WASHINGTON — The scene made an enduring impression on Monday night football fans. A wrenching encounter with some of his opponents had put quarterback Joe Theismann on the ground with a broken leg.
And now the stretcher bearers were coming out--along with another quarterback, Jay Schroeder, who headed not for the huddle but for Theismann.
Leaning over his stricken teammate, Schroeder said: "We're gonna get this one for you, Joe."
And they did. Coming from behind on Schroeder's passes, the Washington Redskins beat the New York Giants that night last November, 23-21.
Somewhere, sometime, there might have been a more poignant and dramatic changing of the guard in American sports. But surely not on national television.
Theismann, then 36, a Super Bowl winner, never played football again. Schroeder, then 24, emerged instantly as a quarterback who could play in the National Football League.
"I think my baseball background helped me in (that) game," Schroeder said this week, mentioning his three years in the Toronto Blue Jays' chain. "In a baseball game, you spend a lot of time sitting around, like a backup quarterback. But then, you've got to get up and do something. I was ready."
Tell Joe Gibbs about that. The Washington coach remembers that during the week before Schroeder's big Monday night, the young quarterback had spent his free hours memorizing the game plan.
"Whenever we were practicing defense, Jay dragged (offensive coach) Jerry Rhome over to a corner of the field," Gibbs said.
"He made Jerry run ups and outs and hooks, and kept throwing the ball out there until he'd mastered every pass in the game plan. He didn't just do it once. He did it all the time, week after week. Here's a backup who doesn't figure to play all year, and he's working like he's the only quarterback on the team. That's Jay."
Apparently it is. Anywhere you want to start the story--at UCLA, at Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, at Redskin Park in Virginia--Jay Schroeder's story is a remarkable one.
He's the guy who tried to play baseball but gave it up gracefully when he couldn't, who has settled for $350,000 a year when he was shooting for a million, who, even now, would rather be catching for Toronto Sunday, or even Medicine Hat, than pitching against the Raiders at RFK Stadium.
He's the guy who in the same year played professional baseball in the minors and big-time football at UCLA, who threw away a career as a college football hero, who replaced a big name here.
In Theismann's first 10 games a year ago, the Redskins had a disappointing 5-5 record. Six weeks later, they finished a respectable 10-6 with a passer who might have been the most inexperienced pro in the land.
As a starting quarterback, Schroeder had played scarcely a year at Palisades High School and less than a year at UCLA. After three seasons of minor league baseball, he had played six downs of regular-season football for the Redskins in September. And that was it.
Yet, he has played like a Heisman Trophy winner ever since for a team that has won six times in Schroeder's first seven starts.
"He always makes you think you'll win," Pro Bowl guard Russ Grimm said.
Off the field, Schroeder's personality belies this. He is so unassuming that when he arrived in Washington two years ago as the club's third-round draft choice, nobody thought to pick him up at the airport. There was supposed to be a press conference, somewhere, but apparently everyone forgot it.
On the field, however, Schroeder is a Hyde, as in Jekyll and.
"He even yells at me ," Gibbs said.
There was the time in an exhibition game this year when the Redskin coaches couldn't decide whether to run or pass. Out on the field, standing near the huddle, Schroeder glared at them for five or six seconds, then shouted: "Hey, you guys, hurry up! Do you want another penalty?"
Gibbs called back, soothingly: "Now, hold it, Jay."
But he did send the play right in.
Later, Schroeder said: "The coaches who call the plays always want to come up with a perfect signal. But nothing's perfect--except winning."
He had the same attitude at UCLA, according to offensive coordinator Homer Smith.
"Jay was so nice off the field you couldn't believe it," he said. "And so ornery in a football uniform that you couldn't believe that, either."
On the practice field one day at UCLA, when Schroeder and Bruin starter Tom Ramsey were working on their long-distance accuracy, Schroeder apparently decided to show up Ramsey.
As Smith tells it, Schroeder, after letting the pass go each time, retreated a few paces for his next attempt, forcing Ramsey to fall back with him.
Soon Ramsey, a 180-pounder, was breathlessly winding up like a hammer thrower and still not getting the ball out there. He underthrew everybody.
Disconcerted, red-faced, Ramsey watched the 200-pound Schroeder calmly throwing into the hands of every receiver.