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A quick inventory of each and every similarity between Sunday’s Redskins/Cardinals game and the Colts/Giants tussle for the 1958 NFL Championship, the fabled Greatest Football Game of All Time:
Both went into overtime.
Both were played on grass.
That’s about it.
Another real stinker in a stinker of a season. Here’s hoping the last one to leave RFK Stadium didn’t forget to flush. OK, maybe one play warrants revisiting. For this Washington fan, Ricky Proehl’s disputed game-tying touchdown turned the clock back to 1975 and the closing seconds of the best Redskins/Cardinals showdown ever. Just like with the Proehl incident, after a lengthy referee confab it was ruled that a Cardinals receiver, in that case Mel Gray, had indeed caught a touchdown pass to put that game into overtime. The Cardinals went on to win, and the ref’s decision is remembered for costing the Redskins the NFC East championship. Of course, if Proehl’s catch is remembered at all, it will be as something that improved Washington’s draft-day positioning.
Fox must have known what was forthcoming: The new kid on the NFL’s broadcasting block sent a bottom-feeding crew to cover the game, anchored by no-names Thom Brenaman and Anthony Munoz. While tuning in to Sonny, Sam, and Frank on WTEM-AM and killing the TV sound solved that problem for most of the game, the video feed also came up wanting, particularly during the Proehl debate. No revealing replays were available. Tonya Harding’s wedding video boasts superior production values compared to this.
The Washington defense outscored the offense Sunday, 9-7, pointing to problems deeper than bonus baby Heath Shuler. For Gus Frerotte’s sake, Norv Turner and his staff should revisit what they’ve been asking of their quarterback. No matter how inept the Redskins’ top pick really is, the coaching staff hasn’t adapted to shield his weaknesses. The Redskins’ third-down woes were again startling in the Arizona game, and show that Turner keeps asking Shuler to make plays for which he’s not ready. Washington converted just one of 12 third downs on Sunday, following a 1-10 performance against the Eagles a week earlier. Jimmy Swaggart has a higher conversion rate.
Good coaches don’t need Joe Montana to be competitive. Hell, Joe Gibbs went to the NFC Championship with Jay Schroeder as his starter. And look at what the Giants have done this year. Dave Brown is a new starter, too, but his team won the first three games he started, including a win over the Cardinals in Arizona.
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Lest we forget the weekly Doghouse Update: Chip Lohmiller’s teammates didn’t allow him to escape the immense hole he’s been digging for himself all season. On a 51-yard FG attempt that would have won the game in overtime, alleged blockers Tré Johnson and John Gesek allowed Seth Joyner to sashay between ’em and block the kick. Lohmiller’s ‘house mate, Desmond Howard, re-established himself as the fecal point of the Redskins’ offense. For all of Shuler’s failings, had Howard played up to par the Redskins would have won. Shuler hit Howard in stride and in the chest on a slant pattern in overtime, but he dropped the ball. A catch on that play, one of Shuler’s few good tosses on the day, would have given Washington the ball deep in Cardinals territory. Instead, the drop was quickly followed by another turnover. Howard didn’t register a single reception against Arizona. After the game, Shuler blamed at least one of his interceptions on Howard for running the wrong pattern.
The dependably bleak performances of Lohmiller and Howard are worth noticing. Both are highly paid for their positions, both have played contemptibly, both would have been cut by just about any other NFL coach by now. Is Turner too forgiving to be a successful head coach?
Shuler would need a U-Haul to carry all the excuses he threw at the press in post-game interviews. Along with his jabs at Howard, Shuler blamed his ghastly performance against Arizona on a stomach virus and his sore ankle. Even worse, Shuler had the gonads to say his sorry three-game stint as a starter would have been better were he not forced to use new footballs. The NFL balls, he said, are too slippery for him to grip until they get broken in, which doesn’t always happen during a game.
“We don’t use new balls in practice,” he remarked.
It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools, Heath. After those supremely childish utterances, Turner had no choice but to relegate young Shuler to at least a week in time out.
Gus, get in there!
Third-stringer Frerotte, who was the only Redskins quarterback to put up respectable numbers in the preseason (three touchdown passes, no interceptions), gets the start. Frerotte’s contract has as much to do with his ascension as do his stats. Frerotte was picked in the last round of the NFL draft, allowing GM Charley Casserly to lock him in to a three-year, bargain-basement deal. (Which is why Redskins color commentator Sam Huff describes Frerotte as “one of those $1.95 quarterbacks.”) The other thrower on the Washington roster, former first-teamer John Friesz, has a high-dollar, one-year pact. Since he won’t be around next year, re-installing Friesz wouldn’t have made much sense at all.
Which leaves Frerotte a touchdown pass or so away from becoming this year’s Babe Laufenberg. And he is definitely showing up at the right time. Shuler’s first starting assignments, it shouldn’t be forgotten, came against the Cowboys, Eagles, and Cardinals, maybe the best three defensive units in the NFL. Since Shuler picked this week to come down with loser’s limp, that means Frerotte loses his cherry to the Colts, a franchise synonymous with futility ever since Bob Irsay took the midnight truck to Indianapolis.
The 3-4 Colts will be fresh from a very big 10-point road win over the four-time defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills. As usual, a couple of youngsters, second-year receiver Sean Dawkins and rookie running back Marshall Faulk (who was selected just ahead of Shuler in the last draft), were the workhorses. The quality play of Dawkins and Faulk this year might signal an end to Indy’s protracted draft-day drought. And, oh, what a drought that’s been.
It’s true that the Dallas Cowboys were rebuilt pick by pick, but the Colts’ horrendous misfortune with recent draft choices represents the downside of trying to climb back to respectability that way. The number of college can’t-misses that went bust (or worse) after being picked by the Colts very early in the first round is downright fluky: University of Washington superstar Steve Emtman has had knee surgery after knee surgery, Nebraska superstar Trev Alberts is out all year with an arm injury (why does every Cornhusker hero disappear once he gets to the NFL?), and Miami defensive end Shane Curry was shot to death. Indianapolis was supposed to be brought out of the doldrums by its No. 1 pick in 1990, Jeff George. And, after years of struggling with the Colts, George finally is living up to expectations…for the Atlanta Falcons.