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Kemp went to Dartmouth and as a freshman became close friends with another football brat, Miami Dolphin coach Don Shula's son, Dave, a wide receiver, but his quarterbacking career seemingly was nowhere. There were two freshmen in front of him—Joe McLaughlin and Greg Jaeger, a sprint-out passer.
"I'd been at Boston College the year before," says Joe Yukica, who was in his first year as Dartmouth's coach that season. "I knew all about McLaughlin. He was quite a recruiting coup. He and Jaeger battled for the starting freshman job all season. Jeff was sort of overlooked."
The next year Buddy Teevens, a senior, was the varsity quarterback, and he was named Ivy League Player of the Year. McLaughlin backed him up, and Jaeger was still around, as was a varsity holdover named Larry Margerum. Kemp quarterbacked the jayvees.
"We were playing Harvard," Yukica says, "and our jayvee coach, Bill Maxwell, joined me in Cambridge and told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was that Jeff had looked terrific in the game the day before. The bad news was that he'd separated his shoulder and was out for the year."
By Kemp's junior year Teevens was gone, and Jaeger had decided to concentrate on rugby instead of football. There was a three-way struggle at quarterback among Margerum, Kemp and McLaughlin. McLaughlin ended up being switched to defense. "He threw two interceptions in a preseason scrimmage," Kemp says, "and after the second one he was so mad he nailed the guy who caught the ball and blew him out of bounds. He hit him so hard the coach turned him into a defensive back." Then, in the second game of the season, against New Hampshire, Margerum didn't do much at quarterback, but everyone loved the way he punted. He ultimately became an All-Ivy punter. Step to the head of the line, Mr. Kemp.
For two seasons Kemp threw and Shula caught, and this combination produced some nifty afternoons for the Big Green—and a lot of yawns from the NFL scouts. "I don't remember one of them ever working me out," Kemp says.
Both Kemp and Shula entered the NFL as free agents in 1981, Shula with the Colts, where he lasted for a year, Kemp with the Rams. When Kemp got to L.A. he found a mob. He was No. 5 on the depth chart behind veterans Pat Haden, Bobby Lee and Jeff Rutledge, and Dan Kendra, who played semipro ball in Baltimore in 1980. Then in September the Rams, over the strong objections of coach Ray Malavasi, brought in Dan Pastorini. Kemp was a 50-1 shot to survive the exhibition season, but in November he was still around, tucked away on the rolls of the injured reserve (bad back). Lee and Kendra were gone; Rut-ledge had a dislocated thumb; and Haden and Pastorini were waging a spirited battle for the No. 1 job on a team that was tumbling to 6-10.
By 1982 the competition was melting: Haden retired, Pastorini was cut, Rutledge was traded. A new wave arrived. Vince Ferragamo was back from Canada, and Malavasi, in a final effort to save his job, traded a first-round choice and a second-rounder to the Colts for Bert Jones. Kemp was the third-stringer.
The next year Jones retired after suffering a neck injury. Kemp had moved to No. 2, but then in August his confidence got a severe jolt when the Rams traded for Steve Fuller, an occasional starter at Kansas City.