July 28, 2017

Kelly Passes for 574 Yards as Gamblers Defeat Express (1985)

The opening week United States Football League contest between the Houston Gamblers and Los Angeles Express on February 24, 1985 featured two of the most highly-regarded young quarterbacks in the league. Houston’s Jim Kelly had a remarkable rookie season in 1984, throwing for 5219 yards and 44 touchdowns. The Gamblers, coached by Jack Pardee and utilizing a run-and-shoot offense, went 13-5 and only a first-round loss to Arizona in the playoffs could put a damper on the outstanding year.

Steve Young of the Express joined the club after the ’84 season was already underway and, while not putting together the spectacular numbers that his fellow rookie did in Houston, nevertheless performed capably and had a positive effect on the offense. LA was 2-3 and having difficulty generating points when the mobile lefthander out of Brigham Young took over, but rallied to finish at 10-8 and gain a spot in the postseason in the weak Pacific Division (and defeated Houston in the first head-to-head encounter between the two quarterbacks). Following a triple-overtime win over the defending-champion Michigan Panthers in the first round of the playoffs, LA had finally succumbed to the Arizona Wranglers.

There was a typically sparse crowd of 18,828 in attendance at the LA Memorial Coliseum for the untelevised game. The Gamblers took the early advantage as Kelly threw two one-yard touchdowns to WR Ricky Sanders in the first quarter to build up a 13-0 lead (the extra point attempt was missed following the second of the TDs). The Express responded with two field goals by Tony Zendejas, of 26 and 48 yards, in the second quarter and the score was 13-6 at halftime.

Zendejas added a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter, and then Young connected with WR JoJo Townsell for a 64-yard touchdown. RB Kevin Nelson ran for a two-yard TD and the Express, aided by Houston turnovers, was ahead by 23-13 after three quarters.

LA appeared to put the game away in the fourth quarter when safety Troy West intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, making the score 33-13 with less than ten minutes to play. However, two plays from scrimmage later Houston narrowed the gap in lightning fashion as Kelly threw to WR Richard Johnson for a 52-yard touchdown.

The Express played conservatively, trying to run out the clock, and the Gamblers got the ball back at the LA 43 following a poor 16-yard punt by Jeff Partridge with the clock down to 4:05. This time it took five plays to drive to another Kelly scoring pass as he connected with WR Vince Courville from 20 yards out. With the successful extra point it was now a six-point game at 33-27.

LA managed only a running play and two incomplete passes in its next series. Following another punt, the Gamblers had possession with just under two minutes to go. They only needed 40 seconds to cover 84 yards and cap their furious comeback as Kelly found Sanders open over the middle, beating West (who had two interceptions in the game and returned one for a score) for a 39-yard touchdown. Toni Fritsch kicked his fourth extra point of the game to provide a one-point margin.

Still, there was time on the clock for LA to attempt to drive into field goal range, and Zendejas had been successful on all four of his attempts. But Young was intercepted by LB Mike Hawkins to nail down the 34-33 win for Houston.

The Gamblers rolled up 585 total yards, with only 25 of that total on the ground, on a mere 8 carries. The Express ran the ball 20 times, but for just 49 yards while gaining a total of 267. Houston also had the edge in first downs (26 to 12), although the Gamblers hindered themselves by turning the ball over five times, to just one by LA.

Jim Kelly completed 35 of 54 passes for 574 yards and 5 touchdowns. In doing so, he not only surpassed Bobby Hebert’s USFL record of 444 yards, but Norm Van Brocklin’s NFL record of 554 and was just 12 yards short of Sam Etcheverry’s 586 yards with Montreal of the CFL in 1954. It was the second time Kelly had tossed five TDs in a game, tying the league record that he shared with four others.

Three Houston receivers gained over a hundred yards, led by Richard Johnson with 174 on 11 catches, including one score, and followed by Ricky Sanders with 9 receptions for 108 yards and three TDs and RB Sam Harrell’s 105 on 6 catches. Harrell led the almost non-existent running attack with 16 yards on four carries.

For the Express, Steve Young was successful on 13 of 27 passes for 255 yards with a TD and an interception and was the leading rusher with 27 yards on five carries. JoJo Townsell gained 104 yards on his two catches, including the one long touchdown, while WR Duane Gunn had four receptions for 42 yards.

“I’ve been in some comebacks before, but never anything like that,” said Kelly. “Pulling out that win was the best feeling I ever had in my life.”

“He’s a great quarterback; that’s a great offense,” summed up Steve Young, whose own efforts had come up short.

“I got too conservative in the fourth quarter,” lamented Express Head Coach John Hadl.

It was the beginning of another outstanding year for Houston and Jim Kelly. While the second-year quarterback out of Miami missed several games due to injury, he still led the USFL in pass attempts (567), completions (360), yards (4623), touchdowns (39), and passer rating (97.9). The Gamblers finished third in the Western Conference with a 10-8 record but were the league’s highest-scoring club with 544 points. They qualified for the postseason but once again lost in the first round, falling to Birmingham by a 22-20 score.

They were far ahead of the Los Angeles Express, who finished at a miserable 3-15 and wound up the year playing at Pierce College’s small venue while unsuccessfully seeking new ownership. It was a tough season for Steve Young as well, who threw for 1741 yards with 6 TD passes and 13 interceptions and rushed for 368.

With the demise of the USFL, both quarterbacks made their way to the NFL. Kelly played for Buffalo, the team that had his rights after drafting him in the first round in 1983, and led the Bills to four straight AFC titles – although the club fell short in the Super Bowl after each. Young went to Tampa Bay and was then dealt to the 49ers, where he was a backup on two Super Bowl-winning squads, was the starting quarterback when San Francisco won the NFL Championship in 1994, and led the league in passing six times. They both eventually ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – the USFL performances were just the opening chapter.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 24, 2012.

 

Doug Flutie Has Rough Debut as Generals Fall to Stallions (1985)

Entering its third season, the United States Football League once again began play with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner on one of its rosters. In 1983, it had been RB Herschel Walker, and in ’84, RB Mike Rozier. Now in 1985, Doug Flutie, the diminutive (5’9”) but strong-armed and mobile Heisman-winning quarterback from Boston College, was under contract in the USFL.

Flutie signed a five-year deal with owner Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals for $7 million. The Generals took the further step of dealing their 1984 starting quarterback, veteran Brian Sipe, to the Jacksonville Bulls. Ready or not, Flutie was expected to step in and start right away.

Flutie had been with the team for just two weeks after signing his contract, and appeared in one preseason game where his performance was underwhelming. His regular season debut came on February 24, 1985 at Birmingham’s Legion Field against the Stallions, a good team that was coming off of a 14-4 record and Southern Division title in ’84.

New Jersey had also gone 14-4 in 1984, good enough for a wild card slot, but the Generals lost to the eventual league champs, the Philadelphia Stars, in the first round of the playoffs. It was a big improvement over the 6-12 record of the inaugural season in ’83, and reflected many changes. Walt Michaels, formerly of the Jets, had taken over as head coach, and veterans such as Sipe, G Dave Lapham, CB Kerry Justin, FS Gary Barbaro, SS Greggory Johnson, and linebackers Jim LeClair and Bobby Leopold were grabbed away from the NFL. Walker, the USFL’s leading rusher in 1983, was joined as a thousand-yard ground-gainer by FB Maurice Carthon, better known for his outstanding blocking.

There were 34,785 in attendance at Legion Field, along with a national television audience as ABC heavily hyped the game. What they saw was a dominant first half performance by the home team and a rookie quarterback whose lack of preparation was clearly evident.

Flutie missed on his first nine passes, most of which were poorly thrown, and two of them intercepted. He didn’t complete his first pass of the game, for six yards to WR Clarence Collins, until late in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, ninth-year veteran QB Cliff Stoudt, the league’s second-rated passer in ’84, operated Birmingham’s conservative offense smoothly and effectively. The ex-Steeler threw for three touchdowns and led long drives for two more.

Birmingham scored the game’s first touchdown at the end of a 10-play, 73-yard first quarter drive that was highlighted by Stoudt’s 28-yard run in a third down situation that advanced the ball to the New Jersey five yard line. The possession was capped by a two-yard touchdown pass from Stoudt to TE Darryl Mason.

Three plays after Birmingham’s TD, and just seconds into the second quarter, the Generals responded when Carthon ran off tackle and broke away for a 55-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.

It appeared that the Stallions had retaken the lead later in the period when, in a fourth-and-four situation, Stoudt completed an apparent 36-yard touchdown pass to RB Joe Cribbs. However, a holding call on Mason nullified the score, and Birmingham came up empty.

The Stallions did retake the lead before the first half ended. Cribbs ran for a two-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left, capping a seven-play drive that ran 7:29 off the clock. Birmingham had dominated the first half, holding onto the ball for 22 of the 30 minutes, but the score was just 14-7 at halftime.

The Stallions took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring 17 points while New Jersey’s offense floundered. In their first possession, they drove 69 yards in 11 plays that led to a two-yard scoring run by RB Leon Perry.

Four minutes later, and after FS Chuck Clanton intercepted a Flutie pass and returned it to the New Jersey 19, Birmingham scored again when Stoudt connected with RB Earl Gant on a swing pass that resulted in a six-yard TD. Late in the period, Danny Miller kicked a 33-yard field goal that made the score 31-7.

At this point, Flutie completed his first pass to the derisive cheers of the Birmingham fans. However, making that first completion seemed to settle the rookie quarterback, and he began to flash the form that had made him a star in college.

Flutie tossed a well-thrown bomb to Walker that covered 51 yards and set up Walker’s one-yard touchdown run, cutting the Birmingham lead to 31-14. Following Kerry Justin’s interception of a Stoudt pass, Flutie led a drive that culminated in his first pro TD pass, rolling out and throwing four yards to WR Danny Knight.

Down now by just 10 points, it seemed as though the Generals might pull off a big comeback when they got the ball again with seven minutes left to play. However, CB Dennis Woodberry intercepted a Flutie pass and returned it 22 yards to the New Jersey 44. Two plays later, Stoudt threw to WR Jim Smith for a 44-yard touchdown that effectively put the game out of reach at 38-21.

Flutie’s second TD pass was similar to the first, coming on a rollout and covering five yards to WR Marcus Hackett (his only catch of the season), but with 3:13 remaining it was too little, too late. Birmingham came away with a 38-28 opening-day win.

The Stallions had a huge edge in time of possession (41:37 to 18:33). They also led in total yards (372 to 288) and first downs (25 to 12). The Generals turned the ball over five times, to three by Birmingham.

Cliff Stoudt completed 21 of 33 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions, and rushed 9 times for 65 yards to lead the club. Joe Cribbs was the most productive of the running backs, gaining 46 yards on 16 attempts and scoring a TD. Jim Smith caught 6 passes for 98 yards, including the long touchdown.

Doug Flutie ended up completing 12 of 27 passes for 189 yards with two TDs and three interceptions; he gained 17 yards on two carries as well. Herschel Walker was held to only 5 yards on 6 carries, but caught 3 passes for 71 yards. Maurice Carthon, thanks to the long touchdown carry, ran for 74 yards on 8 attempts. Danny Knight also caught 3 passes, for 38 yards.

“I think I’m ready,” said Flutie. “I didn’t prove it today, but I believe I will next week.”

The Generals won their next two games, on the way to an 11-7 record and second place finish in the Eastern Conference (they once again lost to their nemesis, the Stars, in the first round of the playoffs). Flutie played respectably, passing for 2,109 yards and 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. However, it was Herschel Walker who keyed the offense – despite his low total against Birmingham, he ran for 2,411 yards and 21 touchdowns and led the club in receiving with 37 catches for 467 yards and another TD.

As for the Stallions, they ended up placing first in the Eastern Conference at 13-5 and won their first round playoff game, but lost to the Stars in the Semifinal round.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on February 24, 2011.

 

Tires, Tail Pipes, and American Football

It was 1985. Down in the stock room at Sears Automotive, the boy in the black shirt and blue jeans assessed the situation. It was more fun than anything he had studied in four years of high school. Lost in a concrete jungle of tires, mufflers, and tail pipes, he still had the radio and his football magazines.

On this early summer Saturday morning, the phone rang. It was Mr. Robertson: “What are you doing here this early?”

“I was scheduled for this morning, Mr. Robertson. From 9 to 4.”

“I’ve got you down for closing.”

“Uh…no sir. Sammy scheduled me from 9 to 4. Jim comes in at 4.”

There was a silence. Then came Robertson’s voice: “If Jim doesn’t show, you’re staying.” And click. 

If he had to stay, then he had to stay. The boy was equipped and ready. He had the radio, the Beatles, Jeff Beck, and his football magazines.

Throughout the course of the day, he agonized over who would be NFL champs. He knew the Chicago Bears were going to be good. He also knew they were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell. Super Bowl Champions? He had to go with the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

Summer 1985: State of the Bears

He continued to ponder the issue throughout that summer: Who’s going to be the NFL Champion? The Cardinals or the Bears?

He knew the Bears were going to be good, but all was not well in the Windy City. Buddy Ryan was calling first round defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry “a wasted draft pick.” On the offensive side of the ball, Jim McMahon was returning from a lacerated kidney that ended his season the previous November. The stocker had some uncertainty about McMahon’s ability to play at full speed. 

Above all, the Bears were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell.

Bell was their All-Pro strong safety, and in his fifth season, he was sure to be entering his prime. Al Harris was one of Buddy Ryan’s holdovers from the pre-Mike Ditka days. He was a reliable linebacker and defensive end, playing wherever he was needed. Harris proved to be handy on special teams as well. He once scored a touchdown on a fake field goal.

Granted, Harris had a replacement. His spot would go to Wilber Marshall, the previous year’s number one draft pick and rated by some as the top linebacker in the ‘84 draft. Bell’s absence, however, was sure to be felt. His spot at strong safety was being taken over by an unknown named Dave Duerson.  Even Marshall was no sure thing, at least not yet. He missed much of his rookie training camp in ‘84, and as a result, didn’t see much action during the season.

 

Summer 1985: State of the Cardinals

The Cardinals, on the other hand, made the stock boy nervous. Roy Green scared the daylights out of him. There was considerable debate over who was the best wide receiver in football. He rated his beloved Redskin receivers as the best: Art Monk, followed by Charlie Brown. He put Roy Green right there with them. 

The stocker considered John Stallworth the best receiver on those great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the ‘70’s. He also liked the San Diego Chargers’ speedy Wes Chandler, who was a 1,000 yard receiver in 1982 while playing only eight games. He was a big fan of the man Chandler replaced on the Chargers: the Green Bay Packers’ John Jefferson, an acrobatic receiver whose career had inexplicably nosedived. There was also, of course, the Packers’ James Lofton, who had both size and vertical speed.

The stocker’s thoughts returned to Roy Green. Green scared him. Every year, he terrorized the Redskins. Every year, the Redskins had to face him–twice. Neil Lomax-to-Roy Green was a lethal combination. A combo that was surely headed for the Hall of Fame.

He considered the other weapons on that Big Red offense. Ottis Anderson was a power running back with the speed to go the distance from anywhere on the field. Pat Tilley was a fine possession receiver. Stump Mitchell was an exciting return man who provided an extra threat out of the backfield. 

The Cardinals had the best offense in football, and they scared the stocker. Yes, the Bears had a better defense–but they were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell. On top of that, Buddy Ryan called William “The Refrigerator” Perry a wasted draft pick. There was dissension in the ranks, and the stocker couldn’t pick Chicago.

 

Flashback: December 16, 1984

Sitting in the stock room at Sears Automotive, the boy remembered the last game of the 1984 regular season at RFK Stadium against the Cardinals. He was there. On that overcast December afternoon, the NFC East crown was at stake. The Redskins took a 13-0 lead on two touchdown passes from Joe Theismann to future Hall of Fame wide receiver Art Monk. Theismann also connected with the 6’3’’ receiver for his 100th catch of the season. Art Monk caught 100 passes in an era when players didn’t catch 100 passes.

The Cardinals woke up when cornerback Wayne Smith intercepted a Theismann pass and ran it back to the 1-yard line. On the next play, Lomax scored on a quarterback keeper. The Redskins countered with a 5-yard touchdown run by future Hall of Fame running back John Riggins. At the half, the Redskins led, 23-7.

The Cardinals flew back with a vengeance. Lomax-to-Roy Green struck not once, but twice. The first touchdown went for 75 yards, and the second one went for 18. The Redskins had enough offense left to produce two Mark Moseley field goals. 

On the last play of the game, the ‘Skins were up, 29-27. The Cardinals’ Neil O’Donohue lined up to attempt a desperation field goal: 53 yards away and the clock ticking downward, with no way to stop. The kick was up, up, and…not up enough.   

The Redskins won, 29-27, and walked away with the division title. The stocker walked out of the stadium with 55,000 other elated fans with hopes of a third straight Super Bowl.  

The Cardinals had nowhere to walk but home.

 

September 1985: The D.C. Football Fiasco

Six months later in the heart of the summer, in a mausoleum of tires, mufflers, and tail pipes, the stock boy believed. The stock boy believed the Cardinals were ready to soar. They scared him–and the Bears were missing Al Harris and Todd Bell.

In September, with the stocker now in college, the 1985 season began. His beloved Redskins were a team to be laughed at early in the season. On September 9th, on Monday Night in Dallas, they were slaughtered, 44-14.

They returned home on September 15th and won a 16-13 squeaker against Houston. The ‘Skins’ performance was so unimpressive that the Oilers deserved to win. In the upper deck, the stock boy and his father stood and yelled for their Mack truck of a running back: “Go Riggo!!!” The people around them cheered, and a man sitting behind the father and son said, “Go somebody.”

After the game, the dad drove through D.C. as the stock boy shouted out the window. He yelled to some people in their front yard, “Red-Skins!!” One guy yelled back, “Deadskins!” The father and son laughed, because the man was right.

On September 22nd, the Redskins faced the Philadelphia Eagles. The offense was more lifeless than ever, and the Eagles won, 19-6. In that game, the Eagles seemed to have found their quarterback of the future. A second-round rookie named Randall Cunningham raised some eyebrows. 

On September 29th, the ‘Skins went to Chicago. In 1937, their first trip to the Windy City resulted in the Redskins’ first World Championship. The stock boy’s grandfather took the train to Chicago to see Sammy Baugh and the ‘Skins beat the Bears, 28-21, for the NFL Championship. Now, in their 32nd meeting, the Skins were carrying a 1-2 record and something to prove.

The Bears had eight NFL Championships between 1921 and 1963. Now, after a twenty-two year famine and a taste of the playoffs again in ‘84, the city was hungry. The Bears were off to a 3-0 start and coming off a dramatic come from behind win over the Vikings.

The ‘Skins marched up the field on their first two possessions for a John Riggins touchdown and a Mark Moseley field goal. They were looking like the Redskins of old, the Redskins of 1981 to 1983, a Redskins team that for one stretch won 36 of 42 games–one of those wins being Super Bowl XVII. 

With the ‘Skins having gone up, 10-0, Jeff Hayes kicked off. The Bears’ world-class speedster Willie Gault received the kick and sprinted 99 yards for the touchdown. The crowd erupted, and so did the team they cheered for. The Bears scored one touchdown after another. At the half, Chicago led, 31-10. In the third quarter, quarterback Jim McMahon scored on a 33-yard touchdown pass from future Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.

On defense, Wilber Marshall, Steve McMichael, Tyrone Keys, and future Hall of Famer Richard Dent each sacked Joe Theismann. The day was one of those occasions when The Hogs, the Redskins’ famed offensive line, fell short of excellence. The Bears also intercepted Theismann twice, with Ken Taylor and “L.A. Mike” Richardson doing the honors.   

The most noteworthy play wasn’t a touchdown, a sack, or a turnover. Jeff Hayes, the Redskins’ kickoff specialist and punter, was injured on the Gault runback. He was hurt so severely that he wouldn’t play again that season. His immediate replacement was the QB. Theismann punted once, and it became perhaps the most celebrated punt in NFL history. Theismann’s punt traveled one yard.  

Final Score: Bears 45, Redskins 10.

That game sent a message to the football-watching nation: The Monsters of the Midway were on the prowl, even without Al Harris and Todd Bell. As for the Redskins, it was looking like 2-14. To make matters worse, the St. Louis Cardinals were coming to town.   

 

‘Twas the Night of October 7th

The stock boy’s Super Bowl pick was looking good so far. The Cardinals were 3-1, and were second in the league in scoring with 124 points. The Bears were 4-0 and first in scoring with 136, but the stocker wasn’t ready to concede just yet. 

The Cards were coming to town, and the consensus was as unanimous as could be: the ‘Skins were in trouble.  Surely, the Cardinals would raise their record to 4-1 and score some points in the process. Since it was Monday Night Football, the Big Red Birds would be embarrassing the Redskins before an entire nation. 

The stock boy had a paper due the next day, but that wasn’t about to stop him from going. It would be his first Monday Night game in person. He and his father expected the worst, but they still looked forward to being there–something only a diehard can understand. 

On that night of October 7th, the Redskins surprised a nation. They came to play football. Joe Theismann ran for a touchdown in the first quarter, and he later threw touchdowns to rookie wide receiver Gary Clark and veteran tight end Clint Didier. Clark’s touchdown was his first in the NFL. Roy Green caught 4 passes for 65 yards. It was a solid effort, but on this night, the Cardinals needed more.

John Riggins and George Rogers rushed for 100 yards each, and the Redskins dominated from start to finish. The stocker told his roommate the next day: “It was incredible.” 

Final score: Redskins 27, Cardinals 10.

 

1985: The Aftermath

The Redskins turned what looked like a two-win season into a pretty good campaign. They finished 10-6. The Redskins proved to be a turning point for both the Bears and the Cardinals. With their 45-10 demolition of the ‘Skins on September 29th, the Bears established themselves as a team to be feared. The rest of the league had a reason to be afraid. The Bears went on to have one of the greatest seasons in football history.          

After being stunned by the Redskins on October 7th, the Cardinals never recovered. They won just two games the rest of the season.

The Bears went 18-1 and won the Super Bowl–without Al Harris and Todd Bell. The Cardinals finished 5-11.

 

Author’s note: Yes, I was the stock boy. Yes, my Grandfather Haddad took the train to Chicago in 1937 to watch the Redskins beat the Bears for the NFL Championship.

Rams Sign CFL Star Dieter Brock (1985)

On March 26, 1985 the Los Angeles Rams announced the signing of QB Dieter Brock, an 11-year veteran of the Canadian Football League who had played out his option with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was reported that the 34-year-old Brock agreed to a four-year deal (three years plus option) with the Rams for $2.1 million.

The acquisition sealed the fate of Vince Ferragamo, who had himself signed a four-year contract extension with the Rams a year earlier. Ferragamo had come off the bench to lead LA to the Super Bowl in 1979 after starter Pat Haden went down with an injury, followed up with a 30-TD year in ’80, jumped to Montreal of the CFL in 1981, and, after performing poorly in Canada, returned to the Rams in ’82. He was inconsistent, but kept regaining the starting job, before going down for the year with a hand injury suffered in the third game of the 1984 season. Head Coach John Robinson made it clear, in announcing Brock’s signing, that Ferragamo would be dealt.

While not guaranteed the starting job off the bat, Brock said “I just feel this is an excellent opportunity for me and I’m not afraid of competition. This is a dream come true.”

Brock’s 11 seasons in the CFL included the first 9 1/2 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the last 1 1/2 with Hamilton. He was traded by Winnipeg to Hamilton during the ’83 season for QB Tom Clements after staging a series of walkouts in an effort to get out of his contract. His career numbers in the CFL were 2602 completions in 4535 attempts for 34,830 yards with 210 touchdowns and 158 interceptions; he led the CFL in passing four times and won the Schenley Award in 1980 and ’81 as the league’s MVP.

Brock, from Birmingham, Alabama, had backed up Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan at Auburn before transferring to Jacksonville State. Sensing little interest from the NFL, he signed with Winnipeg before the NFL draft in 1974 (consequently, no team had prior rights to him).

Before signing with Los Angeles, Brock tried out with Buffalo, Green Bay, and Cleveland. Buffalo was rumored to have the inside track, especially since they were looking to replace 34-year-old Joe Ferguson (ironically, they ended up getting Ferragamo). The Packers reportedly made the highest offer, but were committed to veteran Lynn Dickey as the starter.

The club Brock was joining had made it to the postseason in 1984 as a wild card team with a 10-6 record (they lost in the first round). But while RB Eric Dickerson had performed brilliantly in his first two seasons, gaining a rookie-record 1808 yards in 1983 followed by a NFL record 2105 yards in ‘84, the team had not done well through the air. Young QB Jeff Kemp went 9-4 starting in place of Ferragamo, but the Rams ranked at the bottom of the NFC in passing offense.

Kemp was still with the team, as were the untested Scott Tinsley and veteran backup Steve Dils, but it was clear that the starting job was Brock’s to lose. While Coach Robinson preferred a run-oriented attack (going back to his years as a college coach at USC), he hoped that improving the passing game would, if nothing else, make Dickerson even more effective (he also expressed a desire to utilize the star runner, who had caught 51 passes in 1983 but only 21 in ’84, more often as a receiver out of the backfield).

The 1985 Rams, even with Dickerson holding out at the beginning of the season, won their first seven games and ended up at the top of the NFC West with an 11-5 record. Brock set a then-club record by completing 59.7 percent of his 365 passes for 2658 yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, he played conservatively, rarely throwing long, and, even with one of the best offensive lines in the league in front of him, was sacked 51 times. The Rams still ranked low in passing yards.

In the postseason, Brock’s performance was especially disappointing. While LA beat the Cowboys 20-0 in the Divisional round, it was primarily because of Dickerson rushing for 248 yards – Brock completed only 6 of 22 passes for 50 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Playing for the NFC Championship against Chicago, Brock was successful on just 10 of 31 throws for 66 yards, again with one picked off and no TDs, and the Bears won handily, 24-0. Chicago Head Coach Mike Ditka remarked afterward that “I’m glad they didn’t play Jeff Kemp.”

Brock returned for the 1986 season, but back and knee injuries, the latter of which required surgery, kept him from playing. Steve Dils and veteran Steve Bartkowski, who had been obtained from the Falcons, handled the starting quarterback duties initially, but an early-season trade with Houston brought highly-touted rookie Jim Everett to the team, and he was the starter by the end of the year – and clearly the first choice to start going forward. Brock chose to retire.

Dieter Brock’s NFL career was brief and undistinguished, but he was recognized for his outstanding play in the CFL by being selected as one of the Top 20 All-Time Greats for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to mark the franchise’s 75th anniversary, and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

 

Keith Yowell runs the blog Today in Pro Football History where this article was originally published on March 26, 2011.