Shuler’s victory a surprise to some

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Washington Redskins fans last saw Heath Shuler a decade ago, an occasion made memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The Redskins lost to the San Francisco 49ers that November day in 1996, and the quarterback’s final play for the franchise was an end-around to Leslie Shepherd that lost 14 yards. The RFK Stadium crowd booed mercilessly as Shuler, the team’s shining hope just two years earlier, trudged back to the sideline and starter Gus Frerotte returned to the field.

Shuler is returning to Washington — not as a backup to Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell but as a Democrat representing North Carolina’s 11th District. Shuler, a native of Bryson City, N.C., defeated eight-term incumbent Charles Taylor in Tuesday’s election.

“Heath, a congressman? No, I never saw that,” said Redskins consultant Ray Brown, who blocked for Shuler from 1994 to 1995. “When I was playing with Heath, he was overwhelmed. He had [running back Brian Mitchell] in the huddle telling him to get his plays in [on time], but we all grow up to do something, to care about something.”

Shuler’s injury-plagued NFL career ended before he turned 27. He succeeded, however, in real estate in the Knoxville, Tenn., area — he starred there for the University of Tennessee — and went on to develop major properties in Florida and North Carolina.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, a third-stringer with the Redskins from 1995 to 1996, said Shuler’s decision to seek office was no surprise.

“Heath had a great interest in what was going on back in his home state of North Carolina,” Green said. “He expressed concern about the area that he was from and what direction families were expected to head in because of the [poor economic] situation there. It doesn’t surprise me that, having decided to get into politics, he decided to go back to North Carolina to try to make a difference back there.”

Former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, who drafted Shuler, called him “a great kid.”

“He was a leader in college,” Casserly said.

Shuler’s old coach with the Redskins, Norv Turner, declined to comment on the electoral success of the player around whom he tried to build the team when he became coach in 1994.

Frerotte, a low-round draft pick who beat out Shuler in an often-contentious, three-year battle for the starting job, was surprised by his former rival’s political aspirations.

“I knew Heath was into real estate and had other interests — he always did when we played football — but I didn’t know he was ever interested in politics,” said Frerotte, now a backup for the St. Louis Rams. “You never know where your life leads you. Maybe football introduced Heath to the right person that led him into politics. I guess all that matters is he’s happy and he’s doing what he wants to do. I’m happy for him. The people must like him. They elected him.”

Bubba Tyer, the Redskins’ director of sports medicine, became close to Shuler, who was never able to stay healthy for long. Shuler’s football career ended after stints with the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders because of a foot injury that still troubles him.

“I had no idea that Heath was interested in politics, and we were buddies,” said Tyer, who attended a recent Democratic reception on Capitol Hill as Shuler’s guest. “He would come to the house and have dinner. [Tyer’s wife] sold him his house, and she sold it for him when he left. We thought he would come in right away and be our answer, and it didn’t work out. But there are a lot of good qualities about Heath.

“I’m excited for him. I think he’ll do a great job in Congress. He’s got a good heart. He’s a hard worker. He’s got a lot of great common sense.”

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