Thursday, May 02, 2002

Bengals seek 'Frerari' in used-car lot




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        Gus Frerotte improves the Bengals the way three mint juleps improve the fourth. Once your taste buds have been numbed, you can swallow almost anything. Once you've bestowed your allegiance on the Bengals, you stop thinking in terms of bold strokes and become resigned to incremental improvement.

        Is Frerotte an upgrade from Jon Kitna? Probably. Does he fortify the local football franchise's flimsy quarterback position? Certainly. Was his Wednesday signing something to celebrate?

        You make the call.

        Frerotte's lasting mark on the NFL was his 1997 post-touchdown head-butt of a concrete wall. The wall was unhurt. Frerotte, however, suffered a slight concussion.

        You may remember that video from’“America's Quaziest Quarterbacks” (narration by Elmer Fudd) and wonderwhat sort of maroon attempts such a stupid stunt. Or you may have seen enough of Frerotte to consider it in character.

        You may be wondering, as is Jon Kitna, what the signing of Frerotte really says about the future of this franchise and its incumbent quarterback. Not that it's all that difficult to decipher.

        So long as the Bengals keep starting stopgap quarterbacks, they will be a magnet for mediocrity. Frerotte signed with Cincinnati because he perceives an opportunity to take Kitna's job. Like Jay Schroeder, Neil O'Donnell and Scott Mitchell before him — like Kitna himself ’— Frerotte looks upon Cincinnati not so much as a desirable destination but as a city conducive for a coup.

        Frerotte has been promised the chance to compete for the starting job, a concession that reflects both his ability and Kitna's vulnerability. Though Kitna says the move will create unneeded uncertainty ’— “I'm not afraid of the competition,” he told Bengals.com, “but I just don't think it's the best thing for the team.”’— it is a rare Bengals fan who prefers the status quo to the outside possibility of progress.

        In short, what's good for Kitna is not necessarily what's best for the Bengals. What's best for the Bengals is having their starting quarterback play with enough proficiency that fans stop waxing nostalgic about Jeff Blake.

        Because Kitna inspired so little confidence while throwing 22 interceptions last season, the Bengals made their second play in two years for Elvis Grbac. Last year, Grbac chose to sign with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens over a more lucrative deal in Cincinnati. That was understandable. But this year, Grbac's preferred alternative was retirement. That was galling.

        When New England's Drew Bledsoe was the most coveted quarterback on this year's trade market, he let it leak that he preferred to play somewhere’— anywhere — other than Cincinnati. He subsequently embraced a move to Buffalo, of all places.

        If the Bengals were a prospective prom date, the girl would need that night to wash her hair.

        Even Gus Frerotte, ostensibly eager to regain starting status, has made only a one-year commitment to Mike Brown & Family. If he plays well, he might be able to parlay his success into a better gig. If he doesn't play well, it means more job security for Jon Kitna.

        Either way, it's still a stopgap situation. If you should feel like head-butting a concrete wall, feel free.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Eenquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

       



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