- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Washington Redskins assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell was barely off the plane Sunday night when he started hearing the question.

"Is this it? Is this it?" Mitchell recalled with a laugh yesterday, mimicking the queries of Washingtonians already wondering whether rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey is the one.

It's been a long time since this town had "the one" a quarterback in the proud tradition of Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. On Sunday against New Orleans, Ramsey will be the club's 14th starting quarterback over the past decade, more than any other NFL team.

"I think this town is truly starved for somebody to step up and become the number one quarterback," Theismann said. "I'd like to say we spoiled them."

Ramsey made a compelling, if brief, case Sunday by debuting with a victory, 268 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions passing. Expectations now are soaring. No longer are people ready to wait a year or two for Ramsey to develop; they want to see him join the organization's celebrated lineage of stars behind center.

But folks have prematurely adopted others with similar fervor. Just about every one of the starters of the past 10 years, according to Mitchell, got at least a bit of the reverence that was bestowed so freely on the greats.

"The area has a tremendous fondness for our quarterbacks," Mitchell said. "You take that group we had, the series of one, one, one, one they all played about one year. I would be out in the community with those guys, and you would sense and feel the excitement of the people for those guys, just like you did with Sonny and the rest of them."

There was one exception: Heath Shuler. Shuler, the third choice overall in the 1994 draft, was the franchise pick for new coach Norv Turner, who was an offensive maestro in Dallas. Turner even cut Rypien, the MVP of Super Bowl XXVI, to make way for the rookie. But Shuler held out 13 days and lasted just three seasons.

The holdout tanked fans' image of Shuler (too bad, too: in an era before holdouts were common, Shuler actually was stymied because the players union had to review his unheard-of package of escalator clauses). His poor play then kept him from ever winning their affection.

"It's only because the hopes were so high on him and he went so fast [downhill]," Mitchell said. "They were a little mad at him."

Shuler's failing and the subsequent run of quarterbacks that led to Ramsey have been destabilizing forces on the club, according to longtime trainer Bubba Tyer, now a senior staffer and one of the few like Mitchell who has been around since the team's quarterback halcyon days.

"Had Heath Shuler been the quarterback that we picked him to be, he'd still be playing, right?" Tyer said. "About at the end of his career. How much better would we have been if he was the franchise quarterback? One pick. Two different owners, four different coaches, 10 or 12 different quarterbacks. Just think, if that guy had turned out, what this franchise would have turned out like. That's how important it is.

"You need a pass rush. You need defensive backs. You need it all. But you're not going to be a successful franchise if you don't have a franchise quarterback. That's my thought."

That thought underlies Tyer's belief that this town's love of quarterbacks was based on its love of the team and the general importance of a quarterback to a team. Jurgensen, now an analyst on the Redskins' radio broadcasts, agreed, saying, "Every city wants [a great quarterback]."

But Mitchell said there's something special here, a combination of great quarterbacks and fans' identification with them. Jurgensen seemingly started the legacy when he challenged the legend of Baugh, who played from 1937 to 1952. And then Kilmer came and challenged Jurgensen, and then Theismann, Williams and Rypien all won Super Bowls.

Mitchell contrasted Washington's succession of celebrated passers to Baltimore, where fans remember only Johnny Unitas despite having "some pretty good [other] quarterbacks." Or Cleveland, where Mitchell played on some good Browns teams but winning quarterback Milt Plum "was just a last name." Or New York, where the Giants have had great passers but "there's only one great player: L.T. [linebacker Lawrence Taylor]."

"When you come to our town and you can list more than one quarterback, that kind of tells you something," Mitchell said. "It doesn't take any greatness [away] from Sonny or anyone else or [away from] Sammy Baugh or anyone else."

Admitted Jurgensen: "I think it's better than any place to play quarterback. It's very special. Who do people look up to around Washington, D.C.? The president of the United States, the head coach of the Washington Redskins and the quarterback if he's playing well. And if he isn't, they'll let you know that too."

And, Theismann added, "When you play quarterback for the Washington Redskins, you're the quarterback in the most powerful city in the world. The fans are absolutely fantastic they support you through thick and thin, and they're knowledgeable, too. Plus, it's a great legacy until recently, when it's been a series of one-year wonders or one-game wonders."

Fans, of course, didn't think those players would be one-whatever wonders at the time. They wanted so badly for players like Gus Frerotte and Trent Green to be winning, long-term starters that they duped themselves. The debuts of Frerotte and Green attracted levels of enthusiasm similar to this week's for Ramsey.

"We were trying real hard to find a quarterback," Mitchell said. "Then you find yourself in a state of mind where you're about to accept anything. Is this guy as good as we think he is? We want a quarterback so bad. You're jumping on the bandwagon too quick."

One by one Washington's projects failed, whether because of poor play (Shuler, Frerotte) or the club's inability to work out a long-term contract (Green, Brad Johnson).

Jurgensen is confident Ramsey has a great chance at success, noting the rookie's talent, strong arm, poise and durability. The Hall of Fame passer added that Ramsey already has a head start in terms of knowledge, having played in a pro-style offense at Tulane behind a suspect line that got him used to getting hit.

"You go back to when I played, I had no clue what this guy knows as far as dropping back and throwing," Jurgensen said with a laugh. "I was so green it was unbelievable. He showed remarkable poise for his first outing. That's the thing that was impressive."

However, Jurgensen cautioned that Ramsey faces a whole new challenge by entering a game as the acknowledged starter.

"Now it's his job," Jurgensen said. "And it becomes a more difficult job when it's your job. In relief of people when you're coming in for injury or somebody playing poorly, you have nothing to lose. Now the responsibility of the position takes over."

A variety of similar questions face Ramsey in coming weeks. And myriad potential answers should temper the current fuss.

But it won't. People want to know now whether Ramsey's the one.

"I know fans," Tyer said. "When somebody gets an injury, they want to know when he's coming back. They want an exact date. Who knows? Looking at this quarterback, he looked great in his first start. But he's getting ready to play a tough [expletive] team that's going to beat the [expletive] out of him. We'll see what he looks like. But it's over period of time. And the period of time could be the rest of this year.

"It's fun, though," Tyer quickly added. "It's exciting. I'm like everybody else. I'm talking about him, too."

Note Running back Stephen Davis expected to be held out of practice today because of his sprained knee but still said he will play against New Orleans.

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