HERNDON — HERNDON, Va. -- Stan Humphries didn't see the accident that made him the Washington Redskins' quarterback. He was busy gaining experience, the only way a backup quarterback can: watching his team play.
"I was watching the flight of the ball," Humphries recalled. He saw it spiral between two Dallas defenders, into the upstretched hands of Art Monk for a first down on the Cowboys' 24. The man who had thrown it so proficiently lay on the ground at midfield, in evident pain.
The degree of insult to the collateral and cruciate ligaments in Mark Rypien's left knee would not be known for 48 hours, but surely he was through for the day.
"Then somebody yelled for me to get in," Humphries said. "Surprise? Well, you're supposed to be mentally ready. But it was kind of a shock. I don't think now that it really hit me 'til the game was over."
"When you think about it," it occurred to coach Joe Gibbs three days later, "there's an awful lot on the line for him."
Now Rypien is gone for two months because of the knee injury, the dreaded Giants are next and the job is Humphries'. Gibbs found him "unflustered" in his emergency debut and "creative" in his first complete game in three years, a 38-10 victory over Phoenix on Sept. 30. Humphries went 20-for-25 for 252 yards, with no interceptions and two touchdowns.
Humphries is 24 and his life's work is on the line. Before Rypien went down, Humphries' professional experience consisted of 10 passes (five complete) in a dismally lost game as the proud Redskins neared the pits 11 months earlier.
By last October, when he got into that game because it was beyond saving, Humphries knew all about serving by standing and waiting. He'd had two years of it. "It gets old," he said. "Yeah, by the end of last season I was thinking, 'Hey, I want to play.' But I knew my role. I had to keep my mouth shut."
Humphries arrived in 1988, wondering what he was doing here, just in time to see Jay Schroeder pout himself out of town. Humphries had been drafted in the sixth round to join Doug Williams, who had shot the lights out in the Super Bowl; Schroeder, who had passed for more than 4,000 yards the year before; and Rypien, who had been standing and waiting for two years.
"Great," Humphries said to himself when general manager Bobby Beathard phoned to tell him he'd been picked. "But why?"
"When Jay was traded [a week into the '88 season], I figured I'd be around a while," Humphries recalled. "And I'd better keep my mouth shut."
Humphries was coming off a spectacular senior season at Northeast Louisiana, where he was the Southland Conference Player of the Year. Lack of confidence, paradoxically, was the main reason the Northeast Louisiana coach benched him after four games that season. Humphries came back and threw for 436 yards and scored the touchdown that won the NCAA Division I-AA title game, 43-42.
"It was a matter of maturity," Humphries says now. He began to feel immature as "a 17- or 18-year-old kid" on the LSU campus. Of course a Shreveport kid who'd thrown 34 touchdown passes in two high school seasons would go to the state school, or why did Huey Long build such a big stadium at Baton Rouge?
Something wasn't right, and when Bill Arnsparger replaced Jerry Stovall as LSU coach, everything seemed wrong. "Arnsparger came in January and I left in April," Humphries recalled. By then he was flunking courses. "I had lost interest in just about everything," he said.
After a dropout year, Humphries enrolled in Northeast Louisiana and resumed football, "because I missed it." But the "real growing up" didn't begin, he said, until the August before his senior year, when he and Connie were married. Stan by then realized there were non-football pressures in life, "like the rent."
(There are others. As Humphries began preparation for the Giants, his 3-month-old daughter, Brooke, went into Fairfax (Va.) Hospital with a digestive problem. She was released Friday and is "better," Humphries said yesterday.)
His bride helped him to "handle a lot of things." Until then there was "a lot of little kid in me," Humphries confessed. "A wildness. Never anything real bad, but I wanted to get out and go with the guys." Moving from a dorm to an apartment was a passage, he said.
An earlier object lesson was waiting and watching, as a sophomore at Northeast Louisiana, behind the Steelers' ebullient Bubby Brister.
"Bubby is the kind of guy who lets his emotions really fly on the field," Humphries said. "A guy would miss a pass and Bubby would grab him by the helmet and chew him out, to try to get him on the right page."
This posture is the ever-recurring epiphany of Hung-Over Bobby Layne, the Early American Mule-Skinner school of quarterbacking, which becomes more fascinating as the anecdotes are retold and revised. Humphries contemplates no such tyranny.
"I guess it worked for Bubby last year, with a young team," he said. "He got them charged up and they made the playoffs.