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About an hour after the Redskins’ 1997 season ended, Jeff Hostetler walked onto the field of an essentially empty Jack Kent Cooke Stadium and assembled friends and family together in the end zone.
Hostetler’s long NFL career figured to be over, and he apparently wanted everybody to pose for a quick photo to mark the occasion. As the pack headed back toward the locker-room area, the kids in the group broke away and, one by one, rammed their heads into the green wall that rings the field, the very same wall that Gus Frerotte had intentionally rammed his head into when celebrating a touchdown against the Giants earlier in the season. After each smash, the youngsters would stumble away, feigning the same sort of wooziness Frerotte had really felt, and then shriek with laughter. Hoss laughed along but, despite the headbangers’ pleas, didn’t join in.
I observed the Hostetler clan’s routine with my buddy Bill. Though we had both been longtime riders on the Gus Bus, we came away feeling similarly about Frerotte’s football future: He was done as a Redskin. If these kids felt so comfortable mocking Frerotte in publicinside the stadium, fer crissakesthen he surely served as the butt of a lot of jokes around the Hostetler household. Gus’ standing in his own locker room, we surmised, must be even lower.
On Sunday, the Giants returned to Cooke Stadium for the first time since Frerotte had banged his head. Before the game, Frerotte, probably on the advice of his agent or his wife, led the Redskins on a charge from the locker room to the field. But despite the overt, and probably insincere, show of spirit, all game long, I kept thinking about the green wall and about how right Bill and I had been about Gus.
He is done here.
Norv Turner all but ensured Frerotte’s departure from Washington by benching him in favor of Trent Green before the Giants game, then quietly adding that the starting job was Green’s for the rest of the year.
Turner came to Washington with a reputation as a great cultivator of young quarterbacks. That rep was based entirely on the performance of Troy Aikman, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who’d been learning the position in Dallas for years before Turner arrived there. But Turner is also the only pro coach Frerotte has ever known, and under his allegedly expert tutelage, Frerotte has devolved from the cocky gunslinger who earned NFC Player of the Week honors in his very first start (against Indianapolis in 1994) to the gun-shy wussy who couldn’t throw a screen pass to save his job against Minnesota two weeks ago. That game, barring injury to Green, will be Frerotte’s last start in burgundy and gold. The NFL’s salary cap prevents teams from keeping backups with $18 million contracts, so Gus will be cut loose before the Skins’ 1999 opener.
Deserved or not, Frerotte’s latest benching wasn’t a shocker. Marvcus Patton had unofficially dismissed Gus as a team leader in the season opener (also against the Giants, though in the Meadowlands) by attacking the quarterback on the sideline in front of teammates and a national television audience. Though other players dragged Patton away before Frerotte had to endure actual punches, nobody criticized the linebacker for the bullying behavior or the ridiculous and humiliating insinuations that Gus had quit on the team.
Turner, in fact, added insult to insult by backing Patton in a postgame press conference, then benching Frerotte just days afterward. Turner never mentioned that Frerotte, playing behind one of the weakest offensive lines in the league, had taken more physical punishment than any Redskin over the past several years and had always gotten up, or that he had once played against the Rams with what was diagnosed after the game as a broken hip. Frerotte is rumored to have gotten back at Turner by leaking embarrassing tidbits about the coach to the press. (A brutal Sports Illustrated piece is thought to be a product of Gus’ counter-betrayal of Turner.)
Off the field, the show of disrespect for Frerotte has been just as blatant.
In February, a local contractor, Deck-America, sued Frerotte for $324,000 and smeared his reputation by painting him as a deadbeat who wouldn’t honor his end of a bargain he’d forged with the firm after it built a back deck onto his home.
Frerotte or his agent tried to counter that smear with a publicity stunt set up this summer called “Touchdowns for Tots.” Under the announced plan, Gus would donate $250 to something called the Gus Frerotte Foundation for every touchdown pass he threw in 1998, and at season’s end the money would go to local children’s charities. He threw a TD to Leslie Shepherd in the first quarter of the opener but hasn’t thrown one since, and given the current situation it’s unlikely he’ll have to make any further donations. With the big board at $250 and holding, here’s hoping those needy tots don’t have champagne tastes. (A full-page advertisement still runs in the Redskins home-game programs. Rather than proclaim Frerotte a good Samaritan, the ad reminds readers how far and fast he’s fallen.)
Sonny Jurgensen, the Redskins broadcaster and legend, was Frerotte’s mentor and highest-profile supporter during the Heath Shuler era. But Jurgensen joined the quarterback’s critics earlier this year, and Frerotte’s reaction led to a severing of what had grown into a close friendship. Jurgensen’s employer, WRC, took sides by cutting its ties to Frerotte, who had been the station’s Monday evening quarterbacka paying gig.
Trent Green now has that job, too.
At least when Green shows up with Sonny and George Michael on TV, Frerotte can change the channel if he wants. But now he has no choice but to watch his understudy run the show. On Sunday, Frerotte’s pregame pep was gone by kickoff. He stayed away from teammatesand vice versawhenever possible. In the first half, Green ran into the end zone on the very same bootleg play that Frerotte had run in against the Giants last year. But Green didn’t ram his head into anything. He merely spiked the ball and ran off the field. While the Skins’ sideline erupted, Frerotte stood perfectly straight and still with his chin up and his hands clasped behind his back, like a guilty man before a judge.
Frerotte didn’t celebrate with his teammates when the game ended, either. As the final seconds ticked away, he began sprinting toward the dressing room. Local television crews fought with each other to be the first to get Green’s comments on the team’s first win of the year. But no reporters or fans got in Frerotte’s way as he ran toward the locker rooms, past that green wall. He was the first guy off the field, too.Dave McKenna