Old Rams QBs Roman Gabriel, Ron Jaworski and Vince Ferragamo can’t wait to see who new Rams QB will be
The longest-tenured quarterback in Rams history is keeping a watchful eye on Thursday’s NFL draft.
Roman Gabriel played 11 seasons in Los Angeles, and he is eager to see whether the Rams select California’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz with the No. 1 pick.
Like many Rams fans through the years, Gabriel awaits an end to the saga of quarterback shuffling.
“I can’t count how many quarterbacks they’ve had since I was there in ’62,” said Gabriel, 75. “Holy cow.”
The Rams franchise — rooted in Cleveland before touching down in Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis — has drafted 47 quarterbacks, 44 since 1949 when Bobby Thomason of the Virginia Military Institute was selected in Round 1 as the first quarterback chosen by the Los Angeles Rams.
Six were first-round picks and three — Vanderbilt’s Billy Wade in 1952, Oregon State’s Terry Baker in 1963 and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2010 — were the top pick in the draft.
Baker and Bradford were two of four Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks drafted by the Rams, who also selected UCLA’s Gary Beban in the second round in 1968 and Doug Flutie in the 11th round in 1985.
Several of their most successful quarterbacks were not drafted by the Rams.
They signed James Harris during the 1972 season and assigned him to the “taxi” practice squad after the Buffalo Bills released him. He led Rams to the 1974 NFC title game and made the Pro Bowl.
Jim Everett, the Rams’ all-time passing-yardage leader, was acquired in a trade after the Houston Oilers made the former Purdue star the No. 3 pick in the 1986 draft but could not come to terms on a contract.
Kurt Warner, a two-time MVP who led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title, was an undrafted free agent who had been cut by the Green Bay Packers and played in the Arena Football League before signing with the Rams.
None had the longevity of Gabriel, a North Carolina State star selected by the Rams with the second pick in 1962.
Only Syracuse running back Ernie Davis was taken before Gabriel, who was at the center of a bidding war between the Rams and the American Football League’s Oakland Raiders.
Gabriel said that the Raiders offered $12,500 a year and a $2,500 signing bonus. But Rams General Manager Elroy Hirsch traveled to Raleigh, N.C., to offer $15,000 a year and a $5,000 bonus.
Gabriel signed with the Rams but said that he learned later that the Raiders had given his rights to the Dallas Texans, who were prepared to offer nearly five times as much.
“I’d already committed to L.A. and to this day I’m happy I did,” he said. “I got to play 11 years with great friends.”
Even back then, the Rams’ quarterback situation was unsettled. A year after selecting Gabriel, they drafted Baker. And a year after that they drafted two quarterbacks, Utah State’s Bill Munson in the first round and Richmond’s Ron Smith in the 10th.
But Gabriel endured. The NFL’s most valuable player in 1969, he passed for 154 touchdowns in 130 games, with 112 interceptions, for the Rams. He played his last five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring at 37 after the 1977 season.
Gabriel, who splits time between his hometown of Wilmington, N.C., and Little River, S.C., is thrilled the Rams have returned to Los Angeles.
“Hopefully,” he said, “some of the old-timers remember guys like myself.”
He likes both Goff and Wentz.
“They both look like [good] prospects,” he said, “but for season tickets Goff might be a better choice because he’s a California kid and people know about him.”
The Rams have the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday. Coach Jeff Fisher and General Manager Les Snead met with the media Tuesday to discuss who they could select.
Gabriel said Los Angeles was and always will be a good destination for quarterbacks.
“The opportunities when I was there were tremendous,” he said. “I got to do a lot of stuff because I was a Ram and at the time a decent quarterback. Some TV, a couple movies. . . . If you keep yourself above board and do the things that are necessary, a guy coming in there can do well for himself.”
Other quarterbacks drafted by the Rams also will watch with interest Thursday night.
Ron Jaworski, drafted in the second round in 1973, played three seasons for the Rams and 12 more with the Eagles, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
The longtime ESPN analyst played at Youngstown State in Ohio and said he was “shocked” when the Rams drafted him because he hadn’t heard much from them.
“I was in my dorm room,” he said of draft day. “There was a pay phone in the hall of the dorm and an exchange student from Beirut answered and yelled, ‘Ron Jaworski, the Los Angeles Rams are on the phone.’ It was a little bit different than the red carpet treatment we see today.”
Jaworski, 65, said no quarterback is ready to play immediately in the NFL — “I don’t care what offense you played in,” he said — but said both Goff and Wentz have the skills to make the transition.
Jaworski played for the Rams in an era when he rotated with Harris, John Hadl and Pat Haden.
“You have to pick a guy and ride with him,” he said, adding, “If you’re going to get a quarterback for the long haul, you’re going to have to live with some pain.”
Jaworski remembers playing before a capacity crowd at the Coliseum in his first exhibition. He also played the final game of his career there — in 1989, with the Chiefs, when he was tackled by the Raiders’ Howie Long and suffered a knee injury.
“I remember walking off the field and up the tunnel,” he said. “I’m 39 and I’m thinking, ‘It started here and it’s ending here.’”
Vince Ferragamo of Nebraska was taken by the Rams with a fourth-round pick in 1977. A former Wilmington Banning High star, he had suffered an injury and did not attend private workouts.
“The Rams said they saw me in high school,” he said.
Ferragamo, 62, remembers one of his first games at the Coliseum because of something that happened above the field.
“Someone was flying a plane over the stadium and there was a banner that said, ‘Fire the Ammo, Play Ferragamo,’” he said, laughing.
Ferragamo took over after Haden was injured late in the 1979 season and led the Rams to their only Super Bowl appearance before their move to St. Louis. After the 1980 season, he left to play in Canada because of a contract dispute but returned to the Rams in 1982 and played three more seasons before finishing his career with the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay.
Goff and Wentz are both good quarterbacks, Ferragamo said.
“Wentz looks like he has a little more future potential because he’s bigger and faster,” he said. “He didn’t play in a Division I program but that doesn’t mean that much when you go play in the pros.”
Like Gabriel and Jaworski, Ferragamo said he would like the Rams to find an answer at quarterback.
“It’s been sporadic,” he said. “Maybe this is going to be the one.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @LATimesKlein
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