Was Brock Right Man at Wrong Time? : Rams: Former quarterback says he shouldn't be judged on basis of failure in NFC title game at Chicago in 1986.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dieter Brock is the only guy who could overthrow Kadafi. -- Popular joke, 1985 The biggest football game of Dieter Brock's life was also his worst, but then, Dieter was never a world beater when it came to timing.

He spent the prime of his athletic career in the snow drifts of Winnipeg, delaying his NFL debut until his 34th year.

He broke in with the Rams in 1985, in the heart of the Eric Dickerson era, when quarterbacks were to be seen handing off, not throwing long.

He reached the NFC Championship game the same year the Chicago Bears fielded perhaps the most dominating defense in pro football history, complete with a devastating pass rush that feasted on short, slow-footed, 34-year-old quarterbacks from Canada.

And, on the afternoon Dieter Brock was thrown to the Bears, game-time temperatures dipped below 40 degrees while winds of 23 m.p.h. whipped across Soldier Field, in all directions.

So, when it came to pass on Jan. 12, 1986, Dieter couldn't.

He floated 31 footballs into the tempest, some of them touching human hands. A total of 10 were caught by Ram receivers, who turned them into a total of 66 yards. One was caught by a Bear. Another would-be pass was prematurely interrupted by Chicago defensive end Richard Dent, who sacked Brock and forced a fumble that linebacker Wilber Marshall picked up and ran 52 yards for a touchdown.

The final score was Bears 24, Rams 0.

The game is remembered as one of the poorest performances ever by a quarterback in a conference championship game.

And Brock?

He never played another regular-season game and today lives in Birmingham, Ala., merely another bad Ram playoff memory. Right now, he is out of work, having had a local radio sports talk show that ran for two years until bad ratings recently sank it.

"It was fun. I enjoyed doing it," Brock said by phone the other day. "But we were not on a station that was very conducive to sports. It was all religious programming during the day and there just weren't the listeners for a sports talk show."

Same ol' Dieter.

Mr. Timing.

How this move turns out, nobody knows, but we're excited about this because we think Dieter can provide a missing ingredient. --John Robinson, the day Brock became a Ram

Thanks a lot, Canada.

Having tried their luck with smart quarterbacks (Pat Haden), spacey quarterbacks (Vince Ferragamo), old quarterbacks (Joe Namath, Dan Pastorini), injured quarterbacks (Bert Jones) and green quarterbacks (Jeff Kemp), the Rams decided to try a new one in 1985--a Canadian quarterback.

Brock had been a rock of stability in 11 Canadian Football League seasons, two-time winner of the league's MVP award and holder of CFL single-season records for most touchdown passes and yards passing. In his last five seasons, split between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Brock passed for an astounding 20,441 yards.

With the Rams, Brock was going to be the healthy alternative to Dickerson-till-they-die, the passing threat Robinson's offense so severely lacked, the veteran presence in the important games, the one Ram quarterback who knew how to play in the cold.

With Brock, the Rams got to the NFC title game, their first of the 1980s and their last until today's encounter in San Francisco, but Brock's contribution was mainly tagging along for the ride.

In 1985, the Rams threw the fewest passes in the NFL, 405, and threw for the fewest yards in the NFC, 2,463. But because they played defense and got Dickerson into the end zone, they got to Chicago.

And this is where Brock came in, right? The man who spent 9 1/2 seasons with Winnipeg icicles hanging from his face mask wasn't going to let a few snow flurries bother him.

Right?

"The weather in Chicago was quite similar to Winnipeg," Brock says. "In Winnipeg, it's quite flat and the wind really gets to blowing around there.

"But even if you're used to those conditions, once you're out of that environment, even for a little while, it's quite a shock to get back in it."

Consider Brock shocked. He spent the first half throwing into the wind and the second half playing catch-up. His passes fluttered, the Rams stuttered and, together at once, both fell.

"It was tough," Brock says. "The Bears put a lot of pressure on you anyway and the winds made it that much more difficult.

"The teams that were successful against the Bears that season and in later seasons, I think, spread the defense out. They put three and four wide receivers into the pattern. But we were so narrow in what we did. We never used three wide receivers--even on third-and-long passing situations. We were pretty much limited when it came to our passing game."

The Ram game plan for the Bears was as basic as could be, Brock says.

"We were going to run the ball and hope to make a big play," he says. "If we made a big play and stayed close, we had a shot.

"But they shut our running game down and they got a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. When we got behind, it was just all over."

We didn't have a quarterback who could throw a spiral back then.

--Robinson's 1989 perspective on 1985.

Brock and Robinson agree that the 1985 Rams didn't have much of a passing attack, but they differ sharply on the reasons why.

Robinson says the Rams ran because they couldn't pass.

Brock says the Rams couldn't pass because Robinson wouldn't let them.

"It was frustrating," Brock says. "Any quarterback prefers throwing the football. That's how I played my whole career until I came to L.A.

"(But) what happened early in the year set the tone. We were playing well on defense and we didn't turn the ball over a lot. We were winning with the style Robinson had used in the past--run the ball, wear down the other team and win the game in the fourth quarter.

"The Rams have really changed their offense since then and it's for the better. They use more (receivers), they run more patterns, they put more pressure on the defense.

"Back in '85, you shut down Dickerson and there was nothing else for us to do."

In one season, Brock broke all of Haden's records for Ram quarterback abuse. He became part of Johnny Carson's monologue. He was booed at Anaheim Stadium. In a readers' poll conducted by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Brock beat out the Raiders' Marc Wilson for worst quarterback in the city.

Brock completed 59.7% of his regular-season passes--a team record that still stands--but his legacy remains those frozen incompletions scattered all over Soldier Field.

"I don't think it was fair," Brock says of the criticism. "Anybody who thinks I was a bad quarterback just because of one game isn't looking at the whole thing. I was a bad quarterback for one game, not a whole season.

"Overall, we went to the championship game and I started in 12 wins. I was the third-rated quarterback in the NFC (behind Joe Montana and Jim McMahon). . . .

"I think a lot of criticism was because I played in the CFL so long--'If he's good enough to play here, why didn't he come down sooner?' And there was my size (listed generously as 6-1). I was always knocked for not being tall enough.

"Also, there was the fact that the Rams under Robinson then didn't throw the ball and people tend to blame the quarterback for that. If you don't do it, people assume you can't do it."

Brock attempted to play in 1986, but suffered a back injury during the exhibition season. That September, the Rams traded for Jim Everett. That December, the Rams released Brock. On July 13, 1987, Brock retired.

Maybe he should have stayed in Canada?

"No, it was a good experience," Brock said. "Yeah, no doubt. I was just happy to have a chance to play in the NFL after 11 years in Canada. Just to prove to myself. I got my chance."

He simply picked the wrong team and the wrong time to spend a long Chicago day throwing to the wrong receivers.

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