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If I should ever get the urge to renounce my retirement and come back as quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, or any other team, I'm going to remind myself of one play. It happened against the New Orleans Saints in 1980, in the third quarter of a game we were leading 38-14. Vince Ferragamo was doing most of our quarterbacking that year—he was the darling of Los Angeles, as I had once been—and he had already thrown five touchdown passes in the game. For some reason he came out for a couple of plays, and I came in. It was third-and-eight, so I called a pass. I dropped back and was looking around when one of New Orleans' linemen hit me from the blind side—never saw him—and the ball popped into the air. Don Reese, a defensive end for New Orleans, caught it in stride and took it 34 yards for a touchdown. I was lying on the ground, a big body on top of me, watching a 260-pound man run off with my one pass of the day. You can't imagine the frustration. Had the play not been ruled a fumble, it would have been my longest completion of the year. The boos started, and you've never heard so many, in such perfect unison, in your life.
Think of that, Pat.
Sacks and boos are two very good reasons that I will be working for a law firm in Los Angeles and doing TV commentary of college games for CBS network this season. The sacks you can do something about. The boos go with the territory. I've tried to think of a position in another sport more difficult to play than quarterback, but nothing comes to mind. The simple act of throwing a ball to a receiver moving at full speed, say, 25 yards away—leading him perfectly—is difficult enough. Not many people can even do that well. Then add the other team. Start with blitzing linebackers and add a secondary with different coverages necessitating different pass routes, all of which have to be "read" in the first moments the quarterback has the ball. Add to that four guys who are faster than you, each 6'6", 260 pounds, who will be in your face in 3.7 seconds, and you can you begin to imagine the complexities of the position. That's why the quarterback is the focus of the game; why his job is more difficult than the others; why he is compensated more and abused more.
I have heard fans boo Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw and the man I consider to be the best quarterback I've ever seen, Roger Staubach. In 1976, my rookie year, I heard Rams fans boo the hell out of James Harris and Ron Jaworski. I was the darling then, enjoying the honeymoon grace period that all new quarterbacks get. I thought: "That's not going to happen to me."
It did. Many, many times. It all hit home one night last summer when I took my wife, Cindy, out to a Dodgers game. Don Sutton was pitching for the Houston Astros, and of course, everybody booed long and loud when he took the mound. "They're calling your name, Pat," Cindy said dryly.
I don't have a lot of patience with guys who complain that the new blocking rules have ruined the art of sacking the quarterback, because last season I didn't find myself getting hit any less or sacked any less than in previous years. If anything, I was hit more. Fred Dean of the San Francisco 49ers sacked me five times in one game. You could try to block Dean with a pickup truck and it wouldn't work. He's too good, too fast, and no rules committee is ever going to stop him.
You've probably heard of a "lookout" block. It's a standard joke in football, but it actually happened to me once. We were playing the Lions, and Defensive End Dave Pureifory put such a strong move on Jackie Slater, one of our tackles, that Slater literally turned and yelled, "Look out!" It was too late. Pureifory's helmet was already in my face. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled out; my face mask was like a birdcage—it was broken and flapping up and down, and the birdies were going tweet-tweet. I was barely moving, there was dust all over the place, and Slater leaned over and said with great concern, "I told you to look out."
I've found that defensive linemen react to a sack in three basic ways. The first is to jump up and down like a lunatic, brandishing a fist in the air and slapping high fives with anyone in reach—even if somebody else has made the sack. The hot dog. The second, a particular favorite of mine, is to lie on top of the quarterback for as long as possible, until everyone else is up and you're the last guy off the bottom of the pile. The public address announcer then assumes you've made the sack, even though you may simply have been piling on. The third is to rise—not too slowly, not too quickly—then stand over your prey, the quarterback, like a lion, staring down at him. That not only gives the TV cameras a chance to focus on you, but it also lets the quarterback know that you're there and intend to be back in the near future.
No quarterback likes this sort of treatment, but we understand it. The sack is a defensive lineman's vengeance, his dance in the end zone, his toss of the ball into the stands. The temptation for the quarterback is to tell all those sackers to do their dancing where the sun never shines. But no matter how outrageous defensive linemen acted after sacking me, I never said a word. I was always aware of one thing: They were bigger than I. They could have the last laugh. I didn't want to give those guys any more incentive than they already had.
Most of the great players who sacked me didn't indulge in histrionics; they let their ability speak for itself. Randy White, Mean Joe Greene (who was inappropriately nicknamed) and Alan Page simply rose after a tackle and returned to their positions. My teammate Merlin Olsen was like that, too. Bob Brazile would ask, "You O.K.?" And Lyle Alzado would often say, "Nice pass," if I had gotten rid of the football. They were the real professionals, in my opinion, and it was always appreciated.