GUS FREROTTE AND THE HEAD…HIS HEAD

The headbutt or in the more pleasing-to-the-ear French parlance the ‘coup de tete’, is also known as the Glasgow Kiss, a reference to that city’s reputation for a knock in the noggin or more than likely something worse.

Not a bad reference but of course this is the United Kingdom where humor is perhaps as cardboard-tasting as the food.

But never mind. Back to the French (whose humor is all their own). The etymology of the word is traced to the French “botter,” or ‘to kick.’

Rams and bison are well known for butting with their heads and horns and various species in the animal kingdom pull out the headbutting card during courtship. A well-placed rising, sideways or backwards application is like a good kick.

To the head with your head.

Giving is better than receiving.

According to those in the know, there is a definitive method to the proper headbutt execution/madness. The eHow guide advises thusly:

“Strike your opponent quickly. Snap your neck forward and make contact with the bridge of their nose, eyebrow area, or cheek bones. These are the most vulnerable parts of your opponent’s face. Be sure that your strike is quick and specific; if you hedge at all, you will do more damage to yourself than your opponent.”

To defend against the headbutt is simply to use common sense. Don’t risk getting too close; if you find your personal space disappearing, move out of range while ‘framing’ with one upraised arm, leaving the other arm free to strike as necessary. Keeping some distance while strategizing is key.

Marco Materazzi might have considered this during the 2006 World Cup Final between his native Italy and France. Near the end of extra time during the July 9th. extravaganza staged in Berlin, emotions were roiling and a verbal altercation ensued between the Italian defender and the French megastar striker and captain Zinedine Zidane.

Persistent tugging on Zidane’s jersey during play prompted the Frenchman to scornfully remark to Materazzi that “if you want my shirt so much I’ll give it to you afterwards.”

Materazzi replied that he’d prefer Zidane’s sister.

In immediate response, perhaps the most famous headbutt in sports history — to the chest of Materazzi viciously, flattening him — was administered by Zidane who was red-carded. (He was also given a three-match ban for his part in the exchange, but as he had retired from football, he was ordered to do three days of community service instead).

Italy went on to hoist the World Cup trophy, defeating France in a penalty shootout and in spite of receiving a two-match ban himself, maybe Materazzi was thinking all along.

Evander Holyfield, the former boxer who competed professionally for twenty-five years (1984–2011) and was the only fighter to reign as the undisputed champion in both the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions as well as being the sport’s only four-time world heavyweight champion, elevated the headbutt to an art form.

In his second fight with Mike Tyson (June 28, 1997) known as “The Bite Fight,” his unchecked headbutts spilling over from their first encounter according to Iron Mike, cost him the helix portion of an ear.

Tyson was so enraged by the repeated headbutting and deep cuts which resulted that he bit Holyfield on each ear, with the second effort yielding a piece of the top of the right one which Tyson promptly spat onto the canvas. His subsequent disqualification, the ensuing melee, his loss of license, and the levy of a $3 million fine were all worth it to him.

Hasim Rahman knew the feeling on June 1, 2002 when Holyfield schooled the younger fella by again using his head.

Out-thinking, outsmarting and headbutting — once in the fourth round and again in the seventh. In fact, by 1:40 of the eighth round when the heavyweight bout was stopped by referee Tony Orlando, Rahman sported such a frightening grapefruit-sized welt on the left side of his forehead, it appeared that he was growing another head.

Ringside doctor Howard Taylor had advised Orlando that Rahman’s severe hematoma represented a grave enough cause for concern that a continued assault on the area with either a glove or especially a headbutt would not end well for Rahman.

Prudent reasoning.

The fact that Gus Frerotte is involved in the brain health industry these days is nothing short of remarkable.

In 2017 Frerotte joined a Coraopolis, PA. startup, RC21X which developed a cloud-based tool to monitor brain performance. He became the Vice-President of Brain Health Initiatives and also agreed to serve as a brand ambassador for the company.

His most visible position in years prior was that of quarterback for seven NFL teams — including two tours with the Vikings — from 1994–2008. A seventh-round draft pick (197th. overall) of the Washington Redskins out of Tulsa in ’94, his career numbers, largely as a backup but with temporary starting assignments often granted (93 over fifteen years) were average.

On the other hand, few players parlay such low draft selection into lengthy careers; hello Tom Brady.

Frerotte’s TD-INT ratio was 114–106; his QBR was 74.2%; and he threw for 21,291 yards.

What makes his most recent post-retirement foray a bit curious can be traced to his actions on the gridiron in a Redskins-Giants game on November 23, 1997.

In a nationally televised prime time NFC East game covered by ESPN between two evenly-matched teams with no love lost, Frerotte, the much-maligned fourth-year Redskins QB was on the hot seat yet again.

With 2:16 remaining in the first half of an overtime contest which would end 7–7, the slow-footed Frerotte rolled right and scored from 1 yard out.

Out of sheer joy and perhaps a touch of disbelief that he was able to walk right in, Frerotte proceeded to run through the end zone and headbutt the padded wall directly behind the goalposts.

So much for his touchdown celebration. He was diagnosed with a sprained neck and ruled out for the second half.

More than twenty years later, it still smarts.

Epic blunders die hard.

“You know, if you didn’t have a sense of humor about it, I don’t think you would even survive it,” Frerotte sheepishly noted. Whew. “Because I don’t think I go anywhere without somebody talking about it, or asking me about it, or what happened. And they try to be nice, but they really kind of want to be mean — some people. And other people just want to know what happened.”

Bill Gramatica, Stephen Tulloch and Lamarr Houston join Frerotte in the bizarre NFL fraternity of those players injured during celebratory moments.

And on May 29, 2010 Kendrys Morales then of the Los Angeles Angels suffered a freak lower left leg and ankle injury while celebrating at home plate with his teammates after hitting a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners; he was out of baseball for nearly two years as a result.

Solace for Frerotte? Not really.

“It happened, and I’ve been able to move on from it, but I can still talk about it, because it was a part of my life,” Frerotte reflects. “You know, it didn’t define me, and it still doesn’t define me. And that’s what’s great. I think if I didn’t laugh about it, I wouldn’t have been able to go on and play another 10 years after that.”

Brain health and ways in which to diagnose and monitor the brain are hot-button issues today in light of the enormous advances in CTE research, among other traumatic conditions related to contact sports. A mobile app called “Roberto” is the main feature of RC21X; it offers a series of video-game-like tests to monitor brain performance which take about six minutes.

Frerotte describes the interactive tool as “a thermometer for the brain,” created as a smaller version of a full neuro-psych test, also applicable outside of sports.

Real cutting-edge material.

It’s a shame that Frerotte wasn’t able to take his cerebral temperature on that fateful November night in 1997.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in June 2018.]

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