; his performances are consistently erratic. In his five games since resuming the starting position, Schroeder had one good half against the Giants, Cowboys and Cardinals, was solid though unspectacular against the Dolphins, and ineffective against the Vikings. Gibbs might have hooked Schroeder early in the Detroit game, but the timing was right against Minnesota. There were no bricks. You could huff and puff and blow his house down.
On the other hand, Williams has been nothing if not dependable. Three times now -- against the Eagles, Lions and Vikings -- he has replaced Schroeder and led the Redskins to victory. His entrance has been like a jump start on a cold morning. True, the Redskins lost both games Williams started. But against the Falcons, the culprit was place kicking, and against the Rams, it was Art Monk's failure to catch successive passes in the end zone. With Williams playing, the Redskins always look competitive.
In basketball, to satisfy a sixth man's ego, they say it doesn't matter who starts, but who finishes. However, in football starting does matter, especially with Gibbs, who's not enamored of improvisation. The quarterback controversy has overshadowed all the other shuffles -- at running back, middle linebacker and center -- on this particularly unsettled, particularly interesting, particularly human and vulnerable Redskins team. Isn't it ironic that Gibbs, a man committed to structure, would be juggling spare parts all the way up to the playoffs?
What a boost that was for the Redskins in Minnesota, fighting desperately from behind against a playoff team on the road. (Better to be lucky than good; when the Redskins trailed, 24-14, it should have been 35-7.) Now the Redskins have reached their metier: games in which margins don't mean anything, only who wins. They'll be healthy for the playoffs. Grimm, Didier and Monk will all be back. The players think they have the best group Gibbs has coached here. Doug Williams has earned the right to lead them.