Monday, August 2, 2010

Mondays with Murray

Pat Haden, a former quarterback for the USC Trojans, is the new athletic director at USC.



The Rams' QB Show

On October 11 of this year, a terrible thing happened to Patrick Capper Haden, Esq. He was informed he was taking over as the Rams starting quarterback.
   It was like drawing aces and eights, becoming a member of the Last Man Club, like finding a card in your mailbox in 1912: Dear Sir: This is to inform you your stateroom has been reserved for the maiden voyage of the H.M.S. Titanic . . ." or "Miss Lucrezia Borgia requests the pleasure of your company at an informal dinner for two at the palace this Friday night . . ." or a notification your presence is requested at a question-and-answer session at Gestapo headquarters as soon as you can get dressed.
   It's not that the pay isn't good, the hours reasonable or the working conditions ideal. There's no heavy lifting, as Vin Scully says. It's just that it's so temporary. The Rams treat the quarterback position like the Gong Show. The life expectancy of a running back may be 3.7 years, of a lineman, 5.7 years. For a Ram quarterback, it may be two passes. On some clubs, the coaching staff sends the quarterback out with a vote of confidence. "We're with you 100 per cent." On the Rams, it's qualified. "We're with you 30 per cent." Or "The staff is behind you, 5-4, with one abstaining."
   Once they took the quarterback out of the title game — the title game! — after two passes. Last year the quarterback passed for 436 yards and the owner kissed him as he came off the field. Two weeks later, he was on the bench. The Rams were real patient with their quarterbacks. "Take your time, son. Take two series."
   The problem is not difficult to isolate. The Ram fans were weaned on Bob Waterfield and Dutch Van Brocklin. The Ram owner was weaned on Johnny Unitas' 15 years. Small wonder they're numbed to shock by an incomplete pass.
   They started this season with a reputation of throwing quarterbacks off balconies like bridal bouquets. They were down to two by opening game, in reality 1-1/2, because one had no mobility and one had no experience. Finally, Joe Namath lost the job to Pat Haden, largely on the value that Haden could at least walk. Joe would be just as effective up to his armpits in quicksand.
   Everyone knew Pat Haden couldn't make it. He was too little, too green, too white, too slow and too bright. On the Rams, they didn't like their quarterbacks to think. They didn't trust their quarterbacks to call plays. I mean, if he was smart, what was he doing in a game where you needed a helmet? Anyway, Haden didn't even have a Southern accent.
   The Rams never did have too much faith in him. In 1975, the Rams drafted him about 50th or so or just before they began making their picks blindfolded and, when the World Football League Sun bid for him, they yawned and advised him to take it. When the Sun folded, they invited him to come into training camp, but when he said he'd have to leave to go to England as a Rhodes scholar before the season began, they said "Why not, kid?" They'd get somebody else to hold on placekicks.
   Football coaches are funny. They regularly concede that cornerbacks, safety men, and now even linebackers have to be quick, slippery and agile to play the game. Five-foot-10 corner men are not uncommon. A safety over 6 feet is a museum piece. Even defensive ends are encouraged to slim down for elusiveness
   But they want big, awkward, clumsy men at quarterback. If a guy can touch his nose with his eyes closed, tie his own shoes or run faster than he can walk, he's suspect.
   But Pat Haden has held the Ram quarterback job longer than anyone in the past five years precisely because he's not a target, he's harder to find than a collar button. Sometimes when he hunches over the ball, defensive linemen can't tell which one is the football.
   If he keeps it up, he's going to establish a bull market for quarterbacks who fit into a Volkswagen, can understand the conversation in the House of Lords, know that William of Orange wasn't from Santa Ana — and can call his own plays.
   But it won't work. Even if he loads the Rams to the Super Bowl, over the winter they'll trade for someone else. When Pat asks how come, they'll tell him, "You're too tall, kid. We're looking for somebody shorter. And lighter."

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

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