- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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My defensive linemen in L.A. used to tell me they liked to watch a quarterback's feet because it's natural to move them just before receiving the snap. So sometimes, on third-and-short, I'd move my feet before a "hut," an illegal ploy that's seldom called. You talk about guys getting frustrated. They'd be yelling at the officials, at each other. Three times in one game I drew off Green Bay's Dave Roller, and you could see the other Packers face guard to face guard with him, screaming. I only got called for illegal movement once in my career, which was enough. It's awfully embarrassing to hear a man-in-motion penalty called on the quarterback.
Of course, two can play that game. I remember how Chris Hanburger, Washington's All-Pro linebacker, used to try to draw our offensive linemen offside by yelling "Back-set!"—a defensive signal—in the middle of my cadence. He said it real fast, so that it sort of sounded like a "hut." It worked, too. Then we'd be the ones screaming at the officials.
It could get pretty noisy out there before a snap. If one of our linemen forgot the snap count, he'd ask, "What's the count?" as I was calling my signals. You couldn't very well say, "It's on one, Tom," so we had a code. "Able" meant the snap was one; "Baker" was two, etc. One time somebody asked, "What's the .count?" and Rich Saul, our center, said, "Able." Then I heard somebody else go. "No, no, it's on Baker!" And a third guy said, "No! Cuatro!" By then I'd forgotten the count myself, so I just stood there and waited for the ball to come up.
One year, Georgia Frontiere, the Rams' owner, had an interesting idea how we would cut down on sacks, which unfortunately I never pursued. She suggested I take karate, so that as I stood in the pocket with my right arm cocked, I could defend myself with my left arm. Here comes Mean Joe...Haiku! Katcho! Sa!...He's down! Haden fires the bomb! Touchdown!
Another way for the quarterback to buy more time to pass is to keep a back in to block. The Raiders do that nearly every play. I used to try to call a formation that would have the blocking back on the side of the best pass rusher. At times, however, your offensive tackle is just going to flat have to keep someone like Dean out, and he's going to have to do it all by himself—even if he's not as good as Dean—or you're not going to win the football game. It's as simple as that. I'll argue this till my deathbed: Terry Bradshaw gets the chance to show off his marvelous talents only when his offensive line gives him time to show them off.
Over the years the one thing I could never escape was this question: "What's it like being a small quarterback and having all those big guys coming after you?" Well, it was my belief that I had a lot of big guys in front of me keeping the other team's big guys away. The quarterback's size is a nonissue. Bob Griese played pretty well, and he was only 6'1". Tarkenton had a little success, and he was only 6'. If you want a big quarterback, try Bobby Douglass—he was the biggest quarterback you'll ever see. There are good and bad of both sizes.
Don't get me wrong. It wasn't that I didn't want more height, it's just that I had to play with what I was dealt. I think if I'd been taller, I could have carried more weight and perhaps avoided some injuries, but I'm not convinced of that. My injuries were all freakish. In the playoffs after the 1978 season I broke my thumb against Randy White's helmet while following through on a pass. (That's a common injury to quarterbacks; Bradshaw and the Rams' Jeff Rutledge both suffered such a mishap last year.) I caught the little finger on my right hand in a seam of the AstroTurf in Seattle and broke it in 1979. And in the opening game of 1980 I broke my right hand by catching it in one of my lineman's shoulder pads on a follow-through.
I'll never forget what happened after that. I walked off the field and the doctor bandaged my hand, and a couple of minutes later, when the news flashed on the scoreboard, PAT HADEN HAS BROKEN HIS HAND, 65,000 people, a majority of them anyway, cheered. That really blew me away. I felt like a gladiator in the Colosseum, with the fans up there giving the thumbs down gesture. I never had the courage to run off the field without my helmet on. People threw bottles. If they'd had spears, they would have thrown them, too. The Loud Minority, I call them. I wonder about them, too.
But for all the frustrations, the beatings and the booings I endured, I'd still be in football if I could be guaranteed a certain feeling just three times a game. Twice even. It's when you get into a zone or a groove—whatever nomenclature you want to use—in which everything appears to be moving in slow motion. I've heard golfers describe a similar feeling; they say they can visualize a shot going into the hole before it does. On those occasions, the 3½ seconds between the snap from center and the time you release the ball seem like a month. It's the most exhilarating feeling you could ever imagine: very pure, simple. As you stand in the pocket, even if guys are huffing and puffing and grunting and groaning and hitting and growling all around you, you don't hear a thing. Complete silence. It doesn't happen every game, but when it does it's so satisfying. But it's frustrating, too, because sometimes you find yourself waiting for it to happen, and it doesn't.
I won't be waiting anymore, but I'm going to miss that blessed month in the pocket.