WASHINGTON — Getting the jump on the Monday morning quarterbacks, Philadelphia's Randall Cunningham tossed in his two cents last Sunday afternoon.
Cunningham expressed surprise that the Washington Redskins hadn't shelved Jay Schroeder and replaced him with Doug Williams. "If they'd brought him in," Cunningham noted, "it would have been a different story."
Cunningham, who's now being compared favorably with John Elway by The Earl of Overstatement, Buddy Ryan, is the same quarterback who slight minutes earlier gift-wrapped a goal line interception to Monte Coleman. Having made amends with two stunning touchdown passes, Cunningham felt sufficiently insulated to second guess the Redskins' coaching staff.
But he's hardly the only one. Monday's elevators were jammed with people asking the same questions: Should the Redskins have brought in Williams? Does Gibbs stick with Schroeder too long? Should Ed Rubbert be starting? Doesn't anyone have Babe Laufenberg's forwarding address? Where does Mark Rypien buy his sweaters? Are you happy with the dream vacation to Acapulco, or would you like what's behind curtain No. 3?
Are we having a quarterback controversy, or what?
Let's not kid ourselves. We know from his history that Joe Gibbs won't switch quarterbacks unless an injury compels him. If Joe Theismann hadn't broken his leg, he'd still be starting. With Gibbs, it isn't merely dancing with the girl you brought, it's surgical bonding.
But even if such talk goes unspoken within the palace gates, what a juicy item it could become all over town, the likes of which Washington hasn't seen since Sonny and Billy. What more natural thing for Washington to do than divide along partisan lines?
Granted, that one was different. George Allen inherited Sonny, and traded for Billy; Billy was his man. Gibbs developed Schroeder here, and Williams in Tampa Bay; they're both his. Allen loved controversy, he'd stir it up whenever possible. Gibbs wouldn't talk trash if he had a mouthful.
But all the ingredients are on the shelf. Williams is no Bob Holly. He's a proven starting NFL quarterback, the kind, the coaching staff often reminds us, most teams would kill to have. Fans saw Williams' skills when he filled in for Schroeder against Philadelphia in the opening game, and against Atlanta a week later. Had there been no strike, a hot Williams might have forced Gibbs to keep even a healthy Schroeder on the bench. And though race is not something openly talked about, Schroeder is white and Williams is black, and if you don't think that's relevant to the way some fans in this area choose sides in elevators and on radio talk shows, then you haven't been paying attention.
If we're polling today, I'm for Schroeder.
With Schroeder, the Redskins passing offense has become Raiders East: Go long, young man. True, 16-for-46 is awful, even crummier than the 15-for-38 he threw at the Jets. We've grown accustomed to Schroeder throwing the roll-out 90 miles an hour and burying it six feet in front of his receiver. Drastically out of character was Schroeder missing deep. Miss short and long, you'd better find a day job.
But Schroeder isn't a high percentage passer. His 51% last season tied him for 25th among the 27 rated NFL quarterbacks. Still, only Dan Marino threw for more yardage, and only Marino, Ken O'Brien, Boomer Esiason and Tommy Kramer threw for more touchdowns. As entrancing as Cunningham was Sunday, he had three more yards passing than Schroeder.
Were this baseball, Schroeder would be Pete Incaviglia: K, K, K, three-run homer. It was there in the fourth quarter against the Eagles. Just when you're ready to dial Gibbs direct on the sideline and ask what the hell he's waiting for to put Williams in, Schroeder airs one out perfectly for Gary Clark, it's 27-24, and you're closing your mouth quick before the flies get in.
The Redskins went into the Eagles game 6-1, best record in the NFL. Their quarterback, in only his second full season, had the worst game of his career, and nonetheless walked off the field ahead by three points with two and a half minutes to play. That doesn't warrant the hook.
The quarterback ego is particularly fragile. (Name the last team to win the Super Bowl splitting time at that spot.) There are legitimate times to go to a back-up. Why else would you hire a good one? Don Shula occasionally went to Don Strock in relief of Marino. But not when Miami was within a touchdown.
Schroeder isn't just the Redskins' quarterback today, they're looking at him for tomorrow, too. Any moves you make with a young quarterback have impact in two time zones. Surely, John McKay felt the same about the young Doug Williams.
Schroeder's graph is wildly erratic this season. Everyone wonders what's going wrong, whether it's something fundamental in his delivery, a residue from his shoulder injury, or something extracurricular-perhaps he's being distracted by too much time devoted to his outside interests, charity work, TV obligations or his new restaurant?
What an icy cool, concentrating customer he was stepping in for Theismann and throwing that 44-yarder to Art Monk. What a diamond in the rough he seemed then. If he simply needs a cold splash of water, wouldn't it be best if he went to the sink himself without Gibbs taking him by the hand?
For those of you keeping score, this season Williams is 1-1; Schroeder, 2-1. The most significant number in the debate though is 6-2. The Redskins lead comfortably in their division, having already beaten every team once. As long as the Redskins maintain position, there's no reason to change quarterbacks.