When National Football League owners voted to cut rosters from 49 to 45 players this season, they dealt their coaches a dilemma: How much dead weight should be carried as backup quarterbacks?
For Ray Berry, coach of the New England Patriots, it's an easy decision.
"I'm a three-quarterback man," said Berry, speaking by phone before bringing the Patriots west to play the Rams in the final round of exhibition games Saturday night. "I've got that branded on my rear end from several coaching experiences around the NFL in which I (saw) exactly what it was like when you lose your No. 1 and No. 2.
"It doesn't take too many experiences like that to make your number three quarterback look extremely valuable to you. You're salvaging a bad situation. The mathematical formula is that if you don't have a quarterback to run your offense, that equals zero on the scoreboard."
Even Ram Coach John Robinson, who earlier indicated he would carry only two quarterbacks this season, is now leaning heavily toward retaining all three--Dieter Brock, Jeff Kemp and Steve Dils--when he makes the final cut to 45 next week.
For coaches who will keep only two, Berry said, "Good luck to 'em."
Berry's third quarterback, behind starter Tony Eason and veteran Steve Grogan, is Tom Ramsey, formerly of UCLA and the Express and Oakland Invaders of the United States Football League.
"He's my security blanket," Berry said. "I'll call every night to make sure he's there."
Football's classic case for a third quarterback is from Berry's own days with the Baltimore Colts. When John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo both were injured in a 42-27 loss at Green Bay, halfback Tom Matte had to play quarterback.
"That's the first experience I ever saw of getting your quarterbacks wiped out," said Berry, then a wide receiver. "Matte stuck his head in the huddle and looked to the right (and said), 'What should we call?', then looked to the left where I was (and said), 'What should we call?' Our right tackle said, 'Tom, you've gotta call somethin'. It's only third down. We can't punt.'
"I was a veteran, so Tom looked at me, and I said, 'Call Flow 28.' That was a sweep toward (receiver) Jimmy Orr. I thought Jimmy could block. I couldn't.
"What we had going for us that year was that Don Shula, the head coach, kind of likes a challenge. We came in the next week and had a simple plan of how we were gonna win from then on. He told the team we were gonna go with Matte at quarterback, and he'd called Woody Hayes to make sure he had all his option plays right.
"He gave us a simple game plan. He said, 'Defense, your plan is don't let 'em score. Offense, we gotta get close enough so Lou Michaels can kick some field goals.' "
Matte started the next game against the Rams in Los Angeles with the plays scribbled on tape around his wrist. Ed Brown, acquired during the week, relieved Matte and threw a touchdown pass to win the game, 20-17, and get the Colts into a Western Conference title playoff against the Packers.
But rules wouldn't permit Brown to play in postseason, so Matte had to go again. He completed 2 of 12 passes for 40 yards and ran 17 times for 57. Shula wasn't kidding about the option offense. Berry later became an assistant coach in the NFL.
"When I was a coach in Detroit, all three of the years I was there we never finished the season with our No. 1 (quarterback)," he said. "One of those years we went to our No. 3 quarterback. Joe Reed came in and we hardly missed a beat and ended up having a very good year.
"I coached in Cleveland one year when we traded away the quarterback depth and lost Brian Sipe at mid-season. We didn't win but one game down the stretch."
Berry was convinced for good.
"I don't want to go with Tom Matte at quarterback," he said.
Eric Dickerson has left Sealy, Tex., to visit his girl friend in Georgia. Still no apparent progress in the impasse. . . . Ram Coach John Robinson indicated he would invite running back Lynn Cain in for a tryout. Cain, who played for Robinson at USC, was cut by the Atlanta Falcons. He rushed for a career-high 145 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Rams last season. . . . The wide receiver kiddie corps dropped to four Wednesday when rookie Chuck Scott missed practice because of a shoulder injury. Scott, a second-round draft choice from Vanderbilt, probably will wind up on injured reserve as part of next week's final squad cut to 45.