Vince Ferragamo proved the other week that it’s tough to teach an old quarterback new tricks.
On the practice field at Harbor College, Ferragamo played cornerback during passing drills. He got burned over and over again.
First, flanker Marcel Bridges got Ferragamo turned around on a post pattern. Then Michael Williams rocketed past him on a deep route. Then Jerry Groves did a quick curl and caught another ball right in front of the former Los Angeles Rams quarterback.
Ferragamo took his beatings with a smile and patted the receivers on the back after they jogged back with their catches. After all, Ferragamo, who in 1979 became the only quarterback to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl, is willing to do just about anything to help his older brother, Chris, pick up the pieces of his struggling Seahawk football program.
Even if it means getting burned by 20-year-old receivers in a routine passing drill.
“I’m just doing this for the love of football,” said Ferragamo, 35, the former rifle-armed quarterback, who volenteers a couple of afternoons a week to work with Harbor’s quarterbacks and receivers. “Part-time coaching sure isn’t going to pay my bills.”
Ferragamo’s career in the National Football League came to an end three years ago. But he got involved with the Seahawk program last spring, when Chris Ferragamo, Harbor’s head coach, asked him to help teach a new pro-style passing system to his players.
What the old quarterback could do was teach a young quarterback new tricks.
That young quarterback is Eddie Lopez, a sophomore at Harbor who hadn’t played the position at Narbonne High School. Vince spent most of the spring and summer grooming Lopez to be the main weapon in a complex new arsenal.
That meant going over fundamentals--like how to grip the football properly, how to stand behind the center and how to scramble out of the pocket and throw on the run. It also meant drilling Lopez on finer points: how to look off the free safety and how to coordinate the depth of his drop with the routes of his receivers.
“Mostly, I was trying to polish Eddie’s technique, and he started out really good,” Ferragamo said.
Lopez passed for 278 yards and three touchdowns--including a 73-yard touchdown bomb to Brides--in Harbor’s 42-25 season-opening loss to El Camino.
By Harbor’s sixth game, Lopez had completed 43% of his passes for 876 yards and 5 touchdowns and had been intercepted only 6 times. And he had led Harbor to its only victory by running 18 yards for a TD and passing 46 yards to Bridges for another score in the Seahawks’ 21-13 win over L.A. Pierce.
But then Lopez went down with a twisted left knee against Compton. The knee required arthroscopic and reconstructive surgery, and Ferragamo’s project was lost for the season.
Grant Beachley, a freshman out of San Pedro, took over, but his only real experience at the community college level was as quarterback of the Seahawk scout team. Beachley had 6 of his 68 pass attempts picked off before breaking his shoulder against Glendale three weeks ago.
“Grant is a great talent and he’s got a lot of athletic ability,” Vince Ferragomo said. “But he
was thrust into a position of relying totally on his own instincts. We’ve been hurting ever since he went down.”
Harbor since has relied on what Ferragamo called “disaster-style” quarterbacks.
Luis Solorio, a punter/kicker, subbed at the position for one game. Then Marvin Person, a converted tailback, took over. Person saw 5 of his 24 passes fall into enemy hands, although he did hit Bridges for a 36-yard TD pass in Harbor’s 50-15 loss to Ventura.
“We had come a long way in the half season before all the injuries,” Ferragamo said. “We were finally doing something, and we were headed somewhere.”
Now, the only place Harbor is headed is to next season. The team struggled through a second season under Chris Ferragamo. After going 2-7 last year, the Seahawks finished 1-10 this year.
Vince Ferragamo spent the last 10 Saturdays--up in the press box, scouting the opponents’ defense for weaknesses. Chris Ferragamo said his brother is especially good at picking up blitz packages--the product of 10 years of running from and getting sacked by NFL safeties.
The younger Ferragamo also helped by calling some of Harbor’s passing plays.
“Vince is like most former pros in that he’s got football in his blood,” Chris said. “He’s just trying to give back to the game some of the things that were given to him in his younger days.”
He also has a chance to help Harbor have a better recruiting year by trying to woo area quarterbacks into the program.
But Vince hasn’t just helped in the recruiting department. He also helped to boost the team’s morale in what has been a difficult season.
“The kids love to see Vince throw the football in practice,” Chris said. “When he wings that ball, it just sings through the air. When you hear the ball make that sound like a whistle, you just know there’s a lot of velocity behind it. The kids love it.”
It was that right-arm howitzer that enabled Ferragamo to last for 10 years in professional football.
After starring at Banning High School from 1969 to 1971, where he was coached by Chris, Ferragamo went on to a college career at California and Nebraska. He made his debut for the Rams in 1977.
In 1979, spelling the injured Pat Haden after only seven NFL starts, Ferragamo did what no other Rams quarterback was able to do--not Haden, John Hadl, Roman Gabriel, or anyone since--when he led the team to the Super Bowl. Ferragamo’s clutch play in the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys that year launched the Rams into Super Bowl XIV. Despite Ferragamo’s poise, the Rams lost that game, 31-19, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What followed was a love-hate relationship with the Rams in which Ferragamo waged contract wars with management and fought duels with Haden for the starting quarterback job. During the bitter quarterback controversy of 1980, even Ferragamo’s IQ was pitted against that of Haden--a Rhodes Scholar--despite the fact that Ferragamo had a 3.6 grade-point average in college and had taken classes in medical school.
The controversy was settled that year when Haden fell again to injury, and Ferragamo went on to set Ram records for completions, yardage and touchdowns.
But the next year, Ferragamo jumped to the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League after he and the Rams failed to come to terms on a contract. It was a decision that Ferragamo says he wishes he hadn’t made.
“I don’t think anyone really figured out where I was really coming from,” Ferragamo said. “It was a business decision, but if I had it to do over again I probably wouldn’t have left the Rams. I probably would have played longer if I would have stayed in L.A. If you stick with one team, there’s more loyalty.”
Ferragamo returned to the Rams in 1982 when Montreal owner Nelson Skalbania folded the team.
On Dec. 26, 1982, he passed for 509 yards against the Chicago Bears--the fourth-highest in NFL history behind Norm Van Brocklin, Phil Simms and Dan Marino. He had another fine year in 1983, but after an injury-ridden season in 1984, the Rams bundled him off to the Buffalo Bills in a trade for tight end Tony Hunter.
Ferragamo’s NFL career was all but over, but he still holds Ram season records in completions (274), yardage (3,276) and touchdown passes (30)--although current Ram quarterback Jim Everett is chasing him in all three categories this season.
Real estate sales, not football, occupie most of Ferragamo’s time these days. He lives in Orange Park Acres and sells residential real estate in Orange and Villa Park. But it’s a love of football and his close family ties that have led to his volunteer arrangement at Harbor College.
“There’s so much age difference (between Chris and Vince) that all we ever talk about is football,” Vince said. “I’ve always thought of Chris as more of a coach than a brother. Even at Banning I used to call him ‘Coach.’ ”