Now, let me get this straight. On Sunday, Andre Ware isn’t important enough to dress in uniform. And on Wednesday, his coach tells him, “You’re my starting quarterback.” Geez. Andre must’ve had a hell of a Monday and Tuesday.
Of course, the team doesn’t even practice on Monday or Tuesday. Ware’s biggest accomplishment on those days is making breakfast. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Wayne Fontes. He’s a tough guy to figure, this coach. He talks a lot. He shifts like the wind. I’ll tell you this. I wouldn’t want him putting his arm around me and saying, “You’re my guy.” That’s the kiss of death.
Ask Rodney Peete. Last year, when he matured into a worthy NFL quarterback, Fontes smiled. He gave Rodney a hug. “You’re my guy,” he told him.
Then he went out and drafted Ware.
At the press conference, with Rodney 2,000 miles away, Fontes was all smiles again. He lit a cigar. He turned to Andre and said, “You’re my guy.” Then time passed, and Andre disappeared in the maze of contract negotiations, and Peete got injured, and soon, Fontes turned to Bob Gagliano, a truly nice and talented quarterback who must have “kick me” taped across the back of his jersey. And here came the smile. Here came the hug. “Bob,” said coach Fontes,
“you’re my guy.”
And today, it’s Andre. Andre is the guy. Who will it be next week? Eric Hipple? Now, understand, starting Ware Sunday might not be a bad move. True, the kid has never started in the NFL, and true, many a rookie quarterback has been shattered by coming out too soon, but, who knows? Ware could have a good day against Minnesota.
That’s not the point. Fontes playing musical quarterbacks has implications far beyond Sunday’s game. And nobody — including his quarterbacks — seems to know what he’s really up to. You aren’t angry, Bob?
Don’t ask Bob Gagliano.
“Are you angry?” he was asked Wednesday.
He looked at the TV cameras and the notepads. He bit his lip. “Would you be?”‘ he finally said.
“Hell, yeah,” a reporter said.
‘Nuff said. Let it be known that Bob Gagliano is too mature to pout. But for two years, whenever the Lions needed someone to pull the bacon from the fire, Gagliano was ready. He has been told he’s No. 2. Fontes said that. Now, suddenly, Peete goes down, and Ware steps right in. Gagliano is angry? I don’t blame him a bit.
As for Peete? He, too, must wonder whether they just changed the locks on his future. Ware has been looming out there, with his multi-million dollar contract, like the President’s son. No matter how well Peete played, it seemed inevitable that Ware had an inside track. So when Peete got slammed on the left knee by Washington’s Eric Williams Sunday, and he tried to walk and his leg turned to rubber, somewhere, in the back of his mind, a voice whispered:
Fontes insists that as soon as Peete is healthy, he gets the job back. All day Wednesday, Fontes kept saying, “Rodney is my quarterback.” And since Fontes said the same thing last year, and then went out and drafted Ware, I’m sure Rodney takes great relief in this.
But use a little common sense. If Ware has two good games, the Lions win, they are sniffing around in playoff territory, do you really think he gets put back on the bench? Just because the coach said so two weeks ago?
Sit down. I must tell you something about Santa Claus. Did Ford have a better idea?
Nobody likes a quarterback controversy. Peete deserves better. Gagliano deserves better. But Fontes has created a little beauty here. The question is: Why? Everyone knows Ware eventually will get his chance. But why now? But this week? After all, the season is just halfway finished — rather early to start educating a rookie quarterback. Besides, while Gagliano has his ups and downs, he did lead the Lions past Minnesota a few weeks ago. If you ask me, he has earned the right to start. What has Ware done?
Some think this all has to do with Sunday’s loss to Washington, the biggest embarrassment since John Denver’s last album. After the game, Fontes met in private with owner William Clay Ford. And now everyone figures Ford said something like, “How’s about playing that kid quarterback who I’m paying all those millions? Maybe he can make a first down.”
Fontes, of course, denies this, saying over and over, “This is my football team.” Hey. After Sunday, who else would want it?
But let’s be clear here: The lessons from Sunday had to do with 1) Defense. 2) Barry Sanders. The Lions’ quarterbacking didn’t surrender 674 yards. It actually ranks quite high in NFL offensive production. Why fix what ain’t broke?
Nonetheless, Andre is now “the guy.” And you have to wonder. Maybe Fontes really wants Andre running his offense, and this is the perfect opening. Maybe Fontes wants people to forget Sunday and buy tickets for this weekend. Maybe he just wants to please the owner. Who knows? You ask me, I think it’s all three. But I could be wrong.
After all, I just listen to what he says.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book “Live Albom II” at 7 p.m. Friday at Little Professor Book Store, Westgate Shopping Center, Ann Arbor; 2 p.m. Saturday, B. Dalton’s, Southland Mall, and 4 p.m. Saturday at Book Nook, Allen Park.