by | Nov 25, 1997 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You have to hand it to Gus Frerotte. He really uses his head.

Frerotte is the Washington quarterback who, after scoring a touchdown against the Giants on Sunday night, celebrated by — and I couldn’t make this up — slamming his head into a stadium wall. Hard. Hard enough that he suffered a sprained neck and had to leave.

The wall, so far as we know, was not injured.

Now, I have to admit, this is a new one on me. I’ve seen guys high-five, bang chests. I’ve even seen them bop helmets together — but that’s always with another person. You can justify that by saying, “Hey, I’m not the only one here acting like an idiot.” CLUNK!

But what motivates someone to play “headsies” with a wall? Especially a wall that is solid concrete behind the padding? (In Gus’ defense, it is a new stadium. Maybe he didn’t have the blueprints.)

Anyhow, after his victory clunk, Gus had a seat on the bench.

“What’s wrong?” his coach, Norv Turner, asked.

“I have a headache,” Gus said.

Well, as the kids say, D-uhhh.

Eventually, Gus had to leave the game and the stadium, which probably made the architects happy. And without him, the Redskins could manage only a tie.

Poor Washington. Of all the ways to lose a quarterback. And he doesn’t even play for the Rams.

(Get it? Rams? Sorry. That was too easy.)

Wasn’t there some other way Gus could have celebrated? Some way that, after it was over, he might actually remember why he was celebrating in the first place?

Well. This just points out the differences between professional athletes and the rest of us. Me? When I’m happy, my first reaction is not, “Yippee! What solid object can I ram my head into now?”

But that’s just me.

Obviously, Gus has a different set of party rules.

Still, you have to wonder about the trip to the hospital, when the doctor said, “OK, Mr. Frerotte, tell me what happened….”

I mean, how do you answer that? Do you make up a Hollywood story? “Doc, I just got the role of Bluto Blutarski in the remake of ‘Animal House,’ and I saw these beer cans, and . . .”

Do you blame Mother Nature? “There I was, Doc, minding my business, and the strongest wind blew me into Section 104….”

Surely, you don’t tell him the truth. Surely, you don’t say, “I scored on a one-yard run, and I was really happy, so I saw the wall, and I slammed into it. I guess you see this all the time, huh, Doc? . . .”

Oh, well. I guess it’s a good thing the NFL has a rule about keeping your helmet on; otherwise we might have had to pluck Gus out with a crane.

The moral of this story? There is no moral. As Pink Floyd sang, “All in all, it’s just another nick in the wall.”

Is Iron Mike starting to crack?

Meanwhile, speaking of banging your head against the wall, did you catch Mike Ditka after his Saints lost Sunday? Frerotte wasn’t the only guy having a mental meltdown. Ditka rambled on in a postgame interview, sounding very much like a phone call to “Dr. Laura.”

“I don’t have it anymore…. Maybe all the experts were right…. If it doesn’t mean that much to other people, why should it mean that much to me? For the first time in my life, I can say that — it didn’t mean anything…. They broke me down today….”

Now, you might read this and think, gee, what a soft, sensitive guy. And I might think that, too, if I didn’t know Ditka was a blowhard. This, after all, is the same coach who went on “Saturday Night Live” this season and joked that his team “sucks.”

This is the same guy who bet his defensive coordinator that his players couldn’t stop Tim Brown of the Raiders. He bet against his players?

This is the same guy who promised a more “mellow” approach in his new job. He wasn’t there two months, when the official team outfit included earplugs.

Ditka can’t help it. He’s a bull and the Saints are a china shop. But what did he think he was getting into? The Saints are a team that makes the Lions look like perennial winners. They have little talent and no tradition.

Hey. Ditka has won four games with those slouches. If he figured he was going to the playoffs, he thinks more of himself than we thought.

League has passed Ditka by

“Are you going to quit?” someone asked Ditka.

“No, I’m not gonna quit. If they fired me, I would quit.”

Hmmm. If they fire you, isn’t quitting a moot point?

Then again, I guess we can’t expect Iron Mike to be ironclad in his brain work, what with all the smoke coming out of his ears. Still, he ought to figure out that the league has passed him by. Not the game. I am sure he’s still a great coach of the game.

But the league, the players, the salary caps, the attitude — it’s a lot different from 1985.

If Ditka thinks he can succeed on bluster, he’s wrong. And even though he changed his tune on Monday — saying he meant what he said Sunday but now he plans to stay — the fact is, when the season ends, Ditka ought to be the Saint that goes marching out.

“God puts people in places for a reason,” he said. “I think He put me in this job to humble me.”

I’ll buy that. Now, if we can only figure why He put that wall in front of Gus….

Mitch Albom will sign “Tuesdays with Morrie” 7-8 tonight at B Dalton, Macomb Mall, Roseville; 10-11 a.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble, Bloomfield Hills; and 1-2 p.m. Saturday at B Dalton, Twelve Oaks Mall, Novi. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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