SAN DIEGO -- Jay Schroeder stood in his white Washington Redskins uniform, his blond hair flowing down to the collar and mirrored sunglasses over his eyes. The sunglasses were important.
Nobody could look him in the eye when he recited the pledge of allegiance. A questioner had to listen between the lines.
Schroeder is designated as the quarterback with the headphones for the Redskins in the Super Bowl after starting 10 of the 12 games played by the regulars. Joe Gibbs, the coach who benched Schroeder in the last game of the schedule, has designated Doug Williams as the quarterback.
"It's the nature of the three people involved," Schroeder said. "Nobody wanted to make a big deal of it." Call it "Hail to the Redskins." Schroeder grew up in Southern California playing high school football against John Elway, went to UCLA, married a girl from San Diego. He plays a position where ego is paramount and he says, "actually this is more relaxing for me."
How much he believed of what he said is another question. At this time the man who rocks the boat makes himself look only foolish. The rivalry between Williams and Schroeder is inevitable. Williams is 32 years old and already has been on the discard pile. Schroeder is 26 and he may yet be the Washington quarterback of the future.
But Williams is the quarterback of the present and who knows if the Super Bowl will come twice in a career? "I'll be there rooting for Doug to do well," Schroeder said. He said that he'd be there to point out little openings for Williams, too. Like in the last game of the schedule, he said.
The Redskins and the Vikings were tied, 7-7, and the only Washington score was a 100-yard interception return. And Gibbs replaced Schroeder, who was a Pro Bowl quarterback last year. Then the Vikings were ahead with time running out and Schroeder read something in the defense, he said, that led to Williams' 51-yard touchdown pass that enabled the Redskins to win in overtime.
"It was a shock," Schroeder said of the demotion. "I wasn't expecting it, especially in a 7-7 game. When you get set down, you always take it personally. I know I can play in this league and make the plays. It's just a matter of getting the opportunity."
And Williams has gone on to quarterback the playoff victories that got the Redskins here. Redskins-watchers note that Schroeder has not been detected shaking Williams' hand.
Schroeder has the statistic at the tip of his tongue that the Redskins had not won a game Williams started until the playoffs.
The two quarterbacks do not drink a beer together. "We have a great relationship," Williams said. "Let's not make things difficult."
There is a similarity between them -- both tend to throw the ball too hard on occasion. Schroeder sees both having "come uphill" to get here. Schroeder came from four years as a catcher in the minor leagues to challenge old pro Joe Theismann and to step in when Theismann's leg was broken. "I had to prove I could play football," Schroeder said.
Now, he's on a Super Bowl team and a large segment of rooting interest goes to Williams because he's the first black quarterback who will start in the Super Bowl. "He has the opportunity to do something nobody else has done," Schroeder said. "To put extra pressure on him is not fair. He's done well so far. Nobody knows how he feels inside."
Schroeder knows only how he feels inside. He concedes that he's had to sell himself a bill of goods on his role from time to time. He said that he hasn't heard the rumors that he would be traded to the Raiders, and that he's ignored the rumors.
No, he said, it wasn't his boyhood dream to play in the Super Bowl because he always dreamed of playing baseball. But since he committed himself to football, this became his dream. The Redskins won eight of the 10 games he started, but here he is running the Denver offense for his defense and saying the two seconds he spends on the field as the holder on placements might be the most important two seconds of the game.
"You always look back and wonder what the coach was thinking and why he made the change," Schroeder said. "Why me? It's the coach's decision. Now I have to have the coach's decision to get back.
"It was tough to deal with. It's gotten easier and easier. I've learned. I know there were things I did last year I wasn't able to do this season. I know I can play in the league seven or eight more years. I hope to get to the Super Bowl again. I hope it's with the Redskins. Maybe it will be with some other team."
Schroeder remembers a bit of advice from spring training in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization where a third baseman named Danny Ainge was experiencing trying times. "He told me, always keep your options open; you never know what will happen," Schroeder said.
Now his option is to do what he's told. "I know if I get a chance and I'm not ready, I'll never get another chance," he said.