Some Reasons Not to Play a Rookie QB

In golf, when a precocious youngster comes along and starts shooting birdies and eagles in wholesale lots on the tour, wiser heads in the game just nod sagely and observe, "He just doesn't know how tough a game this is yet."

The moral is, anytime you think anything is easy, you just don't understand it, is all.

Playing quarterback in the NFL, for instance.

When you sit 60 or 70 rows up in the stands or in a rooftop press box, you get a God's-eye view of the goings-on down below.

You can spot open receivers, see where the defense is positioned. Nobody is trying to separate you from your left arm or your head or throw their arms in your face.

All you have to do to get an uncluttered view of the zones below is put down your beer.

If it were easy being Johnny Unitas or Terry Bradshaw, every team would have one. Lord knows every team spends enough money trying to find one.

It's such a difficult, complicated art form to master, you never seem to get more than one certified acknowledged genius at it every 10 years.

In between, you get a whole bunch of Norm Sneads, Karl Sweetans, Gary Danielsons, Steve DeBergs, George Miras and Steve Pisarkiewiczes.

No one knows what mysterious alchemy makes a bona fide NFL quarterback, but everyone in authority knows it takes a long time.

It has now been proven demonstrably impossible to step right from college quarterbacking directly into the pro ranks and begin delivering.

Bob Waterfield of the Rams was the last really to do it.

Dan Marino of the Dolphins did it three years ago, it says here, but you might want to check where Marino is in the standings this year before you verify it.

It was more possible to do years ago, before the advent of the sophisticated defenses and masked coverages.

Pro football gets a pre-refined product for its business more than any other, but still a quarterback is not ready for this marketplace.

Waterfield, of all people, was one of the first to recognize the unworkability of throwing even a fine college quarterback directly into the caldron.

"You can ruin his confidence forever," Waterfield would warn. "It takes three years to find out what the hell is going on out there."

Pro football buffs generally consider New Orleans' Archie Manning to be an outstanding example of the potentially great quarterback who was ruined by being handed the ball too soon and asked to do too much until finally his confidence and ultimately his ability had eroded fatally.

Roger Staubach, on the other hand, is the other side of the coin.

People generally felt sorry for Roger because he had to do his hitch in the Navy and was only able to work out periodically with the team and go over its plays.

It may have been the best thing that ever happened to Roger, who was a mature, well-grounded play-caller when he finally signed on full time with the Cowboys.

Jim Plunkett was probably as good a college quarterback as ever played the game when he was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1971.

He had "Super Bowl" written all over him. He was strong, tough, smart, he could throw the ball through (or over) the Empire State Building.

Five years later, when he got shipped off to the San Francisco 49ers for backup chores, he was not a broken man, but after five seasons of trying to look over both shoulders at once behind that porous Patriot line and getting dizzy from trying to implement Rube Goldbergian game plans, Plunkett was considered just another in a long line of Heisman Trophy winners who never-quite-made-it.

Then, he got with the Raiders. A veteran got traded, a starter got a broken leg.

This time, Plunkett was ready. He had Super Bowl written all over him--two of them, both lopsided victories. The years of experience had paid off.

A Super Bowl quarterback is like a canny old pitcher who keeps the hitter off balance, who has seen it all and who keeps his cool.

He can tell by a shift of feet which pitch is called for, he knows the strike zone and he is decisive and confident because he knows the edge is his.

He has paid his dues. He has been to the mountain. He has seen the elephant.

More importantly, his team knows it. They block with more assurance, run routes with more concentration, play the game with more enthusiasm.

The Los Angeles Rams are a team on the horns of a dilemma. They're trying to get to the Super Bowl without a quarterback. It's never been done--and Eric Dickerson is not that good.

They have a play-caller with experience--and the knees to prove it--who can hobble out there and not embarrass himself and not much more. They also have a born backup quarterback and mop-up player.

And they have this kid out of Purdue who looks like a quarterback, sounds like a quarterback and throws like a quarterback. Central Casting would find no problems at all with Jim Everett in the role.

The trouble is, neither would the Lester Hayeses of the league. The Lawrence Taylors.

Ram Coach John Robinson knows this, as did Bob Waterfield before him, and he knows that Jim Everett may be a well-rounded NFL quarterback by, say, 1990.

But only if he doesn't get thrown in the eggbeater NFL defenses before such time as he can spot a safety blitz in his sleep.

Jim Everett may be the second coming of Sammy Baugh. Or Archie Manning. If misused, he could become a shell of a player quicker than you can say John Robinson.

The decision is the coach's.

He can please the press and the public by throwing Jim Everett into the deep water and hoping he doesn't drown. That way he'll need a Jim Everett every year.

It depends on whether you want to win popularity contests or Super Bowls. Quarterbacking is like golf and marathon running. It takes a long time, you usually hit a wall of pain about three-quarters of the way out--and only the really gifted (and experienced) get through it to the top.

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