Perhaps the best single draft choice the Rams ever made was picking Norm Van Brocklin in the fourth round in 1949.
The only reason he lasted that long was because nobody else in the unsophisticated National Football League of that era realized that although Van Brocklin was a junior, his original class was about to graduate, thus making him eligible for the draft.
The Rams haven't been nearly as lucky or smart in picking quarterbacks since. At times their efforts have been so futile as to discourage them from risking high choices to improve the position, which may be why it's been in chaos for the last 15 years.
Coach John Robinson labeled it "the inability to find the right guy. I don't think they have used high draft choices there."
They means the coaches before he was hired in 1983. But Robinson himself hasn't seriously pursued a quarterback in his three drafts. His only two choices were throwaway picks: Clete Casper of Washington State in the 12th and last round in '83 and Doug Flutie of Boston College and the New Jersey Generals in the 10th in '85, strictly on the chance that the United States Football League might fold and the Rams could get something for Flutie's NFL rights.
Instead, Robinson has followed the dead-end path of his predecessors, looking for the quick fix--old quarterbacks with failing parts whose warranties have expired. The latest is Steve Bartkowski, 33, who started working out with the three other Ram quarterbacks--Dieter Brock, Jeff Kemp and Steve Dils--last week.
But Robinson emphasized that Bartkowski's presence does not preclude the Rams' need to find a young quarterback who could be groomed to play for 5 or 10 years.
"I think it's a real advantage, if you can do it," Robinson said.
The best place to look for him, obviously, is in the draft, but the Rams won't have a chance to grab either of the top-rated two--Jim Everett of Purdue and Chuck Long of Iowa--unless they trade for a first-round pick higher than their own, which is 23rd in the order.
If the Rams do trade up, it probably won't happen until Tuesday morning, after the top selections have been made and the Rams can be certain that their man is still available.
"You wouldn't want to move up there and have him gone," Robinson said.
And if they can't get Everett or Long, they'll look to the next level of quarterbacks, which includes Mike Norseth of Kansas, Doug Gaynor of Cal State Long Beach, Jack Trudeau of Illinois, Robbie Bosco of BYU, Mark Rypien of Washington State, Hugh Millen of Washington, and Walter Brister of Northeast Louisiana.
The Rams could get one of those players in the second or third round, which would still be higher than they have drafted a quarterback since Ron Jaworski in the second in 1973.
If they have no shot at a quarterback in the first round, the Rams will look for a blue-chip defensive or offensive lineman, if any are left. If not, they have other options.
"The thing about the best available athlete is a bit of a cliche but when you get to 13 or 14 you have to keep that in mind," Robinson said. "Say the linemen are used up and a guy like (UCLA wide receiver Mike) Sherrard might be there. We certainly weren't looking at Jerry Gray as our first choice last year."
The Rams, drafting 20th in '85, picked the cornerback from Texas. They were already strong at the position but Gray is still regarded as a sound choice because he was . . . well, Robinson said it.
Another possibility is that the Rams could trade down , swapping their first-round pick for a high second and still be in position to get a capable quarterback.
Some scouts doubt Trudeau's value because of a bad knee. Others say that Bosco is too skinny.
Norseth, 6-2, 205 and confident, has said: "I'm the third-best quarterback in the draft."
Could he be the one to settle the Rams' unrest at the position?
Robinson, who has had three different starters in his three years, said: "The phenomenon of getting yourself established as a quarterback in L.A. is something. Maybe everyone wants the Rams to have the perfect quarterback, as against a quarterback that just wins.
"It is unique when in the same town you have two teams that had good records (the Raiders being the other), and the people are demanding they get new quarterbacks.
"Sometimes you have to go against the tide to let a quarterback establish himself. We need to attempt to do that. That has to be a priority with this team."
There's a problem, though, Robinson said. "Quarterbacks go through difficult periods, and if the coach doesn't survive that period, he might not, either."
So Robinson is looking for a quarterback. But what, exactly, is he looking for?
"You'd say, 'Great arm,' " Robinson said. "But you'd eliminate (Bob) Griese, (Joe) Montana, (Bart) Starr and (Ken) Stabler. 'Great scrambler' would eliminate some others.
"Sometimes arm strength is overemphasized, but it's the easiest to measure."
The next qualities Robinson would consider, in order, are "athletic ability, touch or feel or vision, and leadership . . . intangibles, things you can't see but are real."
Robinson indicated he would not want a short quarterback.
"Physical size is probably part of being an athlete," he said.
Robinson also indicated that if the Rams do draft a quarterback, one of the present four would have to go before training camp.
If he could find one Norm Van Brocklin, he wouldn't mind letting them all go.
Ram Notes The Rams will have 14 selections in Tuesday's draft. They have their own first two but traded their third, with Vince Ferragamo, to Buffalo for tight end Tony Hunter last year. They also gave up their fifth-round pick to San Diego for wide receiver Bobby Duckworth, but picked up extras in deals that sent Drew Hill to Houston for a seventh, Ivory Sully to Tampa Bay for an eighth, Mike Barber to Denver for a 12th and, last week, the rights to Terry Greer to Cleveland for a fourth. . . . Barbara Robinson, no relation to the coach, has been promoted to director of administration. She has been in the Rams' front office for 19 years. . . . Quarterback Jeff Kemp recently received an MBA degree from Pepperdine, with honors. . . . John Robinson and Raider Coach Tom Flores will be the targets of a charity roast for the Clancy Williams Cancer Fund May 10 at the Hyatt Hotel in Commerce. The NFL Alumni Assn. is sponsoring the event.
QUARTERBACKS DRAFTED BY RAMS
Year Player School Round 1949 Bobby Thompson VMI 1 1949 Norm Van Brocklin Oregon 4 1952 Bill Wade Vanderbilt 1 1953 Rudy Bukich USC 2 1958 Al Jacks Penn State 10 1958 Ron Parrish Linfield 21 1960 Charlie Britt Georgia 3 1961 Ron Miller Wisconsin 23 1962 Roman Gabriel North Carolina State 1 1962 Jim Bakken Wisconsin 7-B 1962 Charles Furlow Mississippi State 18 1963 Terry Baker Oregon State 1 1964 Bill Munson Utah State 1 1964 Ron Smith Richmond 10-B 1968 Gary Beban UCLA 2 1968 Jimmy Raye Michigan State 16 1969 Tim Carr C.W. Post 12 1970 Larry Arnold Hawaii 12 1971 Charlie Richards Richmond 11 1973 Ron Jaworski Youngstown State 2-B 1975 Pat Haden USC 7 1975 Alvin White Oregon State 15 1976 Steve Hamilton Emporia 13 1977 Vince Ferragamo Nebraska 4 1978 Mark Manges Maryland 4 1979 Jeff Rutledge Alabama 9 1980 Kevin Scanlon Arkansas 12 1983 Clete Casper Washington State 12 1985 Doug Flutie Boston College 10