As heads shake over Frerotte, 'Showboat' remains an NFL hit

November 30, 1997|By John Steadman

What Gustave Joseph Frerotte confirmed for the world at large is that his head felt much better after he stopped beating it against a concrete wall. No doubt, the benefit of a college education (the University of Tulsa) allowed him to arrive at such a profound judgment after subjecting his skull to his self-imposed test of durability. He only made one mistake -- he continued to wear his helmet.

Frerotte, by dint of his actions, signaled that his quarterbacking for the Washington Redskins is more than suspect. It also directed attention to the adolescent behavior of post-play celebrations, the kind when NFL players jump around in jubilation after performing what they consider extraordinary deeds. Actually they are quite mundane -- tackling a ball carrier, knocking down a pass or sacking the quarterback.

The entire aspect of seeing players, supposedly involved in a team game, intentionally drawing attention to themselves by going into these ecstatic, free-lance rituals is contrary to what the game of football is supposed to be -- 11 boys or men united in a firm commitment to a single aim -- winning. But now the players have broken away from such a battlefield concept and go it alone, treating the sport as if it's total burlesque.

A week ago, at a ceremony honoring the late commissioner Bert Bell in Narberth, Pa., the former Philadelphia Eagle Chuck Bednarik, the last man to play both ways in an NFL game, classified the players who break into dance recitals by an uncomplimentary name. He referred to them as "idiots" -- a rather strong condemnation -- and said the conduct of such performers was a contributing reason "why players of my generation rarely go to games."

No one in their right mind would ever want to take on Bednarik, one of the most instinctive and physically endowed players of all time. He then posed the question for his audience by asking rhetorically, "Do you think Bert Bell would have allowed this to happen?" The answer, of course, is a resounding no.

A little more than 24 hours later, "Billy Goat" Frerotte added to the credence of Bednarik's complaint while testing the durability of the concrete at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium with his noggin. He thereby put himself out of the game when his team needed him the most. That's usually what happens when you pound your head against a cement surface, unless he expected an air bag to inflate. The contention that it takes brains to be a quarterback is now thrown for a considerable loss, attributable to Frerotte.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his staff of game-watchers should do something about exercising control over the players. As for the dancing: 1, Leave it to the lines in Las Vegas, or 2, Let the NFL open an official dance school and grant scholarships to those interested in learning all the latest steps so as to upgrade the cheap comedy.

Upon review, Tagliabue shouldn't be the one to discipline the players for their asinine and poorly defined attempts to emulate Fred Astaire and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Too many of them are so preoccupied in refining the shag that they let the football playing suffer in the process. They also tire themselves excessively with the goose-stepping charades and the flamboyant carryings-on that are so unnecessary.

The dancing masters, so-called, are only intent on creating a scene. It's a form of self-absorption. They believe by making a spectacle of themselves it will bring fame and more money in next year's contract. The coaches, therefore, should be the ones who clean up the pitiful acting by telling the teams such unprofessional conduct will not be condoned.

The players need to be notified by their respective coaches that such free-lance dance marathons on the football field detract from what it is they are trying to do -- either scoring touchdowns or keeping the opposition from doing same. Coaches, always looking to spend the owner's money, will no doubt be interviewing and hiring dance instructors.

Some coaching staffs already number 14 and 15 assistants, which means a sizable number of these employees succeed in getting in each other's way, but draw handsome salaries, often more than $100,000, to help over-coach squads with technical machinations that make a simple game of tackling and blocking as complicated as trigonometry.

There's so much specialization that it's hurting, not helping, the game. So, if the players are going to persist in showboating themselves into such roles of public embarrassment, then why not add a dance instructor to each team? They could easily recruit teaching talent from the residue of tired-out Broadway musicals.

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