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He’s Making Waves, Not Riding Them

The first look pro football got at Jay Schroeder, it was tempted to ask where he’d parked the surfboard. They spotted Jay and started looking around for Annette Funicello.

Jay is everybody’s idea of the typical beach boy. Blond hair, broad shoulders, tapered waist, he looks more like a refugee from the set of “Beach Blanket Bingo” or the love interest in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” than a pro football player.

That’s probably what’s wrong with his football career. It’s hard to take seriously as quarterback someone who has seaweed for hair and looks as out of place on dry land as an anchovy.

There really isn’t any other explanation as to why Schroeder no longer is a member of the Washington Redskins. Consider that, last season, the Redskins were 8-2 in the 10 games he started, that he threw for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns in the pivotal game against the New York Giants, that he riddled the Dallas Cowboys for 250 yards, that he threw an 84-yard touchdown pass in one December game, and 5 others more than 50 yards long during the season.

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And lost his job.

You would have thought he got caught selling rocket secrets to the Soviet Union or bugging the U.S. Embassy or selling munitions to the Ayatollah.

He got unceremoniously dumped on the last day of the season in favor of a guy who had started only one game for the Redskins all season and had played in only five altogether. It didn’t help that Doug Williams, who didn’t look anything like a beach boy, had one of those incandescent career days in the Super Bowl that young quarterbacks dream about.

Or, rather, a career quarter. In one 15-minute period of Super Bowl XXII, Williams threw for 228 yards and 4 touchdowns and led his team to 356 total yards and 5 touchdowns. It was the most devastating 15 minutes of football ever seen in a championship game. It would have been difficult to duplicate even if the other guys hadn’t shown up.

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Still, athletes have had stunning performances in big games before, only to revert to being merely competent when the bunting came down and the bands went home. It’s almost a cliche for a journeyman, otherwise banjo-hitting ballplayer to rise to heights in a World Series and set all kinds of records, then go back to hitting .260 the next year.

Washington Coach Joe Gibbs didn’t wait to see if Williams was good just in Super Bowls. He began to shop Schroeder around like a hot watch or a stolen diamond. He did everything but put him in the window with a price tag on him, or take out want ads: “Nr. new. One-owner quarterback, will travel. Seeks loving home with caring family. Call evenings.”

No one could find out why the Redskins had been in such an unseemly haste to get rid of a quarterback who only a season before had been considered as prominent a part of the Washington scene as the Washington Monument. Why had Schroeder been impeached?

It was difficult to get an answer from Gibbs. It usually is. He tended to just look wise and murmur “Schroeder knows.”

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This perplexes Schroeder. “I do?” he asks. His argument is, “How would I? He (Gibbs) never said anything to me.”

He didn’t have to. He just kept handing Williams the ball and the game plan.

The problem is, no one is quite sure about Jay Schroeder. Is he a top quarterback or just a fine athlete impersonating one?

You see, a pro quarterback normally fits this kind of profile: He plays four years in college, goes to one or more bowl games, becomes a top Heisman contender, earns All-American status or at least all-conference. Then, a National Football League team probably deigns to draft him eighth or so, sits him on the bench for three years. Then, they figure he’s ready.

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Schroeder did none of the above. He missed the profile by miles. The Redskins didn’t get him off a surfboard, they got him off third base. He hasn’t had a career, he has had a cameo. Schroeder hardly played any college ball at all. He never started a regular-season game at UCLA.

He had an arm like a railroad gun. He just aimed at the horizon and threw. The first pass he ever threw landed six rows up in the Coliseum seats. The next pass almost decapitated the receiver. His entire college career consisted of 65 passes. Sonny Jurgensen could throw that many in the home opener.

Schroeder was a baseball player. Or at least he thought he was till he ran into one. That would be Dwight Gooden, and the minute Schroeder saw Dwight’s fastball, he knew he was in the wrong line of work. “I couldn’t even hit the slider.”

He was a catcher, an infielder, an outfielder--and an out. A .234 batting average was his career highlight. He had signed with the Toronto Blue Jays--for six figures--in high school and left UCLA after his sophomore year to appear nightly in such citadels of sport as Medicine Hat, Canada; Florence, S.C., and Kinston, N.C. The malt shop at home drew more people. Three years of that and even Lawrence Taylor looked like fun.

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He returned to football with a boost from Homer Smith, who had been UCLA’s offensive coordinator and was one of the few people around who remembered Schroeder in a football uniform.

At Washington, 3 seasons of play, 7,445 yards, 39 touchdowns and 517 completions failed to impress Gibbs. In a sense, Schroeder took his team to the Super Bowl. At least, to the on-ramp. But when he got there, he was the mop-up quarterback. The first team was busy hauling the other quarterback up on its shoulders.

The Raiders specialize in guys nobody else wants, guys who can’t get along where they are, usually because they broke up a bar or the team bus or someone’s face. When you get in trouble with the law, you get one call to your lawyer and one to the Raiders.

The Raiders don’t care if you look like a beach boy. They think adversity fits a man. They got Jim Plunkett, their last unwanted quarterback, out of the league’s remnant barrel, too. Of course, Plunkett had the prescribed four years at Stanford, Rose Bowl, Heisman--and no one ever mistook him for a beach volleyball player.

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What the Raiders like about Schroeder is, he throws long. He has thrown 34 touchdown passes of 40 yards or more. The Raiders like guys who go for the green, guys who take the wood out.

What the Raiders like even better about Schroeder is, they need him. The Raiders have more 9.5 sprinters than some countries. They need someone to get the ball out there as fast as they do.

Whatever happens, he’ll still look good in a swimsuit ad. If he looks good in silver and black, too, Gibbs will probably have to explain it to Congress, and all the pro scouts will probably543319328Beach or learning to play the ukulele on the curl at Makaha.


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