Schroeder Made Himself Available, and the Redskins’ Gamble Pays Off

United Press International

Joe Theismann’s season-ending injury leaves the Washington Redskins quarterbacking chores on the unlikely shoulders of Jay Schroeder--a man 12 years Theismann’s junior who once preferred a career in baseball.

After Theismann’s right leg was broken on the second play of the second quarter, Schroeder, 24, led the Redskins past the New York Giants in last week’s Monday Night game at Washington. He capped the dream debut with a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

“It was a fairy tale, really, to be thrown into that situation and perform the way he did,” said Washington Coach Joe Gibbs. “I think Jay was just marvelous.”


The fact that Schroeder is in the National Football League at all is something of a marvel. He played only two seasons at UCLA--starting only one game--before signing a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The tall, blond Californian played two seasons as a catcher with Kinston of the Carolina League, in Florence, S.C.

Schroeder said it was in the Carolina League that he and future New York Mets phenom pitcher Dwight Gooden helped each other’s careers along with strikeouts.

“I helped put Dwight in the majors, and he helped put me in football,” Schroeder said.

With his baseball career going nowhere quickly and his coaches urging him to convert to a pitcher, Schroeder contacted Homer Smith, UCLA’s offensive coordinator, and sent letters to NFL clubs saying he was available for the NFL draft in 1984.

Using the 83rd pick overall, Washington General Manager Bobby Beathard took a gamble and selected Schroeder for his unusually strong arm and unlimited raw talent. In short, the catcher-turned-NFL quarterback was an alluring draft prospect.

“I knew physically that Jay was a great young quarterback,” Gibbs said. “He’s got a great arm, got a super mind--but you’re never sure with a quarterback. You never can tell. There’s been a lot of those guys who couldn’t play under pressure.”


Schroeder made the Redskins 49-man roster last season, holding on to the No. 3 position behind Theismann and veteran Jim Hart. But he did not play all season.

He returned this season, beat out Babe Laufenberg for the only backup quarterback position the Redskins kept with the league limit of a 45-man roster. Until Theismann’s injury, Schroeder’s only opportunity to play this season was mop-up duty in a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener.

While the Redskins star quarterback was being strapped into a rolling stretcher, Schroeder leaned over and told Theismann: “We’re gonna get this one for you.”

That might have been an unrealistic statement from someone who says he hasn’t played an entire organized football game in seven years.

But on his second play from scrimmage, he drilled a 44-yard pass to Art Monk that set up a John Riggins touchdown run.

“Our whole team was looking out there, saying ‘Are we going to take the gas pipe?”’ Gibbs said. “When he made that pass, everyone was jumping up and down.”


Schroeder completed 13-of-20 passes for 221 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions.

“I’ve always been in that situation, it seems,” Schroeder said. “You’re playing baseball and you’re sitting on the bench all game. And all of a sudden, you’ve got to go up and do something. I think that helped me quite a bit.”

He added: “The best feeling was that I got into the game and not only did the team rally, but the fans picked it up. I think that was a big help to everybody, me in particular,” Schroeder said.

In a football-crazed town like Washington, Schroeder was hailed as an instant hero. One local columnist dubbed him “Saint Jay,” as he became the newest celebrity in the nation’s capital.

But Gibbs warned that all the celebration might be premature, particularly with the 6-5 Redskins traveling to Three Rivers Stadium today to play the rugged Pittsburgh Steelers.

“He’s a guy who played great one night,” Gibbs said. “Let’s see what he does in the future.”