The Unlikely Story of Gus Frerotte

Categories: NFL

By Jonah Keri

The Minnesota Vikings’ season hung in the balance. Another loss and the team would drop to 0-3, a deficit that few teams have overcome to claim a playoff berth. Rolling into town were the 2-0 Carolina Panthers, with star wide receiver Steve Smith back in the lineup. The Vikes’ starting quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, was so abysmal in his first two games this year that the team called in a journeyman backup to fill the void.

And so it was that Gus Frerotte became the embodiment of Minnesota’s hopes and dreams.

That Frerotte would be the man called in to resurrect the Vikings’ playoff hopes—or that he’d still be in the league at all—ranks as a minor miracle, considering the many different teams who’ve employed him, and the many eras of Gus that ensued.

You can break down Frerotte’s career into these timeframes:

The “Holy Crap, Does Heath Shuler Suck!” Era

The Washington Redskins picked Frerotte in the 7th round of the 1994 draft, the same year they chose Shuler #3 overall. Shuler proved to be another in the long line of Gino Toretta clones, great in college but unable to hack the pro game. Frerotte became Washington’s starter in his second season as a result. That first year as a starter didn’t go well, as the Skins went 3-8 in Frerotte’s starts.

Things improved from there. Frerotte led the Skins to a 9-7 record the next year, earning a Pro Bowl berth with a solid Yards Per Attempt mark of 7.35 (albeit with a measly total of 12 TD passes). He remained the Redskins’ starting QB until the start of the 1998 season. This era also included the most (in)famous moment of Gus’ career: After scoring the team’s only touchdown in a Sunday night game against the Giants, Frerotte celebrated by ramming his head into a cement wall. The result was a sprained neck and years of mockery.

The “Wait, Did He Really Play for the Lions?” Era

In fact he did, starting the 1999 season as Charlie Batch’s backup. Frerotte would make six starts that season with Batch getting hurt, posting a 2-4 record in those games. Most improbably, the Lions actually made the playoffs(!!!) that year, thrusting our man Gus into the postseason spotlight. Alas, the Lions lost…to Frerotte’s former team, the Redskins.

The “Master Plan to Sign with Teams Who Have a Fragile Starting QB” Era, Part I

This time it was Denver, backing up flammable Elway successor Brian Griese. Sure enough, Frerotte appeared in 10 games in 2000, going 4-2 in six starts that year. He helped lead the Broncos to the playoffs, before the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens knocked them out. Frerotte was rewarded with a trip back to the bench in 2001.

The Cincinnati “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” Era

Played under Dick LeBeau. Went 0-3 first three starts. Lost starting job to Jon Kitna. Let’s just move on.

The “You’re Not Getting In The Game With Daunte Around” Era

Well, Frerotte did make two starts in the two seasons he spent during his first stint in Minnesota, winning both games. But Daunte Culpepper was still a viable NFL quarterback at that point, so playing time was scarce for Gus. His 2004 season included exactly one pass attempt all year.

The “He’s a Starter Again? Really?!” Era, Part I

The Curse of Dan Marino still in full effect as the Dolphins continued to search in vain for a quality starter, Miami turned to Frerotte to be the team’s unlikely starter at age 34, eight years after his last starting job that wasn’t caused by injuries to someone else. Gus acquitted himself remarkably well, guiding the Dolphins to a 9-7 record (9-6 in his 15 starts). Though his stats were ugly (52.4% completion percentage, 6.06 YPA, 71.9 QB rating), Miami’s winning season bought Frerotte another half-decade in the league. At least.

The “Master Plan to Sign with Teams Who Have a Fragile Starting QB” Era, Part II

This time it was St. Louis, as Frerotte served Marc Bulger’s backup in 2006 and 2007. Bulger didn’t miss as many games as one might’ve expected, though his owies did allow Gus to make three starts last season. Frerotte again didn’t show much stats-wise (YPA just above 6.0, where 7.0 represents quality production for a starter), with the Rams having renounced their “Greatest Show On Turf” swagger years earlier.

The “Master Master Plan to Sign with Teams Who Have a Lousy Starting QB” Era (Part I?)

So we’ve come full circle, with Gus back in Minnesota, wisely taking one of the few NFL jobs that could lead to a 37-year-old QB who was never that good in the first place claiming a starting gig. Then again, with the Vikings’ solid defense, offensive line and running game, maybe Frerotte merely needs to pull a Trent Dilfer, serve as a caretaker all year, and let his team do the rest.

Then maybe four months from now, we’ll be talking about the most unlikely era of all: Gus Frerotte, Super Bowl Champion.

Jonah Keri is a writer for ESPN.com and a zillion other publications. Throw your support behind Gus by e-mailing jonahkeri.com.

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