Paths cross once again

Lions' Frerotte returns to Washington to face 'Skins, Turner

`I would have loved to stay'

QB, his former coach making playoff debuts

January 08, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Norv Turner and Gus Frerotte, who could never get to the playoffs together, will make their playoff debuts against each other today.

When the Washington Redskins play host to the Detroit Lions today, the Turner-Frerotte matchup is about the only interesting feature of a game pitting two teams not likely to go very far in the playoffs.

The Lions staggered into the playoffs with four straight losses and are the longest shot on the board, 75-1, to make the Super Bowl according to the oddsmakers. But then again, their last victory was a 33-17 thrashing of the Redskins in Detroit.

The Lions, though, have never won a game in Washington in 17 regular-season matchups and two playoff games. They've also won just one playoff game in the past 42 years. And they'll have the handicap of being a dome team playing outdoors.

The Redskins had troubles of their own all season. They didn't beat a team with a winning record until the final regular-season game against Miami, which was meaningless to both teams.

If Washington wins, it goes to Tampa Bay next weekend. Detroit would earn a trip to St. Louis. Both would be heavy underdogs.

But for Turner and Frerotte, who quarterbacked the Lions to the regular-season win over the Redskins and is playing because Charlie Batch has a bad thumb, this is a game with much significance.

It took Turner six years and four quarterbacks to get to the playoffs. He couldn't do it with Heath Shuler, who was his hand-picked choice to be his quarterback of the future, Frerotte, a seventh-round draft pick who took over when Shuler flopped, and Trent Green, who took over when Frerotte was benched last season and then left in free agency.

Turner finally made it with Brad Johnson, obtained in a trade with the Vikings, as his quarterback during a tumultuous year in which new owner Daniel Snyder made it obvious Turner would be fired if he didn't advance to the playoffs.

Although Snyder says Turner will now be back, the owner's ire could be raised if the Redskins are upset. Then there are several members of his coaching staff, notably defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, whose future is still up in the air.

Turner also doesn't have a reputation for winning big games and a loss in this one would bring up all that baggage.

On top of that, Turner's play-calling was the subject of much second-guessing in the loss to the Lions, when he gave Stephen Davis the ball just 12 times, for 51 yards. This time, he wants to run more, but Davis' status remains up in the air because of a sprained ankle.

Turner, who won two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach in Dallas but hasn't had that kind of a success as a head coach, doesn't hide his emotion about the game.

"It truly is exciting," he said.

Frerotte always figured he would start a playoff game in Washington. He just never figured it would be in an opposing uniform. He'd like to show that Turner gave up on him too soon.

"I would have loved to stay," said Frerotte, who said it'll be different playing in Washington for the first time as a visiting player.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "I can't wait to run out of the tunnel. It's going to be weird running out on the opposite side."

Frerotte, though, said it won't be the same as it was playing at RFK Stadium, where the fans were on top of the action and the portable seats bounced up and down.

Their new stadium holds vivid memories for him because he gave himself a concussion banging his head into the wall celebrating a touchdown in 1997.

"I'm sure there will be a big X there where I hit it," he said.

There won't, but Frerotte's career seemed to go downhill after that play. He never really lived it down.

"Fans will never forget that," he said. "Maybe it did hurt my career. Maybe it didn't."

Frerotte's play will be critical for the Lions because they don't have much of a running game. He passed for 280 yards against the porous Redskins' defense in the first game.

Frerotte, though, said there is less pressure playing in Detroit than in Washington.

"They say there are only two people they know in Washington. The quarterback of the Redskins and the president of the United States. It's a big deal," he said.

Coach Bobby Ross isn't worried about Frerotte being intimidated by the return to Washington.

"Gus, in games that we've had him in, has been very calm," he said. "I have nothing but the highest praise for him in that area. I think there's a little difference in being considered to be the starter and the person who's not."

Frerotte said, "I'll be excited, but not out of control."

If Davis doesn't play much and Skip Hicks isn't effective, the game is likely to be a shooting matching pitting Frerotte against Johnson.

The Lions' defense, which sacked Johnson five times in the regular season and ran a Johnson fumble back for a touchdown, will be trying to put the heat on him if the Redskins can't run.

Against San Francisco, when Davis was out, the Redskins ran for only 57 yards, but Johnson passed for 471.

Johnson seems to think having lost the regular-season game gives the Redskins an edge in the rematch.

"I do think it helped us, as bad it sounds, by taking the beating that we did," he said. "In a sense, I think that will help us from a preparation standpoint."

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