"That was the only one that bothered me," Kemp says. "He was direct competition. I was disappointed. Coach [John] Robinson told me that if I continued to do well, my status wasn't going to change."
In the 1984 preseason Fuller was traded to Chicago, and Kemp remained Ferragamo's backup. In three NFL seasons he had thrown only 31 passes. The competition was down to one man. Ferragamo got off to a rocky start, and then in Game 3, against the Steelers, he broke a bone in his throwing hand. Kemp was the lone survivor; he had outlasted five former regular NFL quarterbacks who had been ahead of him.
Under Kemp the Rams have gone 3-1, including a 33-12 blowout of the Giants in his second start. He completed eight of 17 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown in that game and, more important, came up with the big plays. Last week against the Saints he was eight of 19 for 138 yards and had three TDs in a 28-10 win. His 98.4 rating is unofficially the highest of any Ram quarterback ever.
Robinson extolls Kemp's strong arm, and his toughness and ability to learn. "All these years he hung in and kept battling, and pretty soon the finger was pointed at him and we said, 'You're it,' " Robinson says. "A guy's got to be ready when an opportunity like that comes along. Some of them aren't."
Ready? He has been ready for 11 years, but, as that bearded stranger with the contract had warned him, it didn't come easy.