November 30, 1987: Torch is Passed, Again

Gimme the bumper sticker that says: “Jay Stays.” The guess here is good-guy Doug Williams once more watched his football life pass before him in the mist and light rain early last evening in RFK Stadium.


The feeling here is that since Gibbs has given Schroeder the benefit of nearly every doubt in two-plus years, he will not change now. The coach has demoted others in similar situations, but they were players whose ego he was not trying nearly so hard to massage.

In the second half against the Giants yesterday, Schroeder was everything Gibbs has wanted in a quarterback -- and more. He also benefited from defensive and special teams play unlike that which helped make Williams the losing pitcher against the Rams.

There is no underestimating what being beaten badly yesterday might have done to the Redskins, or the magnitude of the fallout had they not been at least partly inspired after being down 16-0 at halftime.

The Giants may be somewhat crippled; they may be doormats in the NFC East; they may have lost almost as often as the Lions and Falcons this wacky season, but they are the gang the Redskins have wanted most to beat.

Last season, the Redskins very well may have been the second-best team in the NFL; they still were a plateau below the Giants -- and knew it.

Also, the Giants did not mind telling the world about their superiority over the Redskins. Quotes about being strategically better floated about the country. In his book, Lawrence Taylor said of Schroeder:

”In the championship game whenever he dropped back to pass, he would suddenly give this little twist of the head to see if anything was coming from his blind side just before he released the ball.

”He was shellshocked. He just wasn’t the same player he was the first time he faced us. This isn’t to say he won’t get out there and bomb us silly at some time again, but in 1986, running what we did at him, we hit his body and got to his head.”

Schroeder said his offseason reading did not include Taylor’s memoirs. “I don’t read books and I don’t read newspapers,” he insisted.

Reading defenses, Schroeder was 17 for 25 for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the second half yesterday. Probably, it was the best performance of a remarkably successful young career.

”I needed it,” he admitted.

Schroeder described most of what took place for both teams as a “guessing game.” Who would blitz and from where? Could the wild charges be held? In the second half for the Redskins, they could.

In those glorious last 30 minutes, Schroeder rediscovered his touch on long passes. He also threw well short, which hadn’t always happened even in good times.

Schroeder’s ability to pull himself and his team out of trouble has amazed Gibbs as much as anything. It was one reason the coach waited so long to bench him.

His touchdown pass to Ricky Sanders that completed a 14-point fourth quarter and provided the winning points was as dramatic as anything seen in RFK of late, about on the level of the comeback victory he scripted against these very Giants in his debut as a Redskin two years ago.

Of the problems that led to his being yanked for Williams against the Lions three games ago, Schroeder said: “I have to realize I have time.” By that he meant waiting that vital split second for receivers to break free.

The pass to Sanders was what nearly everyone in Washington has come to expect from Schroeder, in spite of his lack of NFL experience. He quickly realized what trouble was developing, and from where, that Sanders ought to be open and how far downfield.

Unlike the recent past, Schroeder was strong and accurate. As quite often happens, Schroeder did not see his good work completed, as Giant Leonard Marshall had him pinned to the ground when Sanders scampered into the end zone.

Each time Schroeder did something spectacular, Williams could be seen on the sideline leading the applause. His status as starter was being threatened, but Williams was being classy about it.

”This is my team,” he said. “When the team wins, I win. We all win.”

Williams was wearing a pink pullover shirt, jeans and a fatalistic attitude minutes after the game. He thought Gibbs had a rule about a player not losing his position because of injury, then joked about another one.

”The golden rule,” he said. “The man with the gold rules. Whatever Joe Gibbs decides, I have to roll with the punches. It’s strictly up to Joe.

”What am I going to do? Tell him he’s fired {if Gibbs chooses Schroeder}? Run to Mr. {owner Jack Kent} Cooke {and whimper}: ‘I’m not gonna start?’ “

Williams did emphasize that he “would be ready to play,” recovered from the sore back incurred at midweek practice that forced him to the sideline. Not quite the totally good soldier, Williams did say: “If he does {start Williams}, he keeps his word; if he doesn’t do it, he broke the rules.”

Whatever, Williams emphasized: “I’ll be able to handle it . . . Life’s not fair . . . you do with certain people what you do not do with others. It’s hard for there to be a controversy, because only Joe Gibbs is making the decision. You’d think Jay and I were shooting at one another; we’re not.”

Gibbs did not mind being pressed so long and hard about who would start in St. Louis. One reason was that whomever he chooses almost surely will have the luxury of spirited and efficient teammates.

If nobody blocks especially well; if nobody runs and catches especially well, or tackles especially well or charges under kicks especially well, John Unitas in his prime would be ineffective.

”When we play with emotion,” Schroeder said, “we play very exciting football. If we get it going every week, we’ll be tough.”