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Rams Decide to Give Bartkowski a Try : 33-Year-Old Quarterback Is Expected to Sign Contract Today

Times Staff Writer

Joe Namath, Dan Pastorini, Bert Jones, Dieter Brock . . . and Steve Bartkowski?

Indications are that the Rams, who should know better than to trust any quarterback over 30, will sign Bartkowski, 33, to a short-term, cut-rate contract. He had a tryout at Rams Park Wednesday.

His agent, Leigh Steinberg, will meet with Ram Vice President John Shaw today to negotiate terms, which should not be difficult. Bartkowski is a free agent and said money isn’t a factor.

Ram Coach John Robinson seemed satisfied that Bartkowski’s passing arm is sound and that his battered right knee is strong enough.

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Said Bartkowski, a former Cal All-American: “Money’s never been that significant to me.”

He was paid $575,000 in 1985 and was due to receive $600,000 in ’86 before the Atlanta Falcons released him late last season after 11 years.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, a 12-year veteran must receive at least $160,000 in ’86.

“The minimum?” he said, smiling. “Sure. I just want to win. I’m tired of losing.”

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Bartkowski, who was selected to play in the Pro Bowl after the ’80 and ’81 seasons, was examined by Ram team physician Robert Kerlan Tuesday. Then Wednesday, in what has become a familiar off-season occurrence for the Rams, he ran deep dropbacks and threw passes for about an hour. In ’77 it was Namath, in ’81 Pastorini, in ’82 Jones, and last year Brock. The first three lasted only four games each. Jones reported healthy but suffered a neck injury that ended his career.

Brock, 35, last year’s great hope from the Canadian Football League and the Rams’ 15th starter in 14 seasons, stayed basically healthy. His only physical problem was a kidney stone that sidelined him for one game. Although the Rams reached the NFC title game, he failed to impress Ram followers as the answer to the club’s quarterback problem.

“I would say the position would be competitive,” Robinson said after Bartkowski’s tryout. That was good enough for Bartkowski. “Just a spot on the roster in training camp would be fine,” he said.

Brock, contacted later, said: “If they do sign him, I’d have to find out where I stand. It’s obvious they wouldn’t be looking at other quarterbacks--especially veteran quarterbacks--if they were happy with the situation.”

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Bartkowski, 6-4, is four inches taller than Brock. Bartkowski, however, was rendered immobile by five surgeries on his right knee--"but only one major (surgery),” he said, in 1980.

He has been playing since the last operation in ’84 without cartilage or an anterior cruciate ligament in the knee.Bartkowski has worn a knee brace in games but did not wear one during Wednesday’s workout.

Bartkowski demonstrated in the tryout that his arm is about as strong as Brock’s, although the way the Rams ran their offense last season, it wouldn’t matter.

“We have to pass more,” Robinson conceded.

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When the knee started to bother Bartkowski last season, the Falcons first benched him, then put him on waivers.

He finished the season with the Washington Redskins, who lost starter Joe Theismann with a broken leg, and he became a free agent again when the Redskins’ season ended. He never played for the Redskins because of Jay Schroeder’s strong performance.

Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard said of Bartkowski: “He still has his arm and he’s sharp (passing the ball). Our main concern was his knee.”

Beathard also seemed to be pushing Theismann, whose rehabilitation is said to be ahead of schedule but who will turn 37 next season. Theismann has a new contract believed to be worth as much as $800,000.

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“He’s interested in playing out there, too,” Beathard said from Washington. “If he has a chance to talk to another team, we’re not going to discourage it. Right now, Jay’s our guy.”

Ram Notes

Ram Coach John Robinson said he is unhappy with a 1986 schedule that will force his team to play at Chicago and New Orleans 5 1/2 days apart. “That’s terrible,” he said of the schedule announced Wednesday by the National Football League. The Rams must play the Super Bowl champion Bears at Soldier Field on Monday night, Nov. 3, then play the Saints at the Superdome Sunday, Nov. 9. “It’s really a bitch to leave Chicago at 1 or 2 a.m., get home early Tuesday morning and then have to leave Friday at 3,” Robinson said. “We’re going to consider staying back there that week.” He suggested that “something should be put into the computer to ding those things. It’s not fair.”


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