Shuler Will Return to RFK in ’07

Posted January 19, 2007 at 6:23pm

He may not have made any Pro Bowls or been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Democrats are hoping freshman Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) still shares some athletic similarities with former Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.).

We’ll find out this summer when Shuler returns to his old stomping grounds at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium for the 46th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

Declaring his intent to play in the game, the one-time Washington Redskins quarterback said, “It’s great for camaraderie, great to get out and being involved and making money for charity.”

But for a Democratic squad mired in a six-year losing streak, Shuler’s arrival could mean much more than another way to generate dollars for the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

“I don’t know if they were recruiting me more for Congress or the game,” said Shuler, who knocked off eight-term Rep. Charles Taylor (R) in November.

Shuler was drafted No. 3 overall by the Redskins in the 1994 NFL draft, but he never was able to replicate his collegiate success in the pros and was out of football by 1998. Nevertheless, Shuler likely has more talent than anyone else the Democrats can field.

“I kidded people during the campaign that it was the only reason I sent him a check,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the Democratic manager. “He played at a level of competition not unlike Steve Largent.”

Largent, of course, retired from the NFL in possession of multiple receiving records and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995. As the Republicans’ starting pitcher he went 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA, winning most valuable player honors three times.

The former Seattle Seahawk and current president and CEO of CTIA said baseball was “the most fun I had” in Congress, echoing Shuler’s thoughts about the camaraderie associated with the game.

And how would one ex-footballer advise another about preparing for the game?

“Nobody’s in shape, so if he gets himself in shape he’ll be ahead of everyone else,” Largent said.

Shuler does have some baseball experience to lean on, even if it comes from his years at Swain County High School, where he pitched in addition to playing first base and catcher.

“I wouldn’t mind pitching,” said Shuler, who admits he needs to get in shape. “I told Andrew [Whalen, his press secretary], ‘Bring your mitt back up here — we’ll have to throw a little.’”

Doyle, citing similarities between pitching and playing quarterback, certainly sees Shuler as a possibility to take the mound.

“He told me, ‘I can throw pretty hard but it might not always be straight,’” said Doyle, who then replied, “That might be even better.”

While Doyle is looking forward to his new player, others predict only negatives for Shuler and his team.

Jason Woodmansee, the blogger behind StopShuler.com during the campaign, recalled Shuler being “booed mercilessly” during his last game at RFK Stadium and warned the Democrats against using the one-time quarterback.

“Using history as a guide, he will hold out until he gets what he wants — maybe better committee assignments and a bill passed that strips Charlie Ward of the 1993 Heisman Trophy,” Woodmansee joked. “When he finally plays, his first pitch will be intercepted and returned for a touchdown, he will injure himself in his second game and be replaced by an unheralded Congressman out of Oklahoma who will perform much better. And then he’ll blame the whole thing on [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) being a ‘rookie coach.’”

Nevertheless, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), manager of the Republican team, would love to have Shuler on his squad.

“I hope we can get him to switch parties before the game so we can have him on our team,” Barton said, “but if we can’t do that, I’m going to send him a case of beer the day before the game and the day of the game and encourage him to imbibe generously.”

Perhaps realizing it will take more than one new player, Doyle isn’t pinning all of his hopes on Shuler, citing two other Democratic freshmen who could have an impact on the game: Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa (“supposed to be a good athlete”) and Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, a standout high school football player who also played at Florida State before getting injured.

“I don’t want to put any pressure on them,” said Doyle, who plans to speak to all the freshman Democrats about the game.

But no matter who joins the team, Shuler is bound to be the biggest name to take the field, and he is looking forward to returning to RFK, the Redskins’ former home.

“I guess the good thing is it can’t any worse from when I played there last,” he said. “I’m looking forward to redeeming myself.”