INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a familiar plot. They already did it on Broadway in "42nd Street."
It's the tale of the understudy who steps in and becomes a star.
For one day, rookie Gus Frerotte lived that story yesterday.
With the $19 million man, Heath Shuler, watching on the sidelines with a sprained ankle, Frerotte made his debut by passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns to give the Washington Redskins a surprising 41-27 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
"I'm a guy who always roots for the underdog," said Frerotte, who was one yesterday.
After falling behind 17-3 and fumbling his first third-down snap, Frerotte drove the team 59 yards for a field goal, 74 yards for **TC touchdown at the end of the first half and 58 yards for another touchdown in the third quarter to give the Redskins a 20-17 lead.
His 226 yards was the most for a Redskins rookie in his debut. The previous best belonged to Al Dorow, who passed for 154 yards in 1954.
The defense then took over, intercepting two Jim Harbaugh passes and one by Don Majkowski. The Redskins turned all three of them into touchdowns to make it a rout.
The defense also held Marshall Faulk to 12 yards rushing in the last three quarters after he shredded them for 74 yards in the first quarter and caught an 85-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
"It's a great feeling," Frerotte said. "You'd love for anybody in the world to have this feeling right now."
His brother, Jay, who works at Johns Hopkins, came to the game, but Frerotte almost broke into tears when he talked about his family watching back in Ford City, Pa.
"I can just imagine what my family's doing back home. They've got a big party. There's 300 people back home watching the game. . . ."
His eyes started to water and he paused as he fought back the tears.
"It's exciting," he said, as he paused again.
"I just wish I could be there with them."
He then paused again and said softly, "Not."
There's no other place Frerotte would have rather been than at the RCA Dome yesterday.
Although he had thrown well for five days here at the scouting combine in February, he was an unheralded player from Tulsa who was taken by the Redskins on the seventh round after they selected Shuler with the third pick in the draft.
Frerotte got a $35,000 signing bonus and a base salary of $113,334. The Redskins thought he had the potential to be a backup next year.
Shuler, by contrast, got a $5 million signing bonus and a $950,000 base salary this year.
But Shuler struggled in his first three starts and was intercepted eight times -- five times last week by the Arizona Cardinals.
After Shuler sprained his ankle last week, coach Norv Turner decided to turn to Frerotte instead of veteran John Friesz for this game.
Shuler is still supposed to be the quarterback of the future, but Frerotte could create a sticky situation if he keeps outplaying him.
That's why Turner almost seemed reluctant to say he'll be starting Frerotte against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
"I was hoping that nobody was going to ask that question," Turner said with a smile.
When Turner opened his post-game speech, Frerotte's name was conspicuous by its absence.
"It was a team win. Our special teams, I thought, were outstanding. We scored defensively. They made plays early and no one quit. The guys competed and kept competing and obviously we got some plays offensively," he said.
When Turner then was asked about Frerotte, he said his play was "exceptional."
"He's going to get better. He's a talented guy. Did I say exceptional?" Turner said with a laugh.
"If I said exceptional, it was taking into consideration that it was his first NFL start," he added.
When Turner was asked if the touchdown drive at the end of the first half helped Frerotte's confidence, he said, "Again, I'm going to switch it from him to us. It was important for us. We get too caught up in one guy. I wasn't worried about our Gus right then. I was worried about the team."
When Turner was asked if it wasn't a quarterback victory, he said, "It was a team win. Yes, it was a team win and the quarterback played awfully well."
This is the second straight year the Redskins started 1-6 and then beat the Colts in their eighth game.
Frerotte's performance has to be kept in perspective because it was against the Colts. Quarterbacks named Joe Dufek, Tom Ramsey, Tommy Hodson, Dan McGwire and Scott Zolak also have gotten their first victory against the Colts since they moved to Indianapolis.
But this was supposed to be a different Colts team after last week's upset victory over the Buffalo Bills, especially since they were going against a rookie quarterback.
"Who would you rather fight against, Muhammad Ali or some up-and-coming kid? This really hurts," coach Ted Marchibroda said.
It looked good for the Colts when Frerotte fumbled his first third-down snap. But he came back on the next drive and threw a 51-yard pass to Tydus Winans to set up a field goal.
When Frerrote was asked about the fumbled snap, he said, "That was the jitters . . . I was a little shaky at first. After the fumble, though, things seemed to settle down."
The frustrated Indianapolis fans started booing when the Colts fell behind and started walking out when Andre Collins intercepted Harbaugh's pass and ran it back 21 yards for a touchdown to make it 34-20 with 9:34 left.
The building virtually emptied when Lamont Hollinquest intercepted Majkowski's pass with 6:37 left to set up the final Redskins touchdown.
The Colts' problem is that Faulk is virtually their only offensive weapon, and when the defense keys on him, Harbaugh has to be effective. He was against Buffalo, but he didn't play in the second half yesterday.
"I played a terrible second half," Harbaugh said.
Faulk said: "Right now, I would say we're a mediocre team."
Harbaugh was easily outplayed by Frerotte, who had the poise of a veteran and now thinks he can win the Redskins' quarterback job.
"Yeah, I can see that. I can see myself going out and playing well week to week, given the opportunity," Frerotte said.
He's now going to get that opportunity.
Washington .... 0 .. 13 .. 14 .. 14 .. 41
Indianapolis .. 3 .. 14 ... 0 .. 10 .. 27