Mitch Frerotte will be back in Rich Stadium Sunday, not to play but to join the rest of the Frerotte clan in rooting for cousin Gus, who will quarterback the Washington Redskins against the Bills.
"We'll all be there because we're all so proud of Gus," Brenda Frerotte, first cousin of Gus and Mitch, said Tuesday. "Sorry, but we hope they kick the Bills' butts."
His playing career over after he spent two years on the Seattle Seahawks' injured reserve list with a neck injury, Mitch is back home in Kittanning, Pa., helping coach the local high school and following Gus's Cinderella story.
The highlight of Mitch's career with the Bills was when he lined up at fullback and caught a touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a January 1993 playoff game.
Gritty, scrappy and undersized, Mitch was just what a typical offensive lineman is supposed to be -- a blue-collar guy with no pretensions. He drove a junky-looking used car. His good wheels were his Harley. When Mitch was a rookie, Jim Ringo, then the team's offensive line coach, called him his "Pit Bull." It sure fit.
"Gus isn't quite that basic, but he is a typical Western Pennsylvania quarterback -- tough with a smooth passing touch," said one Redskins insider.
Little wonder, then, that Sonny Jurgensen, the Hall of Famer who is now a Redskins' broadcaster, has kind of adopted Frerotte as his kind of quarterback.
Gus is getting recognition for consistency, not for brilliant moments or late-game heroics. For example, he is the NFL's 10th-rated passer overall, 10th in fourth-quarter performance and ninth in third-down situations. His completion percentage climbed to 59.8 after he hit on 18 of 25 (three were dropped) against Indianapolis Sunday. His average per attempt is a healthy 7.68 yards.
Although he's thrown only six touchdowns, he's positioned the Redskins for a lot of Terry Allen's league-leading 13 rushing TDs.
Most important, he's made few mistakes. Bills fans certainly can appreciate that this year of all years. Frerotte has thrown only five interceptions, four on balls that were deflected.
If scouting was an accurate science, Frerotte would perhaps be a third quarterback or not in the league at all. When the NFL draft was held in 1994, the two quarterbacks you heard about most were Heath Shuler of Tennessee and Trent Dilfer of Fresno State. Nobody, it seemed, was eager to draft Gus Frerotte of Tulsa University.
Washington had the first choice among the teams looking to draft a quarterback that year. The Redskins selected Shuler with the third pick in the draft. Later on, for good measure, they took another quarterback, Frerotte, with the 197th pick. You already know who ended up starting and who is carrying a clipboard.
In their rookie year, Shuler held out well into training camp, much to the displeasure of coach Norv Turner and Redskins fans. Frerotte jumped into the opening. Not only did he get a head start in competing for the position, he quickly became "The People's Choice." He hasn't let the people down.
While Shuler, the big-money high draft pick, watches, Frerotte has led the Redskins to their best start since the 1991 team, which won its first 11 on the way to Super Bowl XXVI against the Bills. And each win is costing Frerotte some money. After every victory, the quarterback takes the entire offensive unit -- and guests -- out for Monday night dinner. The Virginia restaurant picks up the tab and Frerotte takes care of tips for the bartender and waitstaff.
"We lose, we don't eat out," said Frerotte, who is playing for the NFL minimum third-year salary of $196,000.
When Frerotte becomes a restricted free agent after this season, Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins' crusty owner, will have to fork over about $4 million to keep him, which is a lot more money than cousin Mitch ever dreamed of making in the NFL.