It wasn't so long ago that the Washington Redskins figured that the next time they would be preparing for a playoff game, quarterback Gus Frerotte would be playing for them, not against them. But the fairy-tale beginning to Frerotte's Redskins tenure gave way to a far-from-happy ending.
Frerotte left Washington following the 1998 season after twice being benched, which strained his relationship with Coach Norv Turner. Now Frerotte, who helped the Detroit Lions beat the Redskins during the regular season, will be on the opposite side again when the teams meet on Saturday at FedEx Field in an NFC first-round playoff game.
Turner yesterday said that all had been forgotten or forgiven on his end, and he took a share of the blame for Frerotte's failure to become the quarterback who led the Redskins back into the postseason.
"Time takes care of things," Turner said. "I certainly don't have any hard feelings. For me, there's a sense that I didn't get done what I needed to get done. When a player is successful, everyone wants to give you credit for the good job you did coaching. When it doesn't work out the way you'd want it to, you look at yourself and say, 'What could I have done differently?' I think Gus has moved on and showed he can be a real good player in this league. He's played awfully well this year."
Frerotte was upset with Turner last season when he lost the starting quarterback job to Trent Green. Turner went to Green twice, each time after one start by Frerotte, and Frerotte said then he didn't feel he got a fair shot.
But if Turner was a central figure in Frerotte's unhappy departure, he also played a big part in Frerotte's good times in Washington. Frerotte went from being a seventh-round draft pick to a Pro Bowl player with a $4.5 million-per-year contract, and it was Turner who gave Frerotte that opportunity.
Frerotte was the 197th player selected in the 1994 college draft. The Redskins used the third choice in that draft on Heath Shuler, who was supposed to develop into the franchise's cornerstone. But Turner said yesterday it quickly became apparent that Frerotte was not a typical seventh-round pick.
"It started in the minicamps," Turner said. "Gus obviously had the physical ability--arm strength, quick release, good feel for playing, good feel for throwing different types of throws. His style fit a lot of the things we do. . . . We felt that Gus would be a good player. We had a number one draft pick that we obviously felt was going to be a great player. [But] Gus physically looked like he belonged in this league."
Turner gave Frerotte a chance in October 1994. With Shuler sidelined by a sprained ankle, Frerotte started in Indianapolis, and became the NFC offensive player of the week. Shuler began the '95 season as the starter but got hurt, and Frerotte started 11 games that season. Frerotte became the full-time starter in '96 and made the Pro Bowl.
It began to unravel for Frerotte in '97. He hurt himself head-butting a stadium wall while celebrating a touchdown, and suffered a broken hip in Week 13 that ended his season. He began to lose the confidence of his teammates and coaches. When he didn't look particularly sharp in training camp prior to the '98 season, Turner sensed he might have to make an early-season quarterback switch.
"We spent a lot of time talking after the '97 season about things we needed to get better at--consistency [and] accuracy," Turner said. "Those things were important. I just didn't see a change in the consistency."
Turner went to Green after Frerotte threw two costly interceptions and hurt his left shoulder in the third quarter of the Redskins' 1998 season-opening loss on the road to the New York Giants. Middle linebacker Marvcus Patton screamed at Frerotte on the sideline during that game, and the Redskins were on their way to an 0-7 beginning. Frerotte made only one more start--a 41-7 loss at Minnesota in Week 7.
"Gus, in that Giants game, got hurt," Turner said. "People tend to forget that. He struggled when he hurt his shoulder. We left him in. Some people felt I left him in too long. He got hit pretty good again. Trent played awfully well the rest of that game. He gave us some life and some energy. Maybe it was timing. Maybe it was a combination of a lot of things. After the game, I had to make a decision in terms of what was best for our football team. We had a very difficult stretch coming up, and I made the decision to go with Trent."
Why did Frerotte ultimately fail in Washington? Turner chose his words carefully, and declined to address head-on the popular notion that Frerotte could play well only when expectations were low.
"Playing that position is real, real demanding," Turner said. "We were struggling as a football team, and obviously playing that position gets a lot of attention. That had some effect on Gus. As we struggled in the offensive line and weren't as consistent around him . . . it was hard for him."
It has worked out well for the Redskins, who now have Pro Bowl selection Brad Johnson at quarterback. Turner said he has moved on and he hopes Frerotte has moved on. The two spoke on the field at the Silverdome on Dec. 5, when Frerotte threw for 280 yards in the Lions' 33-17 victory, but, Turner said, "We really didn't get a chance to visit."