- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Not once during the preseason did Shane Matthews express any interest in the quarterback race. Each time he was asked whether he thought he could or would or should win the Washington Redskins' starting job, he simply shrugged and said it wasn't his concern.

That attitude seemingly paid off. By focusing on what was within his control and maintaining the even keel that defines him as a person and a player, Matthews beat out Danny Wuerffel, first-round draft pick Patrick Ramsey and since-traded Sage Rosenfels to start Sunday's opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

"Things play themselves out," Matthews said yesterday. "That's just the way I am. Some people may say I don't care, but I'm just as competitive as anybody on this team. I'm competitive at anything I play. I hate to lose. But people show it different ways. I don't show a lot of emotion, I guess."

The automaton demeanor extends from Matthews' discussion of football to the field itself to the golf course, where, teammate Chris Doering said, "I'm out there throwing my clubs and he's calm whether he makes birdie or double-bogey." Somehow Matthews manages to block out the worry that derails many athletes before they can make the necessary plays.

"You look at him after he throws a touchdown; coming off the field, you would think he just threw an interception," said Doering, who was a teammate of Matthews at the University of Florida. "It's just chin-strap buckled, walk to the sideline, no real emotion at all. I think having that even keel is a key point for a quarterback."

It certainly has proved more important than having a Pro Bowl arm, which Matthews has never been mistaken as having. To play well Matthews must get a lot of air under his deep throws, ignore the pressure (an ability he thinks came from playing high school ball under his father) and avoid errors in the mental parts of the game.

Part of this race, for example, came down to patience. Matthews didn't even play in Washington's preseason opener, sitting out the 38-7 pounding of the San Francisco 49ers in Osaka, Japan, while Wuerffel and Rosenfels put up big numbers. But Matthews eventually guided the Redskins to all 19 points that they scored against opponents' starting defenses while Wuerffel, the apparent front-runner much of the preseason, disappointed in his two starts.

The preseason ended with Matthews' 86.2 rating trailing Wuerffel's 104.9 and Rosenfels' 103.6, but his 65.3 completion percentage led the club and his cool demeanor left an impression on teammates.

"I think it's very important," tackle Chris Samuels said. "With him being so confident, I know that everyone will go out there poised and make plays."

Matthews believes there's a link between playing golf and quarterback, that recovering from mistakes in each endeavor is probably the biggest key to success.

"You're going to hit bad shots, but you can't get frustrated because then your game really goes downhill," said Matthews, a single-digit handicapper. "It's the same way at quarterback: You're going to make good throws, but then you're also going to make some bad reads and some bad throws. You've just got to try to forget about them and go back to the drawing board.

"You look at Brett Favre and Kurt Warner and those guys they make some unbelievable throws, but they also make some throws that look horrible. But they keep firing away. And that's why they're probably two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game."

Matthews' attitude has helped him remain in the NFL 10 years after exiting Florida with physical traits that left scouts unimpressed. He went undrafted, didn't play in 1993 or 1994, sat out most of 1995, and played just two games before finally winning the Chicago Bears' starting job to open the 1999 season.

Matthews' body then let him down several different ways when he finally became a starter. Perhaps in part because of his light frame (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), which he notes is more suited for golf and than football. He suffered a series of injuries that ended several solid runs on the first string.

Now 32, Matthews thinks he is prepared for his best success as his playing days near an end. He is healthy and, after several months here, familiar with coach Steve Spurrier's scheme, which gives the quarterback more options than the West Coast set that has dominated the NFL and Matthews' pro career.

"I'm comfortable," Matthews said. "If I can go out and play the way I'm coached to play, I think I can have a good year and the Redskins can as well."

The confluence of the Fun 'n' Gun and Matthews' demeanor just might be what Washington needs to make its anticipated playoff run in Spurrier's debut season. Surely Matthews still has skeptics, but teammates think there's a reason he's not worried.

"Just watch him," running back Stephen Davis said. "He's calm and can handle the pressure pretty well. He's been in this system before, and since he's been in the NFL he's matured a lot. Now he can go out and make plays in a system he's comfortable in."

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