Nor did he. After a season on the Ram bench he served a two-year Army hitch, leading Fort Ord to the national service championship. When he returned he was still low man on the Rams, behind Van Brocklin and Wade, and he played very little.
"At least," he says, "Hamp Pool, the Ram coach, took a lot of interest in me. He talked tactics to me, and I learned from him."
Bukich stayed with the Rams until 1958, earning a small reputation for the power of his arm, but he was not an accurate passer. "He could throw the ball a mile," says a Ram coach of those days. "I heard that he could throw it from one goal line to the other, but we never asked him to do that. A guy could throw his arm right out of the park with a fool stunt like that. But he had some arm. I saw him flick a ball 80 yards in the air once in practice. I mean, he dropped back and it looked like it was all wrist—just a flick—and the ball went 80 yards. I didn't believe it."
In Chicago, Halas got an itch to own that arm. "We heard how strong he was," Halas says, "and when he became available we traded for him." Bukich went to the Bears at the beginning of the 1959 season. He discovered that Chicago was oversupplied with quarterbacks, with three other Bs under contract: Ed Brown, George Blanda and Zeke Bratkowski. Halas shipped him to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
" Mr. Halas told me it was only temporary," Bukich recalls. "He said he would get me back in a couple of years. I didn't believe it at the time, but he was true to his word."
Bukich spent the 1960 and 1961 seasons with the Steelers, sitting through much of 1960 but playing most of the following year when Bobby Layne, the resident quarterback, was injured.
"By then," says Bukich, "I thought I was ready. It takes five or six years, and I had put in the time. I learned from Van Brocklin and Layne. Not that either of them went out of his way to help me. I mean just watching them operate. Van Brocklin was the best passer I ever saw. He got rid of the ball quick. He couldn't run, but in a small area his feet were so fast that he could avoid the pass rush. He was like Layne in running a club—in complete control. Both of them knew exactly what to expect from every defense and they knew how to pick them apart."
It was back to the Bears for Bukich in 1962—and back to the bench. "My development as a quarterback was not a matter of trial and error," he says somewhat ruefully. "At least I wasn't thrown in there as a rookie to make or break myself, the way Norm Snead was at Washington and Lamar McHan was with the Chicago Cardinals and Fran Tarkenton was at Minnesota. That can be disastrous to a young player. Look at the beating Snead and McHan took in their rookie seasons. Tarkenton survived because he is a scrambler and because he has an ex-quarterback as a coach. Van Brocklin understands a quarterback's problems."
Bukich continued, "But it seems that I was always going into a game under special circumstance. We were either so far ahead that I went in to hold down the score or so far behind that I went in to throw bombs for quick scores. I almost never played to a regular game plan."
That changed abruptly last year, of course, when Bukich got hold of the Bears and never let go. "The Bear offense is more complicated than most," says Bukich in his professorial way, "but I have been able to assimilate it. I enjoy that part of football. Our research shows that a team has the ball on offense about 13 times in a typical game. That is, if it makes no mistakes. If your defense can take the ball away from the other team six or seven times by interceptions, recovering fumbles, stopping them on third-down plays or on blocked kicks, then the ratio swings significantly in your favor. We have the kind of defense that can often give the offense that edge.