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Some Redskins fanscount me among themwouldn’t have jumped off a tall building if the team had lost in Chicago, since a spanking at the hands of Da Bums would have done more than just put the team below .500. A horrible loss like that, and maybe nothing else, would have imperiled Norv Turner’s employment, and some fanscount me among themthink four years of the Turner-as-genius myth is about enough.
But the head coach’s job security wouldn’t have been the only casualty if the Skins had left Soldier Field without that 31-8 win. Gus Frerotte would surely be toast, too. Before the Windy City blowout, a lot of locals were hinting that they’d rather ride an old Hoss than the Gus Bus. Do not count me among them.
I’m still a sucker for the Gus-as-underdog myth, a phenomenon that is also at the four-year mark. His Rust Belt roots, dumb-guy glare, and puglike handle only fuel the fantasy. Along with that “Frerotte” on the back of his jersey, he should have “Gus” stitched on the front, right over his heart, just like all those lunch pail-toting gas-pumpers and grease monkeys back in Ford Cliff. For all his newfound greenbacks, Gus comes off blue-collar.
Gus came to training camp in the middle of contract negotiations, and instead of invoking God as his agent and begging for more cash, he signed a minimum offer sheet just so he’d be allowed to practice. Then, still without a real deal, Gus went on television and confessed that even if the Redskins boned him, he’d still “make more money than [his] whole hometown makes in a year.”
The soft sell, contrived or not, worked fabulously: Charley Casserly ponied up $18 million and some change to sign Gus through the millennium. The current roster has about as many likable chaps as the Orioles front office, so keeping a fine fellow like Frerotte happy in the home colors was the best thing the general manager has done for the franchise in some time. (Continuing to ignore Sean Gilbert comes close, though.)
How good a guy is Gus? Well, goofy good. During a photo shoot this summer, the Skins’ QB found out that Washingtonian wanted a shot of him with rosy red lipstick smeared on his cheek for its cover. He politely hemmed and hawed about how he’d prefer to have Mrs. Frerotte’s lips applying the makeup. For real. Awwwww…
“When you shoot athletes, you expect people to show up late with entourages and bad attitudes,” says Claudio Vazquez, the Mount Pleasant photographer who shot the Washingtonian cover. “But Gus showed up by himself, on time, and was just a nice, regular guy. I don’t think the money will change him.”
And get this: In his years here, not only has Frerotte played in about every charity golf event he’s been invited to, but fellow golfers report that when he’s on the green, he even repairs his own ball marks! What more do you need to know? (Would Michael Westbrook ever bend over on the links? To fix a divot, that is?)
Gus should have brought his ball-mark fixer to Jack Kent Cooke Stadium when the Skins last played at home. Against the Baltimore Ravens the week before last, Frerotte threw more bounce passes than a point guard, and the rain-soaked crowd at Raljon didn’t give a hoot about his inner goodness. It booed Gus and begged Turner to insert Jeff Hostetler. Game’s end found Frerotte kneeling on the sidelines and bawling like a baby. Almost all of his teammates split before the media was even allowed into the locker room, but Gus stopped his sobbing and fielded questions for more than an hour after the game. He faulted only himself for the loss, over and over. (Not to beat a dead horse, but a few years ago at a post-loss press conference, Heath Shuler attributed his poor play to the “slippery balls” used in the NFL. True story.) Most nobly, Gus supported the jeerleaders.
“I’d boo me, too,” Gus said.
Frerotte never let on that he had played the Ravens game with his wife two weeks overdue with their second child, or that an attempt to induce labor earlier that week hadn’t worked. (A Caesarean was performed successfully four days before the Chicago game, and the Frerottes now have a son.)
And just as he has all season, Gus shielded the Skins’ receivers from blame. He should change that policy soon. At the nine-game mark, Westbrook has all of 11 receptions and two TDs, meaning he’s not quite on that 90-catch, 20-touchdown pace he predicted for himself during the preseasonunless he was talking about a whole career, not just this year. Out yet again with a twisted knee, Westbrook hasn’t bothered to even show up to watch the Skins lately. (Nobody on the team complained when he no-showed the Ravens game.) Alvin Harper, Turner’s one-time pupil in Dallas and Casserly’s alleged big find from the most recent free-agent class, has been a huge bust, with just two catches and no touchdowns as a Skin. No. 3 wideout Henry Ellard can boast 17 catches, but his three drops in the Ravens game are what reduced Gus to tears on the sidelines. Ellard and Harper, unlike Westbrook, dressed out against the Bears, but neither had a single catch.
It’s not just the receivers Gus should sue for nonsupport. Casserly and Turner would make worthy defendants, too: Not a single first-round pick plays offense for the Redskins now. Not a one! It’s doubtful any other team in the league can match that sorry stat. No wonder Gus has been getting a rating lower than the CBS prime-time lineup. This is rebuilding?
Gus is a gamer worth building around. Sure, in addition to his regular-guyness off the field, he is capable of towering averageness on it. But while Gus can stink it up with the best of them, at least he doesn’t begin searching for secondary receivers to catch some of the blame. Gus can take a hitto his reputation or his nogginand keep playing, which is something Westbrook and a few other Skins might want to look into.Dave McKenna