Gus Frerotte wondered out loud today if there would be an X to mark the spot on the FedEx Field wall where his head-butt celebration of a touchdown late in the 1997 season essentially was the beginning of the end of his career with the Washington Redskins.
On Saturday, Frerotte will return to the scene of that incident for the first time since he left with some bitterness during the offseason. He'll come back to town as the upbeat starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions in a first-round playoff game against his old team, and he insisted today that while he cherishes the great memories of his time in Washington, he has "put all the bad stuff behind me."
"I'm sure there will be a big X there where I hit it," Frerotte said of what has become the defining play of his 46 starts for the Redskins. "People made a big deal out of it. But it was just an emotional reaction. It happened. People will make fun of it now and I just laugh. Maybe people will be looking for me to do it again. I hope I can do it 10 times on Saturday."
Frerotte will play because starter Charlie Batch re-injured the thumb on his right (throwing) hand in the Lions' 24-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Batch needs surgery and is out for the playoffs for the Lions, who have never won a game in the nation's capital in 19 tries.
"At first it was tough for me to deal with what happened" in Washington, Frerotte said. "Now, it's just let bygones be bygones and go on with your life. It's not worth the grief, saying, 'Look what he did to me.' I'm a man, I've moved on with my career. There are bigger and better things to worry about than the stress of what happened there."
The "he" Frerotte referred to is Redskins Coach Norv Turner, who elevated the seventh-round draft pick to starter ahead of No. 1 pick Heath Shuler in 1995, then demoted him last year and had no interest in bringing him back. Frerotte said he left on far better terms with then-general manager Charley Casserly, who Frerotte said helped him search for another team.
"There was no question I was leaving," Frerotte said. "I would have liked to stay. But what my contract was supposed to be, it was never going to happen. If you sit on the bench and make that kind of money, well, you just can't do it."
There was some interest in Frerotte from other teams, including Seattle and Chicago. But he signed with the Lions last March for a $600,000 bonus and a $400,000 salary because Detroit told him he'd get a chance to play if Batch got hurt. Frerotte has an option in his three-year deal that allows him to become a free agent again this year. He says he would like to stay here, but will also listen to other offers.
Batch initially hurt his finger on Nov. 7, handing Frerotte the starting job for six games. The Lions went 2-4 with him in the lineup, but one of the victories was among the most satisfying of his career. That one was against the Redskins at the Silverdome on Dec. 5, when he threw for 280 yards and a touchdown in a 33-17 Detroit victory. For the season, he has completed a career-high 60 percent of his passes, with nine touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
"That first game [against the Redskins] really said a lot," Frerotte said. "But this would mean even more because it's in Washington. I'll be jacked up and ready to play, and I'm sure they'll be ready to stop me."
When Frerotte initially came to Detroit, he admits he was still carrying some emotional baggage from his last season in Washington. His position coach, Jim Zorn, a former NFL starting quarterback, also acknowledged that Frerotte needed a confidence boost.
"When he first came here, there definitely was some healing that had to take place," Zorn said. "The idea of a fresh start and working on some of the things that had been negatives for him and turning them into positives was important. He had to get rid of the things he was carrying with him. Sitting last year and watching also doesn't allow you to stay with good fundamentals. Having more of a role and knowing he probably would play really helped him. He corrected a lot of things he had to correct.
"Now, it's a great spot for him. He's gotten to play more than a lot of back-ups this year. Then to go back and play a playoff game from where he came from, I know he's excited. He won't have trouble preparing, I can tell you that."
Frerotte also clearly has the confidence of his teammates.
"He's a proven player and he was a starter for a long time back there," said wide receiver Herman Moore. "There's no reason not to have confidence in him. He knows exactly what it takes to get it done. I don't think he'll miss a stride."
Frerotte admitted today it will "seem a little weird" to come down the tunnel from the visitor's end and into the stadium, but "I'm excited, it's really going to be a lot of fun. The crazy thing is I was in D.C. for five years and never made the playoffs, and now I get in with the Lions.
"The fans are crazy there and they were begging for a playoff team. I'm sure the place will be going nuts. I'm expecting the worst [in fan reaction]. If something doesn't happen, that will be good. But it's what you want. It means that they're afraid of you. . . . I just know you better be ready to play in a hostile environment. Everyone who rooted for you last year will be against you. It'll be a strange feeling.
"This is what you dream of. . . . You want to go into a big game, and win."
Buffalo at Tennessee, Saturday, 12:35 p.m., WJLA-7
Miami at Seattle, Sunday, 4:05, WUSA-9
Buffalo, Miami or Tennessee at Jacksonville, Jan. 15, 12:35, WUSA-9
Buffalo, Seattle or Tennessee at Indianapolis, Jan. 16, 4:05, WUSA-9
AFC championship game, Jan. 23, Time TBA, WUSA-9
Detroit at Washington, Saturday, 4:05 p.m., WJLA-7
Dallas at Minnesota, Sunday, 12:35, WTTG-5
Dallas, Minnesota or Washington at Tampa Bay, Jan. 15, 4:15, WTTG-5
Dallas, Detroit or Minnesota at St. Louis, Jan. 16, 12:35, WTTG-5
NFC championship game, Jan. 23, Time TBA, WTTG-5
Super Bowl in Atlanta, Jan. 30, 6:18, WJLA-7