"Peace of mind," said Waterfield.
Quarterbacks came and quarterbacks went. Rudy Bukich, a local hero from USC, had battled Wade for the starting job for three seasons. Bukich once confided that his greatest delight was his ability to break his own receivers' fingers with his bullet passes, He was traded in 1956. Wade was traded to the Chicago Bears in 1961. Frank Ryan, who used to pass the time on road trips by proving out complicated mathematical formulas, held the job for a time. Then, pffft. Traded to Cleveland. Van Brocklin, Wade and Ryan led their new clubs to world championships.
In 1963 Ram Coach Harland Svare actually tried shuttling quarterbacks Zeke Bratkowski, Terry Baker and Roman Gabriel in and out of games on alternating downs, with predictably disastrous results. As a rookie a year earlier, Gabriel was so green he believed almost anything. One story goes that he went to the Rams' trainer complaining of a sore shoulder and was told to tape two aspirin to his skin and let the aspirin work into the shoulder. The next day, Gabriel still had the aspirin taped on and said his shoulder felt much better.
Karl Sweetan ushered in the '70s by playing with the Rams for two seasons and then being arrested for trying to sell his Rams' playbook to the New Orleans Saints. Between 1973 and '76 the Rams won four NFC West championships using four different starting quarterbacks ( John Hadl, James Harris, Ron Jaworski and Haden), but by the start of the '77 season all had been traded but Haden. He threw his first pass for the Rams on opening day in 1976 against Atlanta—for a 47-yard touchdown to Ron Jessie. "I was a hometown kid and I was a breath of fresh air for a while," says Haden, "but, inevitably, if you don't complete every pass or if you don't win the Super Bowl, people want a new quarterback." The following year they got one when owner Carroll Rosenbloom brought in Joe Namath for one last fling. The team was 2-2 under Namath, and after a four-interception disaster in Chicago, Haden took over again and finished the season ranked second in the NFL's quarterback standings.
In 1978 Haden set three club passing records before breaking the thumb of his right hand on Cowboy Randy White's helmet in a losing effort in the NFC Championship game. That season a headline in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner read HADEN SAYS L.A. FANS STINK. Haden never said it and there was no such quote in the story, but the headline damaged his standing with the fans, and the wounds are still healing.
In the 10th game of the following year, against Seattle, Haden had just set a team record by completing 13 straight passes when he caught the pinky of his right hand in a seam of the Kingdome's AstroTurf and fractured it. Under Ferragamo the Rams promptly went to the Super Bowl. There was no enjoyment last season for Haden, either. After winning a bitter struggle for the starting position with Ferragamo in training camp, he started the Rams' opening game against Detroit in Anaheim Stadium, only to break his right index finger on teammate Doug France's shoulder pads. "I was sitting on the sideline with an ice bag on my hand," Haden recalls, "and a message was flashed on the scoreboard saying I had hurt my hand. There were loud cheers. When I thought about it later, it seemed to me there's something wrong with the sports ethos in America. But at the time I was just angry. Cheering another human's misfortune is beyond comprehension to me, very alarming. It's almost as if the fans are trying to participate in the violence on the field."
Haden knows that every pass he makes this season will be closely scrutinized, but for now, at least, there's no pressure from an understudy. The Rams have three other quarterbacks in camp—Bob Lee, Jeff Rutledge and Jeff Kemp—but they are only on hand in case of emergency.
Still, Haden has no illusions about his job security. "They don't keep me around because I'm a great guy," he says. "I am a great guy, but this is a $50 million business, and if I don't do the job I'm sure they'll find a replacement and depreciate me very quickly. There's tremendous pressure on me, sure. I think the thing that drives all athletes is the fear of failure. It can get scary."
But in Los Angeles it can never get dull.