At the same time the boos started at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium on
Sunday, the spunky blonde in an end-zone luxury suite went
ballistic. Annie Frerotte's husband, Gus, the frappuccino-cool
quarterback of the Washington Redskins, had just thrown an
interception to Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Dave Thomas on
the final play of the first quarter of a game the home team
seemed determined to lose. Tired, cranky and nine months
pregnant, Annie was as mad at Gus as any one of the 74,421 fans
was, and she found herself talking trash like a playground
hoopster. "We're gonna buy him a big-screen TV," she blurted to
no one in particular, "so he can watch some film and figure out
what's going on."
Annie's hormones had been dancing around like Michael Flatley
all weekend. Her purse had been stolen as she dined at a Tysons
Corner, Va., restaurant on Saturday night, meaning someone had
the keys to the plush, three-story house the Frerottes recently
purchased in nearby Great Falls. With Gus and the other Redskins
holed up in a hotel near the stadium, Annie was left to oversee
the changing of the locks, a process that kept her up until
after 3 a.m.
But in light of what was happening on the field, it was Gus's
sleep-deprived weekend that really irked Annie. On Friday night
he stayed up until 2:30 shooting pool and throwing back shots of
Amaretto with Rob Bindeman, his business manager. The next night
he was up past midnight playing cards with several teammates.
Guess who was the big loser? The rude awakening came on Sunday's
first play from scrimmage, when Jaguars defensive end Don Davey
nailed Frerotte with a blindside hit and forced a fumble that
set up a Jacksonville field goal. It continued on Thomas's
interception, which came after Frerotte's intended receiver,
veteran wideout Henry Ellard, slipped on the wet grass.
At that point some quarterbacks would have thrown a tantrum.
Frerotte approached his high-strung coach, Norv Turner, and
sarcastically suggested running a flea-flicker. But then, after
Washington fumbled the ball away again on its next possession,
Frerotte took control of this interconference showdown between
young, physical teams. He muscled up and threw three assertive
touchdown passes--two before halftime and one in the fourth
quarter--to lead the Redskins to a 24-12 victory that stamped
them as bona fide NFC contenders.
If Sunday's outcome didn't signal a shift in the NFL landscape,
it definitely altered some perceptions. Washington (3-1) outhit
the much-hyped Jaguars (3-1) on both sides of the ball. The
Redskins defense, spurred by the hawkish play of cornerbacks
Darrell Green and Cris Dishman, neutralized Jacksonville
halfback Natrone Means and kept the Jaguars out of the end zone.
"We know it's a long season," Turner said later, "but we're
holding up physically better than a lot of people thought we
would. We feel we can go toe-to-toe with anyone."
Last year the Skins collapsed after a 7-1 start and missed the
playoffs with a 9-7 record. Their defense is much improved, but
what gives Washington a chance to be special is the temperament
of its 26-year-old quarterback. Leadership comes in many forms,
some more obvious to the naked eye than others. While the
football universe is hip to the gifts of Jacksonville's Mark
Brunell, who struggled in this, his second game back from a
scary preseason knee injury, Frerotte's assets are far more
subtle. He comes from the Joe Montana school of unpretentious
authority, and although the comparison is incomplete and
premature, Frerotte has much in common with the certain
first-ballot Hall of Famer. Each emerged from a small town in
western Pennsylvania armed with a homespun simplicity to
counterbalance a defiant bravado. Like Montana, Frerotte doesn't
take himself too seriously, and he achieves his greatest clarity
in tense situations.
Frerotte's coolness comes in handy around Turner, who is far
more volatile on the sidelines than those on the outside would
imagine. "Players know the truth," fullback Marc Logan says.
"Little things set him off. Norv gets so hyped up during a game,
it's almost like he's playing." Yet Turner stayed relatively
calm on Sunday, even after the Redskins committed three
turnovers in the game's first 19 minutes and fell behind 9-0.
From that point on the afternoon belonged to Frerotte. His stats
(16 completions in 24 attempts for 244 yards) were impressive,
but they hardly told the story. There's no number that measures
the toughness he displays on a regular basis. Consider the
13-yard pass to wideout Leslie Shepherd he delivered while being
flattened by the blitzing Thomas. The completion extended a
drive that ended with Scott Blanton's 41-yard field goal and a
17-12 lead with 11:55 left. Was Frerotte hurt by the blow?
"Nah," he said later, "I was too busy swearing to notice. I
never really stop to think about any pain."
His touchdown passes were even more impressive:
--Six minutes before halftime, with the Redskins looking at
third-and-three at the Jaguars' 10, Frerotte faked a handoff and
rolled right, behind halfback Terry Allen. He threw a ball on
the run that sailed just beyond the right sideline, as if he
expected Shepherd to make a leaning, highlight-tape catch.
Shepherd did, and Washington cut the Jacksonville lead to 9-7.
--On the Skins' next drive, with Washington facing
second-and-five at the Jaguars' eight, Turner called a play
known as 438-Run-It, Fake-Cross. Frerotte fired a perfect pass
to the primary receiver, tight end Jamie Asher, whose diving
catch gave the Redskins the lead for good.
--With 5:48 remaining and Washington ahead 17-12, Turner called
for the same play on third-and-goal from the 13. Asher was
covered, but Frerotte spotted Shepherd cutting across the middle
of the end zone and threw one of the best passes of his life.
"It was a laser," Turner said. The throw resembled the one
Montana made to John Taylor to give the San Francisco 49ers a
last-minute victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl
In Washington, Gus and Annie (who have a two-year-old daughter,
Abby) have emerged as post-Dan Quayle poster children for family
values. During the July press conference at which the Redskins
announced the signing of Gus, a former seventh-round draft
choice, to a four-year, $18 million contract, he broke down and
cried, and thanked Annie for her support and encouragement. Last
Friday, as the featured speaker at a charity dinner honoring
organ donors, Gus wept again while discussing his father, Gus
Sr., who underwent a heart transplant in May. After struggling
to regain his composure, Frerotte told the audience, "I'm being
myself. When I get happy, I get emotional. I can't control it. I
can't stop it."
Back home a few hours later, Gus disappeared upstairs for
several minutes before rejoining Annie in the kitchen. "I drew
you a bath," he told her, and then they started talking about
old times--how she thought he was "geeky" when she met him
during the summer after their freshman year in college; how they
forged a long-distance relationship while she was attending
Pittsburgh and he was at Tulsa; how they were married in Maui in
February 1995 with former Redskins quarterback John Friesz (now
with the Seattle Seahawks) and his wife, Julie, as the only
"You'd better get in the bath," Gus told Annie.
"It's fine," she replied.
The unflappable one was distressed.
"It's going to overflow," he warned.
"Will you relax?" she said, glaring.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Then the two started laughing.