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Bill Munson is, at the moment, the quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams; last year he was the quarterback of Utah State University, and the gap between Utah State and the Rams is roughly the equivalent of the gap between the northern and southern cliffs of the Grand Canyon. Munson has bridged this gap, because he can throw a football quickly and he does not worry about what will happen to him after he throws it. He has succeeded in a trade where immediate success is a rare thing.
His success is made unique by the fact that he has been a blocking back and defensive end for most of his football career, which started in high school in Lodi, Calif. Though Lodi had a good team—17-3 in Munson's last two years—Munson was unwanted by the college scholarship dealers, and he languished for a year at Foothill Junior College befor Utah State discovered him and gave him a scholarship.
Silent by nature and nonaggressive in appearance, Munson is one of those athletes who become combative under the pressure of play. Poise seems to characterize his every move on or off the field, but underneath there is some worry.
"I'm nervous," he said the other day. "I'm not afraid of what I can do. But I know the Rams don't like to go with a rookie quarterback, and I'm a rookie, so it worries me. It's money in their pockets to win, and I don't want to lose. I want them to respect me. If they respect the quarterback, a club with all this talent will win. If they don't, the talent doesn't mean much. You know what I mean?"
Munson is a young man with wide, sloped shoulders and the cold, squarely lined face of a Bob Waterfield plus the arm and enthusiasm of a Norman Van Brocklin. He was drafted first by the Rams, 16th by the Houston Oilers in the American Football League, and he was the Rams' first draft choice on the recommendation of Waterfield, who spent last fall looking at all of the college quarterbacks.
In the normal course of events, Munson would not have started a game for the Rams for three or four years; most rookies need that much time to acclimate themselves. He was flung headlong into competition when Roman Gabriel, the first Ram quarterback, was hurt.
"Maybe it would have been better if I could have sat on the bench," he said the night after the Rams tied the Detroit Lions 17-17 in a game they should have won. "I still don't recognize defense too well. I mean, they had the zone, and I didn't know where they were hiding it. And Coach Svare says I see a little too much, and I guess he's right. But I learn fast this way. Faster than you can learn on the bench."
What Harland Svare said about Munson's seeing too much is a compliment, in a way. When a pro quarterback drops back to throw, he looks down a lane for his receiver. When Munson looks down this lane, he sees a linebacker drifting through it and holds the ball. He should see him—but not let his attention become fixed. A Van Brocklin gets rid of the ball right away, knowing the linebacker will have moved out of the lane by the time the ball arrives on target.
"It takes years to learn to throw now against what will happen;" Svare said. " Munson will learn it. He is a fine rookie."
Munson was first spotted by Vic Schwenk—now a Ram backfield coach—in 1961 when Schwenk was a scout. He was looking at Merlin Olsen, a big defensive tackle. Olsen was playing at Utah State, and Schwenk watched him in a varsity-alumni game, as did a dozen other pro scouts. The alumni were short of personnel, so Johnny Ralston, now head coach at Stanford, assigned some poorly regarded sophomores—including Munson—to the alums. Ralston never thought much of Munson as a quarterback and used him mostly as a defensive back—second-string, at that.