Watching Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte on Sunday was like looking at an untamed young stallion. The Eagles broke him and rode him in their 17-14 victory. This will not happen very often.
Frerotte is an explosion waiting to go off, a 25-year-old gunslinger who is not yet comfortable in a game in which touch passing and craftiness are called for. But just wait. He will win a lot of shoot-outs. He will put up a lot of Dan Marino-, Warren Moon-type numbers before he's through.
Why this rush of optimism after such a dismal performance (12 for 25, 119 yards, one fumble, one grounding penalty)? I like his mentality, his outlook on the game, the way he handles himself. He is not a safety-first type of quarterback. He doesn't take the easy way out. He'll keep attacking.
"The thing I liked about him from the beginning was that he had a tough streak," says Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, a Redskins' radio analyst and a staunch supporter of Frerotte during the time he has battled Heath Shuler for the starting spot. "He'd make a mistake, he'd throw a pick, and it wouldn't bother him. He'd come right back downfield. You see so many young quarterbacks get tentative and take the easy route right away, the donkey, the dump-off pass."
The Eagles' rush didn't give Frerotte time to get anything going deep. His top long-ball threat, Michael Westbrook, was on the inactive list with a sprained right knee, and Philly played a pressing man-to-man defense, ganging up on the short stuff. Oh, there were some openings, but the ball was getting there before the receiver could adjust. Sometimes Frerotte would throw wide. "I just think he was trust rated," said Eagles free safety Michael Zordich after Sunday's game. "Everywhere he wanted to throw, there was someone there. I think in spite of all the trouble, he stood tall."
Instead of employing touch, Frerotte was applying muscle, and the rhythm wasn't there. It will be. The first thing you want in a young quarterback is the arm, then the mentality to keep going down the field and wearing out the cornerbacks. Then comes the touch.
Frerotte has the arm and the mean streak, plus something else, something unique in these days of multimillion-dollar quarterbacks: hunger. The 197th player picked in 1994, he's still playing for seventh-round draft money ($182,000). He says that doesn't bother him—right now. "If you're playing for the love of the game," he says, "the money will come later."
Scouts now admit that they blew it three years ago when Frerotte was coming out of Tulsa. He was a gunner but he was inconsistent, is one thing you hear. Privately, some scouts say that they wanted to draft him high, but the coach was turned off, or the general manager, or someone.
"They looked at me coming out of college," Frerotte says, "and they didn't see the greatest athlete. Well, my feet are quick, I can move a little and I can throw the rock. Plus, I pride myself on being a tough guy."
Hang in there, Gus. It's all ahead of you.