Which is why when Thom Loverro had Frerotte on his Cigars and Curveballs podcast recently, he couldn’t help but ask the onetime Redskins starter about his most memorable moment. And the seventh-round draft pick didn’t seem to mind terribly.
“You know, if you didn’t have a sense of humor about it, I don’t think that you would ever survive it,” Frerotte said of the November 1997 incident, which is nearing its 20th anniversary. (Oral history time!) “Because I don’t think I go anywhere without somebody talking about it, or asking me about it, or what happened. And they try to be nice, but they really kind of want to be mean — some people. And other people just want to know what happened.
“And I don’t have a problem talking about it. It happened to me. It’s part of my life. You know what I say? I tell people all the time, you know what, I wasn’t in a car drunken driving. I wasn’t doing anything. It was part of the game, and it was an emotional time for me, and I really just wanted to jump off the wall. And it just ended up being something I didn’t want it to be.”
Frerotte, of course, sprained his neck in the process of the butting and wound up leaving that game, later saying “it was a stupid thing to do.” But the move became a running gag in local sports coverage, starting the next day. “Head-Butt Turns Into Real Pain in the Neck” was the headline of Leonard Shapiro’s next-day story, which described Frerotte’s celebratory encounter with the wall as “one of the more bizarre plays in the team’s history.”
“Forget the spike, the Chicken Dance and the Lambeau leap into the crowd. In the annals of end zone celebration, we now have a new, undisputed winner: Gus’s Goof,” Boz wrote in his masterful column. (Headline: “Not Exactly a Heads-Up Play.”)
A few days later, The Post ran reader comments on the actions of Frerotte and Michael Westbrook, who had been penalized in that 7-7 tie for ripping off his helmet. “Frerotte’s idiocy and Westbrook’s tantrum are symptoms of a leadership vacuum,” one reader wrote. “Gus Frerotte and Michael Westbrook should both, literally, have their heads examined,” another argued. “Beavis& Butt-head!” pointed out a third.
“If one of my players did that, I’d hope he’d go straight to the hospital, because he wouldn’t want to face me,” Mike Holmgren told reporters after talking to the Packers about Frerotte’s maneuver.
Tony Kornheiser wrote a column that month consisting almost entirely of Frerotte jokes.
“What does Gus do for an encore, set himself on fire?” he wrote.
“You know how in baseball parks they’ll mark off where a monstrous homer landed by painting the seat a different color? Well, the Redskins ought to paint a yellow circle around the spot where Gus slammed his head, and inside the circle paint a No. 12 with a slash through it,” he wrote.
“Actually, I thought it was generous of the Redskins to get an ambulance to take Gus to the hospital,” he wrote. “I’d have been so steamed I’d have made Gus hail a cab. (And no, there’s no truth to the rumor that Gus entered the hospital by walking straight through a plate glass door.)”
A couple months later, local skater Michael Weiss got a limo ride to the airport before the Nagano Olympics, courtesy of Frerotte. “Maybe if I land the quadruple Lutz I’ll head-butt the side of the rink,” Weiss said. And the next fall, a New York reporter tried asking Frerotte some leading questions:
“If you win the game on Sunday on a late touchdown, how will you celebrate?” the reporter asked.
“Get on a plane and come home,” Frerotte answered.
“But how will you celebrate?” the reporter persisted.
“If we win the game, that would be special no matter what,” Frerotte said.
Exasperated, he explained that the question was about the head butt.
“I’m not going there, though,” Frerotte said, smiling. “I’m a smart fish.”
Frerotte, of course, ultimately lost his starting job in Washington. The 1998 season would be his last in D.C.; after the season he said he wanted to be either traded or released if he would not be the team’s starter. But the 1997 season was the beginning of the end for Frerotte here, a development he still seems to link to his head-butt.
“I wanted to be a Redskin my whole life,” he told Loverro. “I mean, that’s the team that drafted me. Obviously what we just talked about didn’t help me, but I wanted to be a Redskin my whole life, and I would have loved to stay in Washington, D.C. I loved the town, I loved the people, I loved the fans. But it’s just something that happened, and I had to move on and move my family. The last thing I wanted to do was move my family out of the place that we were living and leave all my friends that I’d created in five years. But life changes, life moves on and you’ve got to roll with the punches sometimes. And sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. You just move on in life.”
Moving on, though, didn’t end the jokes. “When the Redskins don’t win, the total experience is as much fun as a Gus Frerotte head butt,” Boz wrote in 1999. During the quarterback’s 2000 return to FedEx Field, there were dozens of signs about the incident. A Post letter-writer once argued that Trent Green was “good enough to beat mediocre competition and smart enough not to head-butt concrete walls when doing so.” Which all called to mind something Kornheiser wrote the week of the incident.
“You know, Gus, someday I think we’ll look back on this, and it will all seem funny,” he wrote. “We’ll stay pals, right, Gus? Remember, we kid because we love.”
Well, he seems to have remembered.
“You know, it is what it is,” Frerotte told Loverro. “It happened, and I’ve been able to move on from it, but I still can talk about it, because it was a part of my life. You know, it didn’t define me, and it still doesn’t define me. And that’s what’s great. I think if I didn’t laugh about it, I wouldn’t have been able to go on and play another 10 years after that.”