He's Dreaming of Father-Son Chat : Kemp Wants a Super Bowl Ring, Then a Ring From Dad

Times Staff Writer

Imagine a Sunday evening in late January 1989 when the winning quarterback in Super Bowl XXIII has come on the line to accept a call from the President of the United States.

"Hi, dad," he says.

Actually, Jeff Kemp's favorite fantasy is to win the '88 Super Bowl, then phone the victorious presidential candidate in November.

"I just want to win a Super Bowl before my dad wins the presidency," he said.

Campaign headquarters, 1988: "Excuse me, Mr. President, your son the quarterback is calling. He says since he's a big fan of yours, he can give you a minute before he goes to practice. Just don't ask for tickets to Sunday's game."

But first things first. Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills in the 1960s, is not the Republican candidate, nor is his son a starting quarterback in the National Football League.

Jeff's career has been moving along the last two years like a van. The Rams traded him to the San Francisco 49ers in '86, and the 49ers passed him along to the Seattle Seahawks this year.

He lives in Orange and has been working out this off-season at Rams Park in preparation for training camp, which opens next month.

As he posed for a picture in front of a Ram sign, wearing a Seahawk T-shirt, Kemp quipped: "Caption this, 'Thank you, John Robinson.' "

Kemp wasn't drafted, but the Rams, noting the bloodlines, signed him as a free agent and kept him for five years. He helped in '84 when Vince Ferragamo injured his passing hand and Kemp was told to hand off to Eric Dickerson for 12 games and not take any chances.

Then, after the Rams dealt him to the 49ers and Joe Montana hurt his back in the opening game, Kemp temporarily blossomed until he departed with a wrenched hip after six starts.

Then Montana got well and the 49ers got Steve Young from Tampa Bay, making Kemp expendable in Coach Bill Walsh's view.

"I think this is a step up over any of the situations I've been in," Kemp said while doing stretching exercises near his old stall in the Ram clubhouse. "Last year's (situation) turned out perfectly, but I was taking that as a short-term learning opportunity. Long-term, it was, 'Let's see if they ever give me a chance to start.'

"It was disappointing to leave, because, having done that well my first year in the system under tough circumstances, I could definitely have started and done the type of job they're looking for after Joe (Montana retires).

"John Robinson didn't think of me as a starter. Bill Walsh thought highly of me, but more highly of a Steve Young type who had everything in his background.

"A good thing about Seattle is there is no preconceived idea or image of what a quarterback should be. They don't have to be a first-rounder. They don't have to be 6-feet-4. (Former starter) Jim Zorn was a free agent. (Current starter) Dave Krieg was a free agent. I'm at least as strong and big as those guys.

"The way (Coach Chuck) Knox put it to me is, 'We want to have someone who can give us proven starting ability as a backup and push Dave Krieg to be better. If you're better than him, you'll play.' So there's nothing limiting me. That is exciting."

In his six starts for the 49ers, Kemp, whose arm is stronger than Montana's, was given some credit for the development of young receiver Jerry Rice and for a solid deep passing threat overall.

"We had to use him," Kemp said. "When I was playing early in the year, our running game wasn't going. (Wendell) Tyler was out and (Joe) Cribbs was just getting used to it. He's not the inside runner that Tyler is, and Roger Craig was banged up all year, and Dwight (Clark, the primary intermediate receiver) had knee problems all year.

"So we really had to give it to Jerry. No doubt, if I had a chance to go deep to him, I would. The play calling was Bill (Walsh), mostly. I audibled some, and some of that worked real well. We did well in two-minute (offense) when I was calling plays."

Kemp will have to re-adjust for the Seahawks.

"Their philosophy is more toward the Rams' end of the spectrum than San Francisco's. They love to run. They have a good offensive line and a great running back (Curt Warner).

"But they're a big third-down passing team. They go into four wides and play shotgun. They've got the speed man in (Daryl) Turner and (All-Pro Steve) Largent for everything else."

Kemp has spent much of this off-season working in his father's campaign and concentrating on Orange County, New Hampshire and Iowa.

Occasionally, he thought the blitz was on.

"A few times I had to say, 'Hey, I'm not running for President. My dad is.' "

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World