- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

Joe Theismann was in trouble in October 1981. In his fourth year as Washington’s starting quarterback, he was throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and getting sacked too often. With the Redskins having lost their first five games under rookie coach Joe Gibbs, Theismann heard he might be traded to the Detroit Lions.

So after the fifth loss, Theismann drove to the house of the ex-San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator.

“I had television shows and radio shows and restaurants, and I don’t think Joe believed that football was that important to me,” Theismann recalled. “I told him I’d give everything up if that’s what I needed to do to prove to him how much I wanted to be his quarterback. We were trying to be the San Diego Chargers without San Diego Chargers talent. Joe changed his philosophy, and he gave me a chance. That’s when [running back] John Riggins became a much bigger part of our offense.”

Eight Octobers later, Gibbs benched first-year starter Mark Rypien for Super Bowl XXII hero Doug Williams because the quarterback with the penchant for the big play was making a habit of giving the ball to the opposition.

“You just have to stay mentally positive that when you get another opportunity, you’ll play well and those things won’t happen again,” Rypien said. “I got back in [Week 12] against Chicago. Pretty early in the game, I got caught holding the ball behind my back and I fumbled. But Coach Gibbs sent me back out there for the next series. I had four touchdowns in the game, and we won pretty easily.”

Gus Frerotte, who had replaced the injured Heath Shuler in the 1995 opener, was sent to the sideline in favor of the former first-round draft choice by Redskins coach Norv Turner after tossing six interceptions and just two touchdowns in three consecutive defeats. Frerotte didn’t know if he would ever be the No. 1 quarterback again.

“I had no doubt that if Heath was healthy and practicing well, he was going to play because they were paying him so much money,” Frerotte said.

Three Redskins quarterbacks. Three crises. Three men who can understand better than anyone what Jason Campbell is dealing with as he prepares to start his 40th game Sunday against visiting Tampa Bay.

Theismann, Rypien and Frerotte are the only quarterbacks to start at least 40 games for the Redskins in the past 35 years. All three survived their crises and went on to much better times: a Super Bowl victory, two NFC titles and an MVP for Theismann; a Super Bowl MVP for Rypien; and the team’s first winning season in four years, a Pro Bowl and a lucrative contract for Frerotte.

Campbell’s crisis isn’t one of personal statistics. He’s ninth in the NFL in passer rating (92.5). However, only four teams have scored fewer points than the 1-2 Redskins. After a lackluster opening loss at the New York Giants, Washington eked by the sorry St. Louis Rams before falling last week to the Lions, who had lost 19 straight games.

“Jason been a quarterback forever - he knows… he gonna take the heat and get the praise,” said cornerback Carlos Rogers, Campbell’s friend since they became Auburn teammates in 2001. “He can throw for 300, 400 yards [and] we lose, he gonna take the blame. We give up touchdowns on defense, it’s Jason. He’s dealing with it fine. This ain’t nothing. What he went through [during the offseason] is more than this.”

That was when Redskins owner Dan Snyder and executive vice president Vinny Cerrato tried to make trades to replace Campbell with Jay Cutler and rookie Mark Sanchez, who have lower passer ratings but whose teams have winning records.

“If there’s a problem with this team, it doesn’t lie at the quarterback position,” said Theismann, who said he told Cerrato it was a mistake to pursue Cutler and Sanchez. “It’s their inability to run the football and their inability to stop people from converting third downs. The hardest thing as a quarterback is to control the desire to do too much. You want to try to make the perfect throws and have every play be the perfect play. You really just have to do your job. Jason has really done [that] quite well. This kid has worked his rear end off, and I think he’s asserted himself quite well.”

Added Frerotte: “It’s hard to think long-term when you feel like you’re at the bottom. When you’re the quarterback, it’s your team. You’re the leader, so people are always pointing fingers. You’ve just got to battle through it. When I was with the Bengals, we were terrible. You say to yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’ Coach [Dick] LeBeau really helped me by telling me that there were better things to come, that this wasn’t the end. I know things must seem pretty bleak for Jason now when you just lost to a team that had lost 19 in a row. He’s saying, ‘What’s wrong with us?’ I’m sure it’s even tougher for Jason because there’s so much pressure in D.C. from the media and the fans.”

Rypien, who suited up for five teams during his 12 seasons, agreed with Frerotte that it’s harder being the quarterback for Washington than for any other team he suited up with.

“My advice to Jason would be just win a game,” Rypien said. “You’re judged by wins and losses. I feel for Jason because he’s a heck of a player. They’re not struggling because of him.”

Campbell’s take-it-as-it-comes manner serves him well in not overreacting to the Redskins’ plight. As he said, dealing with the 2007 shooting death of teammate Sean Taylor was harder than handling bad days against the likes of the Rams and Lions.

“The way we’ve started out the season has been a tough situation, but at the end of the day, we’re 1-2 and there still are a lot of games left,” Campbell said. “This is a test of our character as a team. I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis unless we lose some more games. You don’t want to get too far behind the other [winning] teams in our division.

“In order to get where we want to go, we need to change some things as far as our mentality - just have some fun. That’s the thing that we’ve been missing because we’ve been worried about everything. When we won [against St. Louis], we felt like we lost because of everything we have to hear about. That took away from the guys having fun, because [we think], ‘No matter what we do we’re going to get ravaged.’ I told them that we need to get rid of all of that. It’s time for us to start having fun again.”

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