It began, more or less, like this: The Los Angeles Rams' brain trust was sitting around a small room in Anaheim last March when in walked this old boy named Dieter Brock, who said he wanted to play quarterback. If you are part of that team's brain trust and you have any self-respect at all, you snort derisively and ask questions like, "Who is Dieter Brock?" The Rams' brain trust snorted. The Rams' brain trust asked. The stranger picked up a football and started to throw.
For 20 minutes he alternately threw blistering heat and lofty 70-yarders at five Rams receivers, until head coach John Robinson halted the demonstration. "I've coached a lot of great quarterbacks in my day, including Dan Fouts when he was at Oregon," Robinson told a bystander. "This guy may be the best I've ever seen throwing the ball."
No one was snorting anymore, but they were asking that question all the more now. "Everybody wanted to know 'Who is Dieter Brock?' " says wide receiver Otis Grant, who caught several of the stranger's passes that day. Brock explained quietly that he had been away for a long time, playing ball in Canada for 11 years. But that didn't entirely clear up the mystery, either. "I personally don't have cable TV," says Grant, "which means no Canadian games even if I wanted to watch them, which I don't. So I personally had never heard of the man. Who is Dieter Brock?"
"I knew nothing about the guy," says Rams defensive end Gary Jeter. "Nothing. I had never heard of him." Who the devil is Dieter Brock?
"He seemed to just appear one day from out of nowhere, like Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo. in Damn Yankees or Roy Hobbs in The Natural," says Robinson. In fact, the coach had seen reels of film of Brock before suggesting the try-out. "I just hope," adds Robinson, "he hasn't had to sell his soul to the devil."
The Rams' brass, of course, wanted to know Brock's age before handing him the starting quarterback position. The team has a long tradition to uphold of signing only broken-down old signal-callers. In 1977 the Rams brought in 34-year-old Joe Namath, only to see his knees and his career finally disintegrate. Dan Pastorini came aboard in 1981 at age 32 and stayed one season. And Bert Jones arrived in 1982, only to suffer a career-ending back injury after four games. In fact, since Roman Gabriel was traded away in 1973, not a single Rams quarterback has been able to put together two full seasons as a starter with the team. As the
Los Angeles Times
recently noted, "The club's luck with aged leaders rivals that of the Soviet Union."
Well, Brock is 34, the oldest player on the Rams' roster after 35-year-old Jack Youngblood. And if the doddering old guy manages to stay on his feet until the team's opener against Denver Sept. 8, he will be the seventh starting quarterback the Rams have had since 1980. In other words, he has all the qualifications the Rams usually look for in a quarterback, except one: an established name that he can disgrace. Jeff Kemp, the team's 26-year-old incumbent starting quarterback—and now apparently dispossessed of that job—has a theory about why the brain trust turned to Brock. "Since nobody knows who he is," Kemp says, "with Dieter they can create whatever image they want." So who is Dieter Brock?
Part of the answer is that he's an Alabama native who spent 2� years at Auburn in the shadow of 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, then transferred to Jacksonville ( Ala.) State, then spent 9� seasons playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 1� for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. During those 11 seasons he threw for 34,830 yards and 210 touchdowns, completing 57.4% of his passes. He was the CFL's MVP in 1980 and '81, and over the last five seasons Brock passed for 20,441 yards, more than any other quarterback in any league. He has more career 300-yard passing games (37) than any quarterback in the history of professional football, and more total passing yardage than any active player.
Brock once completed 42 of 47 passes in a game against the Ottawa Rough Riders. But it is the tremendous strength of his arm, rather than his touch, that has made him a legend in Canada and is on the way to making him one in L.A. "I don't think there's anybody who doesn't go 'Oooh' when he throws the ball," says Robinson. His brother Bill recalls a memorable pass completion during a practice at Auburn: "One of his receivers ran a hook pattern, and before he could get his hands up, the ball hit him in the helmet and stuck between his helmet and face mask. They had to pry it out."
In Calgary he once threw a ball 93 yards in the air while fooling around on the day before a game. "The air's kind of thin up there and I had a little breeze behind me," Brock says. "Of course, I was flinging it 75 yards the other way, so I figure that averages out to about 85." Sometimes Brock amused himself in practice by firing balls through the goalposts while perched on one knee 55 yards out. He also likes to throw a weighted football to build up his arm. "I always hated that part of the workout," says his longtime friend Larry Lancaster, a Birmingham letter carrier who has caught some of those weighted balls. "We'd start 30 or 40 yards apart, and then before I knew it he'd have me backed up against a wall 70 yards away. There were many times I came home with my arms all bruised up from catching the ball. One of his college coaches said Dieter could throw the ball through a car wash without the laces getting wet."