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NFL PREVIEW 1988 : Truly, the Wright Stuff : Packer Incumbent Beats Back Challenge of Ex-Raider Wilson to Retain Quarterback Job, but Doesn’t Want to Talk About It

Times Staff Writer

So tell us, Randy Wright, just how you survived the Forrest Gregg regime, how you sent bonus guy and ex-Raider Marc Wilson packing, how you climbed from that black hole you were in at training camp’s beginning and found your way atop the Green Bay Packer depth chart.

Better yet, tell everyone how you celebrated. Tied one on, didn’t you?

“No.”

But the significance of it all, Randy. Wilson cost the Pack some greenbacks, somewhere between $100,000-$125,000 of up-front money. And then there were those rumors about Washington Redskin quarterback Jay Schroeder coming your way. Maybe you squelched that talk, eh?

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“I just try to worry about myself.”

Sure, sure, we hear you. You were insulted by Wilson’s arrival and all this Schroeder trade stuff. That’s what inspired you, right?

“No.”

And so it went during the shortest phone interview on record. You want quotes? Go find the Boz. You want phone static? Dial Wright’s number.

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Mum’s the word with Wright these days. It seems his idea of an extended conversation is, “Hut!”

Of course, who can blame him? Wright has been written off and almost run out of town plenty of times--by his own coaches. Gregg would have done it this year, say those familiar with the workings of the Packers, had he not left for Southern Methodist.

And the new coach, Lindy Infante, didn’t exactly give Wright a vote of confidence this summer when he lured Wilson to Green Bay. You don’t give someone a six-figure signing bonus and make him the highest-paid Packer without some obvious expectations.

“I told (Wilson) when we met, when we signed him, that all I could promise was an opportunity and that if things did fall in place that he had a chance to be our starter,” Infante said. “I think he felt that certainly he would be the guy. I had felt like he had the chance to be the guy.”

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A chance? For that kind of money, Wilson should have be a lock. But he wasn’t and part of it may have been Infante’s own fault.

Rather than devoting extra attention to Wilson and this unfamiliar Packer offense, Infante divided practice and playing time among--count ‘em--six quarterbacks. There are hardly enough snaps to go around with your normal complement of two or three quarterbacks and here’s Infante spreading them among half a dozen passers.

Some called it democratic. Others suggested--Wilson reportedly among them--that the whole thing had been a waste of time.

Wilson was left with precious few moments to prove himself. A quarterback who had spent a career throwing long was now faced with new and very different targets, and at much closer ranges. It showed.

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“I honestly felt what we were doing would fit his talents,” Infante said. “It just didn’t turn out that way, for whatever reason. As we went through our training camp, the pieces just never fit. It just seemed like he was snake-bit, that every time he was in there, we had a receiver run the wrong route or we didn’t protect him enough or he would occasionally make a bad read. It just snowballed to the point that he had very little production.”

So Wilson was released. Infante said he didn’t think Wilson would think much of being the third-string quarterback. He didn’t say, of course, that the Packers probably wouldn’t have been too thrilled with his salary.

Even to this day, Infante said he still isn’t sure what went wrong. When he gave Wilson the bad news earlier this week, he didn’t know what to say, other than good luck. “I would be surprised if somebody in this league doesn’t pick him up because he’s an excellent quarterback and a fine young man,” Infante said.

He just didn’t look good in green and gold, that’s all. Or on the bench.

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Which leaves the Packers with Wright, who acts as if he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. As far as he’s concerned, the answer to Green Bay’s quarterback difficulties is, well, Randy Wright.

Wright didn’t come right out and say that. Actually, he didn’t come right out and say much of anything. Wright gets that way sometimes, say those who follow the team. Extremely intelligent, thoughtful and, at times, guarded, Wright either bares his soul or goes to the monosyllabic routine: “No . . . Yes . . . I guess . . . “

The Wilson deal didn’t help. Packer management had all but said that Wright and Wilson probably couldn’t co-exist.

Nor have the persistent Schroeder rumors improved Wright’s mood. Here he is, a starter for 7 of 9 games last season, 16 of 16 the year before and nobody cares. In the Packer media guide, where you would expect to find bright, optimistic notes, is this quote from Infante in Wright’s player bio:

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“Randy Wright’s been around now for a few years and should be hitting the peak of his career as a quarterback. We would hope that he would get in the hunt for the starting job.”

Wright hasn’t dazzled anyone, mind you. He threw 17 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in 1986, 6 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 1987. Bart Starr, he isn’t. Then again, these aren’t the ’67 Packers, either.

But Wright had at least one advantage this summer. Turns out the basics of Infante’s new offense weren’t much different from what the Packers used last season. The terminology was similar and Wright managed to grasp it more quickly than the others.

In fact, when first explaining how Wright won the starting job this year, Infante seemed to indicate that Wright’s memory, not his passing ability, was the reason the position was his. Later, Infante corrected himself.

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“I didn’t mean to insinuate . . . that he did not execute the offense well,” he said. “Because of his knowledge of our offense, he had a better chance to execute the things that we’re doing.”

Still, Wright needed a break. He got it Aug. 19, in the fourth period of an exhibition game against the Kansas City Chiefs. While everyone else struggled--Wilson: 7 for 17, 54 yards, 2 interceptions--Wright played reasonably well, completing 11 of 24 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. He helped turn a fourth-period 21-7 Packer deficit into a 21-21 tie.

It was the performance Infante had been looking for--although he had been looking in Wilson’s direction. For better or for worse, Infante decided on his quarterback.

Big whoop, said Wright. He didn’t let loose with a yell, or even a sigh.

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“Why would I?” he said. “It was something that I had wanted to achieve and I had been the starter here for two years. So to be informed that you had hung on to your position . . . It would have been more disappointing to have it taken away.”

Wright can rest easy. He won. He survived. Now if he can only learn to enjoy.


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