Rutledge scoops up fame from bad snap in Dallas Crucial hold leads to winning margin

September 13, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON, VA — HERNDON, Va. -- Football holders can be compared to referees and umpires: They usually get noticed only when they make a mistake.

"All you can do is screw up back there," said Jeff Rutledge, holder for the Washington Redskins.

"Basically, if it's a good snap and it goes through hands, you look like a fool. [You don't get credit for a hold because] it's a job where the focus is on the kicker. His job is to kick them, and [if he makes it] it's a credit to the kicker," Rutledge said.

Rutledge, though, got the credit Monday night for one of Chip Lohmiller's four field goals in the 33-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

He scooped a bad snap by John Brandes off the turf at Texas Stadium and made a perfect hold, so Lohmiller could make a 52-yarder at the end of the first half.

Rutledge got a lot of notice because the ABC cameras got a perfect close-up of the hold and replayed it several times.

"My wife said they made a little bit over that hold," Rutledge said.

Rutledge didn't.

"It's my job, man. My job is to get it down. Luckily, the ball caught clean after the hop off the turf. It was great concentration on the part of Chip more than anything because he notices those things and he kept right on through. I guess he had the confidence in me that I'd get it down," he said.

Rutledge isn't sure exactly what happened. He just knows he made the play. "I knew the ball hit the ground, but I caught it and was able to put it down," he said.

Lohmiller said he saw the ball on the ground, but he couldn't wait to see whether Rutledge would make the hold. He has to start his kick and assume the ball will be there or the timing will be ruined.

Wayne Sevier, special teams coach, said, "The holding is such a key, and a lot of it is the rapport between the holder and the kicker and the good feeling they have with each other."

Sevier added: "You never notice the holder until you get something like the other night. Rutledge has held a bunch, and it's just another hold until there's a play like that and, all of a sudden, it's one of the important plays of the game and he gets recognized."

Rutledge is a typical holder, a quarterback who held in high school and college, so he's had a lot of experience at it.

Since Rutledge became the holder when punter Ralf Mojosiejenko was cut last year, Lohmiller has made 25 out of 28 and 17 straight the past two seasons.

"Mojo was a good holder, but he had a sort of a blind spot on a ball snapped right at him. It was some kind of perception thing," Sevier said.

Sevier said it's unusual that Rutledge is the first experienced quarterback holder the Redskins have had since Joe Theismann.

He said that Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Stan Humphries and Cary Conklin didn't have a history of holding, although Schroeder was pressed into service after Theismann was injured in 1985.

"Quarterbacks usually hold in high school and college because they have the best hands. It's amazing that we've had this run of quarterbacks who've never held. If you have to take a guy from scratch, it's probably a two-year process. Jay Schroeder had to actually learn on the job. He was inexperienced, and, quite honestly, that hurt us," Sevier said.

Sevier said a holder needs experience because teams don't practice getting bad snaps down.

"You don't want anybody snapping poorly, so you don't practice that," Sevier said.

He said he'll often have Lohmiller roll underhand tosses to punter Kelly Goodburn to give him practice at fielding bad snaps, but he said there's no time to do that with the holder.

"He has other responsibilities so you just work John and Chip with him, and you don't want to practice the bad ones," he said.

Rutledge said he can remember fumbling only one snap as a holder. It came in a game against the Atlanta Falcons when he was with the New York Giants several years ago.

Sevier remembers that, last season, Rutledge had to come off the ground to field a high snap from Randy Kirk when Brandes was hurt and still got it down.

A 13-year veteran, Rutledge said he didn't do any holding in his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams because defensive back Nolan Cromwell had the job. But he practiced at it and then got the job when he joined the Giants.

Being able to hold has helped keep Rutledge in the league. He said he always worries in training camp, but this year there was more strain than usual. One thing he had going for him was that he was the team's best holder.

"I was worried more this year than any other year. It didn't look real good. I hadn't gotten a whole lot of playing time, but I just kept thinking positively. That's all you can do," he said.

Rutledge said this was the first time that he didn't know he had made the team until the day the final cuts were made. He survived when the Redskins decided to put Conklin on the injured reserve list.

"It was a relief when nobody grabbed me after practice [to tell him he was cut] that day. I figured I was pretty safe at that point, but anything can happen," he said.

After that hold Monday night, Rutledge should be safe all year.

NOTES: S Terry Hoage, who has been bothered with back spasms, was released from the hospital yesterday, but his back was still tender and he wasn't able to practice. The Redskins are still listing him as probable for Sunday's game against the Cardinals. But coach Joe Gibbs said the Redskins will have to wait to see how he is today before deciding whether to downgrade him for the game.

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