Knee injury puts QB controversy front and center


WASHINGTON -- Can't you see Doug Williams at home now, talking to his literary agent?

"Why can't we get those books off the shelves?" he says. "Anyway, I didn't say the Redskins were racist. I meant they were gracious."

Ah, it's Redskins quarterback controversy time again. I figured you wanted to be the first to know. Williams, who has played heavily in the last few, is home in Louisiana, having written an autobiography, still bitter that the Redskins dumped him. He didn't count on this.

He could have been back as early as today. Babe Laufenberg, playing for the Cowboys now, could have come over at halftime yesterday. They've saved his locker for him. Hey, I know, is Tony Robinson (yeah, he was the scab quarterback) still in prison?

You see, it has started again. It was heating up even before Mark Rypien (not to be confused with Cal Ripken, who would have stayed in the game) limped off the field yesterday with a sprained left knee, the result of a collision with former teammate Dean Hamel. The fans, who had been booing Rypien, cheered as Stan Humphries took the field.

Humphries said he didn't hear the roar of the crowd. He was probably too focused on the job at hand, not to mention the opportunity for renegotiating his contract.

What's better than a quarterback controversy? And, gosh, it's only the third game of the season, too. That gives us pretty much the entire year to thrash this puppy out. As you know, the Redskins haven't had one since, well, last year. And not a really good controversy in two years.

Right now, the situation is sort of confused. Coach Joe Gibbs -- undoubtedly pleased to give Humphries a chance without having to bench his starter -- was saying Rypien would be out for a while. Rypien was saying he might be back as early as Sunday for a game in Phoenix. And Humphries couldn't wait to get his first start, which would make him the fifth Redskin to start at

quarterback in the last six seasons.

Quarterback rotation is not a formula in use by many winning teams, but, then, the Redskins have always gone their own way. Besides, Humphries says it doesn't matter much who's in there.

"I think this offense is the same no matter who is at quarterback," Humphries said. "Anybody who's playing quarterback just has to get the ball to Monk, Clark, Sanders and Bryant and Byner coming out of the backfield. This offense can run itself."

The offense that can run itself didn't produce a touchdown yesterday, although the Redskins managed to hold off the Cowboys anyway. The fans who were jeering Rypien didn't see anything better when Humphries came into the game. Check these numbers: 5-for-13 for 58 yards against Rypien's 8-for-17 for 97 yards. They don't put anyone in mind of Sonny Jurgensen, a backup quarterback whom you might remember.

But it might have been different. Even as a doctor was wrapping Rypien's knee on the sidelines, Humphries launched his first pass, a floater into the end zone that looked as if it might be a touchdown. It brought back memories of Jay Schroeder, who came onto the field against the Giants when Joe Theismann was carried off and immediately hit Art Monk with a 40-yarder. Schroeder would be a sensation, for a time. He even opened his All-Pro restaurant, although Schroeder has never made All-Pro.

"I thought it was a touchdown," Humphries said of his pass to Ricky Sanders. "I put a little too much touch on the ball, a little too much air under it."

As it turned out, Sanders couldn't quite hang on to the ball (one of eight Redskins drops for the day), and an offensive lineman was called for holding anyway. So, Humphries wasn't an immediate hero, meaning he didn't get a clothing contract and Rypien didn't turn into Wally Pipp.

In fact, Rypien returned to the field in street clothes in the second half, sporty a nifty set of crutches. He wanted to watch the game and maybe see what was happening to the rest of his career.

"I'm going to do everything I can to be back by next Sunday," Rypien said.

No one else saw it that way, especially his good friend, Sta Humphries. Being a backup quarterback is an unusual situation. The only time you ever get to start is when the starter is either injured or playing so badly the coach hopes he does get hurt. But, if it happens, you have to take your shot.

Before the 1989 season, when Williams was injured and Rypien was shaky, Humphries started in a preseason game in Minnesota and looked scared to death. He didn't get the job. This time, there's nowhere else to turn. The Redskins like his arm, his mobility, his smooth delivery. And he's the only quarterback they have on the roster.

"This is my third year," Humphries said after the game. "It's time for me to put up or shut up. It's time for me to play."

The good thing about being a backup quarterback is that you don't get a chance to disappoint anyone. No one is calling for your head. People you don't even know are saying you could lead their team to the Super Bowl, if only you had the chance to get in the game. Humphries, given his opportunity now, will almost certainly face the problems of any young quarterback. It may not be easy. The best advice I can offer Humphries is that he should wait at least a week to open his restaurant.

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