When the Rams announced in March that they had signed quarterback Dieter Brock, it was easy to discard the story as one of those fictional magazine yarns going around these days.
It was easy to do because no one had ever heard of a Dieter Brock. The name sounded like something you'd find under the hood of your car.
They said this guy, plucked from some frozen province in Canada, could throw a football through the goal posts while kneeling on the 50-yard line.
Sure he could.
But when Brock turned out to be real flesh and blood, fans danced in the streets for the quarterback who would put the P back in pass for the Rams. No more days of watching Eric Dickerson run on third and 35. No more predictable, boring, button-hook patterns.
Reporters quickly geared for the season by drilling themselves on the spelling of Dieter-- I before E except after C .
Meanwhile, Jeff Kemp grabbed an old magazine and took a familiar seat in the Rams' waiting room.
A few days after Brock's signing, Coach John Robinson sat down with Kemp and explained the meaning of the trade.
"He has a great ability to tell you something negative and make you walk out of his office smiling," Kemp said. "You say to yourself, 'How'd he do that?' "
Kemp, you may recall, was the Rams' starting quarterback last season. He took over when, in Week 4, after Vince Ferragamo broke a bone in his right hand. Kemp was 9-5 as a starter and put together some good numbers. He completed 50% of his passes for 2,021 yards. He threw for 13 touchdowns and only seven of his passes were intercepted.
But forgive Kemp for feeling a little insecure.
When Ferragamo went down, the Rams went to their Neanderthal offense. It was Dickerson left, Dickerson right, and Dickerson up the middle.
The Rams were last in the league in total passing yardage. They threw and completed fewer passes that any other team in the NFL.
Kemp became expert at the art of handing off. He averaged just 22 passes a game and threw just 10 in one game against Tampa Bay.
But what a nifty little job Jeff did, under the circumstances.
"I read so many articles that said how Jeff did a fine job and that he filled in so nicely," Kemp said.
The truth is, Kemp is tired of filling in nicely, and when Brock arrived and was proclaimed the savior of the Rams' dismal passing attack, it hurt a little.
"I was disappointed when they brought in Dieter," Kemp said. "I don't expect things to be handed to me, especially in a city like L.A., where they want a Super Bowl. But I'm not just here to be a survivor. I want to be the starting quarterback."
This is Kemp's fifth year with the Rams. He was signed as a free agent from Dartmouth and has somehow managed to survive a slew of quarterback changes.
He became the starting quarterback almost by attrition.
The names of quarterbacks who have come and gone in his time include Pat Haden, Dan Pastorini, Jeff Rutledge, Vince Ferragamo, Bob Lee, Bert Jones and Steve Fuller.
"I've met a lot of nice guys," Kemp said.
But now he thinks he's ready to play.
Robinson has vowed never to have a quarterback controversy in camp. He won't say that Brock is going to be the starter, but Kemp has the feeling they didn't bring Dieter in to do the laundry.
"I'm not conceding that Dieter is ahead of me," Kemp said. "But I've read things and heard things publicly."
Robinson, not surprisingly, isn't budging.
"I've never felt any pressure to play anybody in my life," he said. "Obviously, we think Dieter is a good quarterback. We think Jeff is a good quarterback and that Steve Dils is a good quarterback. I can't give you the end to the story."
Don't get Kemp wrong. After spending four years on the bench, he was thrilled to be the Rams' quarterback last year.
But in many ways, the Rams made him play with one hand tied behind his back. And whenever someone mentions the Rams' dismal passing numbers last season, it reflects directly on Kemp.
"It's very frustrating for me to go into a game knowing you're only going to be passing 10 times," he said. "It's like you'd better complete this one or they won't call another one for a quarter.
"When Danny Marino goes into a game, he knows he going to throw 40 times. If he throws two interceptions in the first quarter, whoopee. He just says, 'I'll throw four touchdowns the rest of the way and we'll kill them.' I didn't have that luxury."
The Rams weren't subtle about their intentions.
It wasn't unusual to see Dickerson running on third and 10, and against St. Louis, Kemp gave the ball to Dickerson on third and 35. Dickerson came up a yard short.
"We were just trying to be successful," Robinson said. "We were trying to put Jeff in as many positive circumstances as we could. Rather than ask him to do the things he couldn't do, we tried to limit him to the things he would have been good at. It seemed to make good sense."
Still, Kemp is an optimist. He's the type of guy who can look at the bright side of the arrival of Brock. Kemp is only 26. Brock is 34. Even if Brock is the quarterback and has a few good years left, there would still be time for Kemp.
"I don't think the Rams see any glaring problem with me," Kemp said. "They may not see me as the superstar, which is what they want at quarterback. What I prefer to think is that they want to win the Super Bowl this year and they think I'm too inexperienced to place all their eggs in my basket."
But Kemp also knows the life of an NFL quarterback is not an easy one. He remembers how he became a starter last year.
"There are a lot of ways to become a quarterback," he said. "I'll get to play. It's too tough a league. I've always been the underdog. I've always overcome obstacles. There have been 12 quarterbacks since I've been here. Nothing surprises or shocks me."