Detroit Lion quarterback Rodney Peete will start Monday night’s game against the Raiders at the Pontiac Silverdome. Chances are, he won’t finish it.
Peete, the former USC standout, wants to know why. In 15 starts during a pro career that spans less than two seasons, Peete has been pulled seven times by Coach Wayne Fontes.
Fontes said again this week that Peete will start. This, from the coach who pulled Peete in the third quarter of last Sunday’s game against Chicago with the Bears leading, 14-10. So much for storybook comebacks.
Detroit lost in overtime, 23-17.
Peete has made seven starts in 1990 and finished four.
Fontes claims he likes Peete a lot. Peete wants to be liked in the second half, too.
Fontes’ explanation is this: In his short career, Peete has been plagued by injuries that have prevented him from playing effectively for 60 minutes. Peete won the starting job as a rookie in 1989 before suffering a knee injury against the Rams in the final exhibition game. He ended up starting eight games.
This season, he suffered a pulled hamstring against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4 and missed two games. Peete returned to the starting lineup in Week 8, but was sidelined for three more weeks after reinjuring the hamstring Nov. 4 against the Washington Redskins.
In Peete’s absence, Fontes has started Bob Gagliano four times and rookie Andre Ware, the 1989 Heisman Trophy winner, once.
“We’ve had the rotation basically because we’ve had injuries,” Fontes said. “I’ve said all along that the quarterback would be Rodney Peete. He came in, got hurt, and I had to take him out and go with Bob Gagliano.”
Fontes said he pulled Peete last week because Peete seemed rusty. Peete completed eight of 18 passes for 101 yards before he was benched.
“It’s been a very tough season for me,” Peete said. “Because I know if things don’t go well, there’s a chance of me being pulled from the game. I need to be in a situation where I can bring the team back, but I haven’t been given that opportunity as much as I’d like.”
Life in the NFL hasn’t been easy for Peete. He was ignored on draft day, the Lions finally taking him in the sixth round.
The stigma of being a low-round pick still haunts Peete.
“I don’t have the luxury of being a first-round draft choice,” he said, “where they’re going to hang with a guy, let him develop through a whole game, and stick with him. For me, it’s got to happen now. And it’s tough on me right now. This year has been very tough.”
Peete’s future took a bleak turn last April when the Lions, who presumably had their quarterback of the future in Peete, used a first-round choice to draft Ware.
Although Ware ran up impressive figures in the run-and-shoot offense at the University of Houston, the contest against Peete in practice has been no contest. Ware has made one start this season, against the Minnesota Vikings, but was benched after halftime.
Ware’s presence makes the situation all the more confusing. Peete, a bright man, knows that the Lions didn’t draft Ware to sit on the bench. So far, Peete has held off the charge. But for how long?
“I understand that there’s going to be pressure,” he said. “The fact that we’re 4-8 at this point even adds to that pressure. I don’t look over my shoulder in terms of him. That’s the way the thing goes. He’s a first-round draft choice. Sooner or later, he’s going to get his opportunity to prove himself. I don’t have the luxury he has, of going in there and developing, and trying to prove myself.
“I do know sooner or later there’s going to be a lot of pressure to play him. But I really feel that if the decision is made on the field, then I will be the guy in there. Now, there’s a lot of other factors involved, things I don’t have control over.”
Like, say, a team’s owner calling the coach to inquire why the highest-paid quarterback is holding a clipboard?
Peete said Fontes has removed him unfairly on occasion, notably in the second week of the season against the Atlanta Falcons, when Peete was pulled with the Lions leading, 21-14, in the third quarter.
“I made a couple of bad throws and boom, I was out of the game,” he said. “I didn’t understand that move at all.”
Peete said he and Fontes have discussed the situation and have resolved their differences.
“I’m happy with my situation,” Peete said. “I would just like for it to be a little more clear-cut. I enjoy being the starter. I think I deserve being the starter. Coach Fontes has to decide, ‘This is my guy, I’ve got to go with him.’ . . . It’s almost like we’re in a baseball situation, where a pitcher goes six, seven innings, then the reliever comes in. It’s tough to perform that way. He knows that. We both know that. It’s just the way he feels right now. I think it will be resolved. I’m the one who can control it, if I just go out and play well.”