5-27-02, 2:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Last week, quarterback Gus Frerotte dropped back and did what the Bengals hope he can do for their long dormant passing game.
With his powerful right arm, he hit wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride down the middle of the field for what would have been a 50-yard pass, which the Bengals haven't had in 34 straight games.
Then, out from behind Frerotte popped No. 1 quarterback Jon Kitna, his main competition for the job. Kitna was the first to high-five him in what has become a low-maintenance quarterback controversy.
"That's the way it goes," said Frerotte last week as he took stock of the first month with his new team. "It doesn't have to be something evil."
Maybe it's because Kitna and Frerotte are so much alike.
Both are family men who brought their wives on recruiting trips to Paul Brown Stadium.
Both weren't supposed to make it in the NFL as a seventh-rounder (Frerotte) and college free-agent (Kitna).
Frerotte, who is 30, and Kitna, who turns 30 early in the season, are both running out of time to recapture their success of a few years ago.
Both have sponsored charity tournaments for kids back where they grew up. Kitna's bowling tournament has been a big hit back in Seattle-Tacoma. In fact, Frerotte is already pushing his raffle tickets for the prize that is part of his June 21-22 golf tournament to raise money for the community development center in Ford City, Pa., his hometown that is about 40 minutes from Pittsburgh.
But, even though Frerotte gets the sense Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau is going to have a 50-50 snap competition at training camp, he gives the edge right now to Kitna.
"He has the edge on me if anything just because he's been in the system and he knows probably what Coach (Bob) Bratkowski is thinking," Frerotte said. "It's going to take me a little while. Once we get to training camp, it's going to be a great competition."
Frerotte admits he has gone back in his mind and thought about what could have happened last year in order for him to have signed the four-year deal the Bengals put on the table. The $7 million deal (which can be as much as $12 million) that Kitna ended
up taking about 36 hours later.
"It wasn't like I had a long time to think about it or wait," Frerotte said. "They wanted a decision so they could move on and there were a few things I would have liked to have had. Options to get out early if something happened. . .I think that was the point. If I'm not going to get that opportunity to start or compete, then (I wouldn't come back)."
Now Frerotte has that flexibility with a one-year deal that reports say is worth $1.4 million and comparable to Kitna. And he has a chance to play rather than do what he did the past two seasons in Denver and play only when Brian Griese couldn't.
Although the scheme is different than what he had in Denver (the pass protections and blitz calls have to be learned) and his wide receivers aren't as experienced as what the Broncos have (33-year-old Super Bowl hero Ed McCaffrey was a close friend on and off the field), Frerotte loves the presence of Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon.
When he had a Pro Bowl running back in Washington with Terry Allen in 1996, Frerotte went to the Pro Bowl himself. When Broncos running back Mike Anderson broke Dillon's single-game rookie rushing record on Dec. 3, 2000 in New Orleans with 251 yards, Frerotte had a passing rating of 132.3 on 11 of 16 throwing for 201 yards.
"It does go hand in hand because we were running play-action out in the flat," Frerotte said. "Nobody was out there because everyone was sucked in on Mike. When you can combine a great runner who can keep the defense all into that box. . .guys are going to get open."
Frerotte's tournament is going to be wide open for the kids. On June 21, he'll host what amounts to a combination barbeque-carnival, then on June 22 comes the golf. He's trying to raise money for a group of teachers whom in their free time help tutor any child in math and language, as well as help high school juniors and seniors prepare for the SATs.
"I just want to be involved at home some way," said Frerotte, who used to host a tournament for the American Heart Association in the Washington D.C. area.
But they will always know him in Ford City. He's the kid who led the Ford City football team to its first district championship game ever, and helped pitch the baseball team to a state championship when he was a sophomore.
Being a Pittsburgh guy also played a role in the decision to come to Cincinnati. His wife Ann is also from there and the five-hour drive to visit the Bengals with her, "was just about right," for when they would do it with their three kids seven-years-old and under.
There was a comfort level in Denver with a house and friends. But Frerotte admits only playing in one game last year didn't satisfy his love of football.
Still, a one-year deal is a one-year deal. The Frerottes opted to buy a home on the eastern outskirts of Cincinnati in Mount Lookout, knowing the re-sale value is good. Frerotte would love to end his career here, but. . . .
"You really never know what's going to happen in the future," Frerotte said. "You'd love to plan for the long term. But you really can't. Not in this profession. Not with free agency."