OXNARD — The crowd was in shock, its collective breath taken away. A national "Monday Night Football" audience was stunned.
All had witnessed a grotesque injury suffered by Washington Redskin quarterback Joe Theismann. His leg not only was broken on a tackle, but horribly bent to the point where it looked as if it was about to snap off.
Exit an agonizing Theismann.
Enter a young Jay Schroeder to a reception of deafening silence. That 1985 game was Schroeder's first in the NFL's regular season.
"Nobody had any idea who I was," Schroeder said. "There wasn't a word spoken."
But not for long. On his first pass, Schroeder faded and fired.
Complete. The crowd roared.
"All of a sudden, I was a hero," Schroeder said. "Because I completed \o7 one \f7 pass."
It was a valuable lesson for Schroeder, then 24, a lesson he has never forgotten over an up-and-down career during which he has thrown many more completions, an impressive number going for touchdowns and a distressing number for interceptions.
Starting his ninth season in the league, Schroeder has always been a streak performer.
The last two years are a perfect example. In 1990, he had his best season, completing 55% of his passes for 19 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. As a result, the Raiders won 12 of 16 regular-season games, finished first in the AFC West and made it all the way to the conference championship game before being knocked out by the Buffalo Bills.
But last season, Schroeder fell dramatically, throwing for 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while completing 53% of his passes. All too often, his frustration resulted in forced passes leading to disastrous results.
When the Raiders ended the season with a first-round playoff defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs, Schroeder, hampered by sprained ankles, watched from the bench as backup Todd Marinovich ran the club.
So what now?
At 31, beginning his fifth season with the Raiders, can Schroeder hold off Marinovich's bid to gain the starting role?
The answer seems to be a qualified yes. Coach Art Shell has said Schroeder is No. 1. He is expected to be sent out as the starter when the regular season gets under way.
Schroeder shrugs off the speculation, at least outwardly.
"The subject (of who is No. 1) keeps coming up because you guys keep asking him," Schroeder said, referring to Shell. "I don't ask him."
Schroeder doesn't have to. He knows the ins and outs of quarterback controversies all too well. He and Tom Ramsey jockeyed for the starting job in Schroeder's college days at UCLA.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Schroeder, always blessed with a strong arm, decided after college that he preferred throwing out baserunners to throwing through opposing defenses. So he turned in his helmet for a catcher's mask and spent four years in the minor leagues, trying to win a job with the Toronto Blue Jays.
When he saw that wasn't going to happen, he returned to football, joining the Redskins in 1984.
By the time Washington reached the Super Bowl after the 1987 season, Schroeder had lost his job to Doug Williams.
Traded to the Raiders early in 1988 for offensive tackle Jim Lachey, Schroeder fought off the challenge of Steve Beuerlein for the starting job.
And now, there is Marinovich.
By studying tapes, Schroeder has spotted some flaws in his throwing motion of last season. He knows he must be more conservative at times in his choice of targets. But he is confident a stronger offensive line, "eight or nine deep," will solidify the offense and take some of the pressure off him.
"I think he's being tough on himself," quarterback coach Mike White said of Schroeder. "His performance in 1990 showed that he is what you are looking for in an NFL quarterback."
Schroeder knows the controversy will always be there to some degree.
"If things don't go well on a football team, one of two people are going to go, either the head coach or the quarterback," Schroeder said.
"As (former quarterback) Sonny Jurgensen told me a long time ago, if the offensive unit is struggling and you run in a new left guard, does anybody know? Does anybody care? But you change a quarterback, and it's a whole different ballgame."
But as Schroeder learned so long ago, he is only one pass away from bringing back the cheers.