PONTIAC, Mich. - They were like the Detroit chapter of "The First Wives Club." Hell hath no fury like a football player scorned. There was Gus Frerotte, spurned by the Redskins for Trent Green last season - and released with two years left on his contract. There was Desmond Howard, dumped by them in the '95 expansion draft - and replaced by the Next Young Thing, Michael Westbrook. These were the guys who made yesterday's visit to the Silverdome a living nightmare for Washington.
And they enjoyed every minute of it.
Frerotte, obviously, most of all. Desmond kind of belongs to the world now, having played for five different clubs under nine different coaches. Gus, on the other hand, spent five years in Washington, went to the Pro Bowl in Washington, became a crowd favorite in Washington, saw two of his children born in Washington. Yeah, you might say yesterday's 33-17 victory over his old club meant a little more to him.
"I think anybody who's alive and kicking would want to play in the same situation," he said. "In your mind, you always think about the reasons a team got rid of you and want to prove them wrong. I was ready to play last night. I was fired up."
His teammates couldn't help noticing. "I was very aware of it," Herman Moore said. "I'm not saying it's animosity [that was fueling Gus' fire], but there's a certain vibe to a player when he's in that situation."
If Frerotte had played as well for the Redskins as he played yesterday for the Lions, he would still be wearing burgundy and gold. His 21 of 32 performance for 280 yards and a touchdown - with no interceptions - was one of his best ever. And it came in what Gus considered "a playoff game, at least for me. I don't know if I'm going to play again [this season]. Charlie [Batch] is going to go back in [when his sprained thumb is healed], and I'll resume my role as his backup."
Frerotte didn't even know he was going to play against the Redskins until Friday. That's when it became clear to Detroit coach Bobby Ross that Batch still wasn't ready to play. So Gus stepped in on short notice - as he did so often in his first two years in Washington - and was everything Norv Turner ever hoped he would be. He was accurate. He made good reads. And he was very much In Charge.
The pump fake he froze Champ Bailey with, setting up a 23-yard TD pass to Moore, was a thing of beauty. And he hit Germane Crowell perfectly in stride for a 71-yard gain that led to a field goal. Crowell faked out Darrell Green on the play and wouldn't have been caught by most defenders, but "I knew Darrell still had wheels," Frerotte said with a smile. "I was yelling, `Cut back! Cut back!' But Darrell ran him down."
In his last two seasons with the Redskins, Gus had a nasty habit of missing open receivers, especially deep. But he took advantage of every opportunity the Washington defense gave him yesterday. When they gave him Crowell, he threw to Crowell. When they gave him Moore, he threw to Moore. When Johnnie Morton or tight end David Sloan was the one who was open, he threw the ball to him. …