While Gus Frerotte showered after exacting revenge against his former team, the knot of reporters, cameramen and well-wishers around his locker grew like the Detroit quarterback's reputation has since the Redskins released him in February. After leading the Lions to two come-from-behind victories as a substitute, Frerotte has guided the Lions to two victories as a starter. His latest, today's 33-17 win over the Redskins, may also be his favorite.
"I think you always have a little animosity toward your old team," Frerotte said. "We made some plays and really took it to the Redskins."
All week, talk here had been of Frerotte's showdown with the Redskins and Coach Norv Turner, who first demoted and then released Frerotte. When Lions Coach Bobby Ross named Frerotte the starter over injured Charlie Batch on Friday, Frerotte said he began to look forward to today's game. When it was over, he shared a brief handshake with Turner.
While Frerotte had a few days to let his anticipation build, another former Redskin, Desmond Howard, didn't even have a day to prepare to meet the team that made him its first-round draft pick in 1992.
On Saturday morning, Ross learned his usual punt returner, cornerback Terry Fair, would miss today's game with a broken knuckle on his right hand. Howard, who had been released by the Packers this week, was relaxing in Chicago, preparing to return to his Florida home. Had Fair been available, Ross said, the Lions would not have pursued Howard as quickly as they did. And maybe Howard wouldn't have arrived in Detroit less than 24 hours before game time and returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, giving the Lions the lead for good, 17-10, in the second quarter.
The Redskins, who had time and familiarity on their side this week, still couldn't do what they had prepared to do against Frerotte.
"When he's not taking hits, he's not scared," Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook said. "I stressed all week you had to hit him. . . . We were sacking Gus, but we weren't hitting him. He was never rattled."
The Lions' offense struggled to move the ball at times, including one time in the third quarter when the Lions failed to score after reaching second and one on the Redskins 26-yard line. But when the Lions needed Frerotte, he was good enough to triumph over his old team and the unspoken perception that he wasn't good enough to play for the Redskins.
"I think anybody who's alive and kicking would be excited in that situation," Frerotte said.
"Everyone talked about his emotions," Ross said. "But he kept his poise. Frerotte did a good job. He was very accurate."
Although his first pass was incomplete and the Lions' first series ended after three plays, Frerotte completed 21 of 32 passes with no interceptions. His 280 passing yards accounted for 90 percent of the Lions' total offense.
But Howard's punt return captured the imagination of a city that watched the newest Lion win the Heisman Trophy at Michigan, just an hour's drive from the Silverdome.
"You feel like you have a legitimate chance every time he touches the ball," Ross said.