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One giant step for L.A. while Oakland limps
Joe Marshall
December 12, 1977
The Rams clinched their division title with a 20-14 victory over the Raiders, who with a hobbled quarterback now face a struggle just to make the playoffs
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December 12, 1977

One Giant Step For L.a. While Oakland Limps

The Rams clinched their division title with a 20-14 victory over the Raiders, who with a hobbled quarterback now face a struggle just to make the playoffs

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Knox is said to be too conservative, that he runs the ball too much. Maybe so, but he doesn't run it as much as Oakland does—and no one calls the Raiders boring. Nor did anyone call Buffalo dull when O. J. Simpson carried on almost every play. At running back Knox has Lawrence McCutcheon, a model of efficiency, if not flash. In four of Knox' five years McCutcheon has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He passed that again Sunday, picking up 97 to raise his season total to 1,061. In all that time, though, McCutcheon has never gained more than 45 on a single play.

To make matters worse for Knox, his accomplishments are belittled by the claims of his coaching peers and his owner that the Rams have pro football's best personnel, a highly questionable assertion. The coach's plight is so absurd that last week Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray was moved to write, "What Chuck Knox should move the act where he'd be appreciated."

Knox' position wasn't made any more bearable when the Rams got off to a miserable start this season, losing five of six exhibitions and two of their first four regular-season games. It was after that fourth game, a Monday night 24-23 loss to Chicago, that Haden replaced Namath as the starting quarterback, and much of the credit for the team's subsequent 7-1 record has been heaped on the former USC star. Not only has Haden brought the Rams much-needed mobility at the position, but he has exhibited some stellar play-calling and a throwing arm far stronger than the Rams expected. Haden is now the NFL's top-ranked passer.

Last season at this time Haden replaced James Harris as the starter, but there seemed to be no logical reason for the move. "I felt very uncomfortable when I played," Haden says. "The other players may not have held anything against me personally, but a lot of them probably felt that another quarterback should have been there." That has not been a problem this year. Haden has clearly earned the job that Knox or C.R. awarded to Namath in September. "I was disappointed then." Haden admits. "Not getting the call was a real letdown."

When the call finally came, Haden made the most of it. Last week Ram Guard Tom Mack said at a broadcasters' luncheon, "We really have a great quarterback in Pat Haden. He's better than a lot of people realized, including some of his own teammates."

Haden feels that one reason for his improvement is the off-season weight-lifting program that helped him gain some 10 pounds—to 182—and also considerably strengthened his throwing arm. "I'm throwing with a whole lot more velocity," he says. "My passes are crisper. The ball gets there quicker. I have a lot more confidence." On Sunday he completed 13 of his 22 passes for 186 yards and, of course, the game-winning touchdown pass to Jackson. He was never intercepted.

What has particularly impressed Haden's teammates is his play-calling. Knox relinquished that duty this year in an effort to enhance the leadership potential of the quarterback position. Haden—who will complete his Rhodes scholarship studies in June with a degree in economics, philosophy and politics—admits he gets more joy from methodically picking a defense apart than he does from scoring with a single bomb. Knox, in fact, recently had to lecture Haden about not throwing enough in L.A.'s 24-6 win over Green Bay. But the quarterback drew raves and increased respect from his teammates for the style and substance of his 12-play, 86-yard touchdown drive against Cleveland that had the Browns continually off balance. "I think fans can enjoy a time-consuming drive," says Haden. "Even Cleveland fans had to appreciate the art of that drive."

If Haden takes Los Angeles to the Super Bowl, even Ram fans may learn to appreciate the art of his drives.

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