WASHINGTON — The renovation of Jay Schroeder appears complete, from hair to toe. Somehow, wife Debbie steered him to a barber shop, where they snipped away the split-ends and uncovered a smile.
The new Schroeder aura has not gone unnoticed at Redskin Park, where he seems quite welcome once again, particularly in the weight room. As minicamp unfolds this week, the scales will show him slimmer, some 17 pounds lighter than when last seen with that 1987 chip on his shoulder.
Since then, the chip has fallen off, though the shoulder fortunately has not. At Redskin Park last week, he revealed his right shoulder separated twice last season, the first time in the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles--which everybody knew about--but also in a December game at RFK Stadium against Dallas. At halftime, he remembers trainer Bubba Tyer saying, "You really shouldn't play." And he recalls answering, "Well, maybe I shouldn't, but I'm going to."
If his passes fluttered, maybe they had every right to, because he began almost every play last year with the fear of his shoulder popping loose. The zip of his 1986 spirals dissipated, and not only was he overthrowing, but he was overweight. Doug Williams came to the rescue, and the rest is history, which is exactly where Schroeder would like 1987 to stay.
It's not meant as a warning to Williams or Mark Rypien, but Schroeder now says he's healthier and "hungrier" than in 1984, when he originally left baseball for quarterbacking. And it shows, primarily in his demeanor, which so worried Redskins' management a month ago that Schroeder apparently fell below Rypien to third string and seemed to be nothing more than trade bait. At that time, the word most commonly used to describe him was "immature" or "childish," but his act is so together now that one high-up Redskins official said the other day, "Sometimes your best trades are the ones you didn't make."
He is not out of the woods yet, of course, because minicamp is only his first opportunity to reconvene with teammates and coaches and mend his wrongs of 1987. Or were they wrongs? To some of his teammates and coaches he seemed aloof and arrogant much of the time after his benching on Nov. 15. Many teammates already were resenting him following his role in the players' strike, and when he withdrew emotionally from them following the benching, he made more enemies than he knew.
As for Coach Joe Gibbs, the conversations between the two grew more terse, and even now, Schroeder raises the question as to whether they'll be fine and dandy when working together again.
Truth be known, however, Schroeder also wasn't talking much last year to Debbie, who he said didn't know how badly he was injured for about a month and only suspected it when he began propping his right arm on two pillows every night as he slept. He said he hid the severity of the injury from her, from Tyer and from the coaches.
He said it was not aloofness at all, but an inward pride that made him go it alone. "I'd never been hurt before," he said. And the folded arms and perpetual pout were products of his confusion and regret.
"People get a misconception of how you are, OK?," he said. "I was being Jay Schroeder, OK? I want to play. If I don't get that opportunity, I'll be upset, OK? I'm not going to be happy standing there, OK? I don't think anybody on the field is happy standing there.
"I'm sure even Doug last year at the beginning wanted to play. He wanted to be traded. Well, he ended up playing well, and now the roles are just reversed. It's no different."
Most young adults--at 26, that's what Schroeder is--would turn to a girlfriend or a wife or a parent for help, but he turned to no one.
"I get real quiet," he said. "I just deal with it by myself. I've always been that way. I've never been one to be in a big group of people or anything like that."
Said Debbie: "Jay kept it inward. That's how I'd explain it. You knew he was upset, but he didn't know how to communicate it. . . . The hardest part is that we're so young. We're only 26. That's a lot to be thrown upon us at such a young age. That's why we can't talk about it with people, especially with people our age. They can't really relate to what we go through."
At one point, Schroeder opened up to Debbie, but to no one else. He remembers laying in bed at night, the arm propped up, worrying.
"The only thing I really worried about was how sore was the shoulder going to be, how much was I going to be able to do the next day," he said. "Because last year depended on what I could do every day. And I struggled a lot then. That weighed in the coaches' minds (when they eventually benched him.) They'd see you out there struggling, and then go, 'No way he can play.' "