"If we didn't have to play our offense," said San Francisco Broadcaster Lon Simmons in an off-the-air aside, "we'd have a string of 0-0 ties."
The man who must shoulder the burden of the turnaround turnabout is Brodie. His protection can scarcely be faulted. He has been sacked only nine times, and yet he has thrown all those interceptions. Nolan insists, however, that Brodie is not having a bad year. Any quarterback who throws the ball as often as Brodie does—303 times already—will have interceptions, he protests. Last season was merely an exception.
"Starr and Unitas had a lot of interceptions in their good years, too," Nolan said before last weekend's debacle. "And Starr didn't throw half as many passes as Brodie. There is no doubt about it. John is one of the best."
In 15 years as a 49er, Brodie has learned to live with criticism. As the 49er quarterback with the longest tenure, he obviously has the distinction of being the most booed man in the team's history. "They boo Brodie in grocery stores," said one fan several seasons back. "Membership in my organization has doubled," the founder and president of the John Brodie Fan Club of Northern California, James S. Todt, once boasted, "to five."
Superficially, at least, Brodie seems unmoved by derision. He seems too cool to be moved by anything short of Deacon Jones in a dark alley. Brodie is glib, charming, a 1950s-style big man on campus. He is, in the opinion of his intimates, however, a far more complex person, an introspective man who worries about his responsibilities, his confidence, his performance.
"He's the most complicated man I've ever known," says Gene Washington, who is not only Brodie's favorite receiver but his road roommate and close friend as well. "He's a very private person. He's very proud. No braggart, just proud. I like to think of myself as a competitive person, but I can do some things just for fun. John's got to win at everything. He's a good winner, but not a good loser."
The outer Brodie seemed to be a good enough loser after Sunday's game, even if the inner one was seething. "There ain't any secrets in this game," he said, waiting patiently for the team bus to remove him from the scene of the crime. "You got to get the ball in the end zone. They don't give credit for yards gained. I think we're just going to have to take a long look at ourselves. This thing isn't over yet."
What the 49ers see after their long look won't be as pleasing, surely, as what the Rams will be seeing of themselves in the game films—if, on a short work week, they have any time for narcissism.
"That's the best game we've played all year," Prothro said afterward. "I think we've progressed with each game. We really haven't had a bad one all year. And there aren't many teams who can say that."
The Rams' passing attack did improve notably in this second 49er game. In the first game, in San Francisco, with Gabriel sidelined for three quarters with a slight concussion, they completed only two of 12 passes for a net loss of 18 yards. Sunday they completed five of 16 for 49 yards. That's a total gain of 31 yards passing in two games against the 49ers, both victories. Obviously, you can win in this league without the pass.