Five years ago on Christmas Day, quarterback Jay Schroeder was preparing to play his first NFL playoff game. His football future seemed as bright as the lights on a Christmas tree.
Schroeder, who had led the Washington Redskins to a 12-4 regular season in 1986, quarterbacked the Redskins to a 19-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in a wild-card game the day after Christmas and then engineered a 27-13 upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears the following week.
Even though Schroeder and the Redskins were beaten by the New York Giants, 17-0, in the NFC title game, Schroeder, at 25, seemed destined to be the team's quarterback for the next decade.
By contrast, Mark Rypien was a 24-year-old rookie quarterback noted mainly for wearing spiffy sweaters on the Redskins sidelines while spending the year on the injured-reserve list.
Since then, the careers of Rypien and Schroeder have gone in opposite directions.
Rypien is spending Christmas at home, enjoying a week off before he leads the Redskins into the playoffs with the best record in pro football -- 14-2 -- next week.
Schroeder, meanwhile, is in danger of being benched for the playoffs for the second time in his career.
Traded to the Los Angeles Raiders at the start of the 1988 season after he sulked when he lost his job to Doug Williams, Schroeder now could lose his job to a rookie, Todd Marinovich.
When Schroeder sprained both of his ankles two weeks ago, Marinovich made his first start, against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, and dazzled the Raiders, even though they lost, 27-21.
He was being likened to a young Ken Stabler after completing 23 of 40 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He wasn't intercepted, and he wasn't sacked.
His three touchdown passes were two more than Schroeder managed in his last four games, a span in which Schroeder was intercepted five times.
The Raiders will play the Chiefs again Saturday in a wild-card game in Kansas City, the first postseason contest in Arrowhead Stadium's history.
Which brings up the question of whether the Raiders go back to Schroeder -- who had started 33 straight games before his injury -- or stick with Marinovich.
Kansas City coach Marty Schottenheimer did his best to stir up the situation.
"I guess the Raiders probably have a quarterback controversy now," he said.
Schottenheimer gushed about Marinovich's performance. "The young man played exceptionally well. He had a lot of poise," he said.
Marinovich is campaigning for a shot.
"I hope I start. You'll have to ask Coach [Art] Shell about that. He hasn't said I'm not [going to start] yet, so I'm not going to worry yet. The last thing a team wants before a playoff game is a controversy. I'll just do what the coach says," Marinovich said.
The coach isn't saying.
However, the Long Beach Press-Telegram quotes an unnamed club source in today's editions as saying the decision has been made and Marinovich will start.
Nevertheless, the Raiders have played to the controversy.
Shell announced Monday that he's closing practices to the media this week, the first time the Raiders have done that in their decade in Los Angeles.
"I have my reasons," Shell said. "Things I don't want to get out of here and get back to Kansas City, things we want to do and utilize."
The logical conclusion was that he didn't want the members of the media to write that Marinovich is taking most of the snaps with the first team.
"That had nothing to do with it," Shell said. "But it's a good thing to do now that you've brought it up."