If the San Francisco 49ers make it all the way to the Super Bowl this season, as well they might, then they will owe a long stretch of that journey to the strong right arm of Quarterback John Riley Brodie. Ah, but to what does John Brodie owe his strong right arm? Hold on to your hip flasks, sports fans. If one is to believe Brodie himself, and there is no cause to doubt him, a large part of his success in piloting the 49ers last year to their first title (NFC, Western Division) was due to a gnomish wizard who can wing a pigskin approximately nine yards on the fly, run from scrimmage at minus five yards per carry and block with all the rugged authority of a roll of Charmin.
The hierophant in question is L. Ron Hubbard, a reformed science-fiction writer and the founding prophet of Scientology. And what, you might ask, is Scientology? Gather around the Sacred Computer, heathens, and harken to the Holy Bleep.
Acknowleged by a federal judge to have met the qualifications of being a religion, the Church of Scientology claims six million adherents and some 700 churches and missions scattered from California (naturally) through Europe and Africa to New Zealand. Scientology is a streamlined amalgam of positive thinking, computer science and diluted Freudian self-analysis. Riteless—and basically wrongless—it encourages its adherents to break the closed circle of their own doubts and concentrate their energies on the fulfillment of wishes that they had never before believed possible. To achieve these ends, the "priests" of Scientology, identified in the Handbook for Preclears (its dust jacket copy commends it as "a magnificent bridge out of unwanted conditions to the beginnings of Scientology") as auditors, guide the faithful through an intense and intensive sequence of 15 self-analytical Acts, during which the neophytes clear their mind banks of doubts in the manner of a computer warming up for a new problem. These self-defeating hang-ups are known in Scientologese as "service facsimiles." According to High Auditor Hubbard, "Arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, myopia, astigmatism, bizarre aches and pains, sinusitis, colds, ulcers, migraine headaches, toothaches, poliomyelitis deformities, fatness and skin malformations," not to mention sexual inadequacy and the blahs, may be "traceable to service facsimiles." As the preclear purges himself of these "definitely nonsurvival situations," he brings into full play his powerful "Theta." Whazzat, you say? Well, if you didn't know you had one, it's located just under your.... Actually, Theta is "the mathematical symbol for the static of thought. By Theta is meant the static itself. By facsimile is meant Theta which contains impressions by perception."
An Operating Thetan, or O.T., as the fully cleared Scientology adherent is known, can master nearly any earthly or extraterrestrial situation, from beating out a co-worker for a desirable promotion or coping with a cantankerous wife through defeating the Dallas Cowboys or death itself. The aim of the O.T. is to be the Cause in all developments, never the Effect—a laudable aim for any human being, and particularly for NFL quarterbacks.
In any event, an O.T., as Brodie hopes to become, is not to be taken frivolously, as the defenses of many a team discovered last season when he was only a Scientological beginner. Intense but in tune with the totality of the universe, he knows what he wants, when he wants it, why, where and how to get it. Aware of the rights and sensibilities of others (including pets, plants, wildlife, newsmen, the earth, the stars and the very cosmos), he nonetheless realizes that he must be in firm control of his environment and never dilatory in pursuit of his goals. O.T.s have been known to claim that they can move mountains in the Koranic sense. If so, an O.T. was once asked, why are the Himalayas and the Rockies still in place? "We only move them at night," came the reply, "when no one is looking."
John Brodie's problem is not quite so big as the transposition of mountain ranges. All he has to move is a football team. To that end, his Scientological explorations seem to have proved fruitful. "I'm very serious about Scientology," he says, with his muddy-brown eyes hardening toward flint to dissuade any quips. "People have tended to portray me as something of a goof-off. I'm a lot more serious than that." He grins and extends his passing arm full length. "In the past I felt my talent was out to here, but my performance was only about there." He hacks at his elbow. "Early last season my arm was bothering me. Ever since I broke it in 1963, it hadn't been completely right. A friend of mine suggested that I take a crack at Scientology, just to see if I couldn't clear it up. Maybe it was psychosomatic—a 'service facsimile' that I called up from the past to justify my failure or, in fact, to set up another failure and another gratifying session of self-pity. Well, I know it's hard to believe, but after just two hour-long sessions my arm got better and it's been right ever since. I've gone a long way since then—I'm just a step short of 'clear.' For the first four months of my preclear, I didn't say a word to my wife or kids. But Susan could tell that something was going on. Finally she asked me what I was doing, what was changing me. Now she and the four kids are into Scientology, too. In fact, Susan will probably beat me to clear."
There was little in John Brodie's earlier life that would lead one to believe he would become a convert to a cult like Scientology. He was born and raised in San Francisco, where his father was an administrator of the Kaiser Medical Plan that flourished after World War II. Educated at good schools, though not with the best of grades, he went on to Stanford, where he refused an athletic scholarship and majored in history. Although he got his degree, Brodie had his problems at Stanford, in studies if not in football—he was unanimous All-America in 1956. He was accused of cribbing on a cinema-studies exam, and no less a San Francisco tastemaker than Lucius Beebe called him a "boob." Brodie still bridles at the accusation. "Who was more of a freak?" he is wont to ask. And he firmly denies the cheating charge. Nonetheless, it did seem a bit too easy for the young Brodie. Blessed with natural athletic talent, endowed by nature and his clothiers with a certain inalienable charm, he married well—Susan is the daughter of a successful Bay Area physician—and signed a good pro contract.
Eventually, he paid off for the 49ers. While hutting the team to a 10-3-1 record last year—the best ever in the club's NFL history—he passed for 2,941 yards, tops in the league. His 24 touchdown passes, half of them to Wide Receiver Gene Washington, were also a seasonal high, while his eight sackings were a low for any regular quarterback. In the league ratings, only Washington's Sonny Jurgensen was ahead of Brodie in pass completions—59.9% to 59%—and no one in the NFC had fewer interceptions (10). As the new season gets under way, Brodie ranks seventh on the NFL's lifetime list of leading passers.
Little wonder, then, that Brodie was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player for 1970. Dallas Coach Tom Landry, who is not known for gushiness when it comes to the opposition, dripped verbal honey all over him: "The highest tribute that can be paid a quarterback is to say that he strikes a little fear into whatever defensive team he faces. Brodie does that. I marvel at the way he has now mastered the art of quarterback." Landry, of course, could afford to be effusive. In the NFC championship game, the Dallas defense—as parsimonious of yardage as its mentor is of praise—snagged two of Brodie's passes and limited him to only one touchdown pass, and the 49er season came to a close with a 17-10 loss. To those who fancy the occult, it appeared to have been a triumph of shrink over computer: Brodie's opposite number, Dallas Quarterback Craig Morton, had been undergoing hypnosis therapy throughout the season and keeping it just as quiet as Brodie had his own Scientological involvement. (In the final analysis, of course, it was the unconstructed, free-swinging, extroverted toe of Baltimore Placekicker Jim O'Brien that determined the NFL championship—a kick in the tail for both Freud and Hubbard.)
Last year was the first in its 21 years of NFL existence that a San Francisco team had fought it out all the way and avoided the choke that has given the city a loser's reputation in professional sports. It was as strong and dramatic a finish as any in recent seasons. After dropping a "must" game to the Los Angeles Rams at Kezar Stadium 30-13, the 49ers had to win their remaining three regular-season games in order to stay in contention for the division title. In the saloons and salons of Baghdad-by-the-Bay, the faithless winced and waited for "El Foldo," which blows into town as regularly as the Pacific fog. Not to worry. The 49ers came from behind in all three games, surprising not only their fans but themselves. Brodie passed for 647 yards and had only one interception. Seven of his passes went for touchdowns (five of them to Washington). Against the Saints, who had tied San Francisco 20-20 earlier in the season, Brodie added insult to injury by running the ball in from a yard out. " Brodie has always been a good quarterback," Coach Dick Nolan argues stoutly. "Last season he was a great one. The 49ers were a better ball club, stronger in almost every department. But it was John's consistency that brought us the division championship."