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Scott Ostler

Brock Has One Fan and a Long Contract--That's All He Needs

February 11, 1986|Scott Ostler

Dieter Brock turns 35 Wednesday, a significant milestone.

Thirty-five is the official starting day for old. If you've never turned 35, here's what happens: The day of your birthday, your plaster starts to crack and your door hinges begin to creak.

All the yoga, yogurt, Nautilus, fanny tucks and Vitamin E in the world won't bring back your youth.

A few athletes fool Mother Nature. Carlton Fisk, the baseball catcher, whipped himself into shape and revived his career at 36. But Fisk's job doesn't call for him to scramble, hit moving targets or throw long.

Thirty-five is very old for a football quarterback, unless he plays for the Rams, who ask of their quarterback only that he be younger than the team's owner.

Many experts believe that Dieter Brock is too old to suddenly become an effective NFL quarterback. He can't turn his career around by getting into shape, because he has never been out of shape.

The Rams, though, see Dieter as a kid about ready to blossom. Sure, he made some rookie mistakes last season, such as mistaking sideline markers and opponents for his primary receivers.

But give the lad time to mature.

"He's the starting quarterback," Ram Coach John Robinson said Sunday. "Nothing's changed."

That was grim news. Southern Californians can't agree on what should be done about the smog, mass transit, rock houses or the Watts towers.

They can't agree on whether Mayor Bradley is a saint or a jerk. There are even a few fans who side with Tom Lasorda in the great Jack Clark debate.

But people from Santa Barbara to San Juan Capistrano agree on Dieter Brock. They have seen enough.

If you have any compassion, your heart goes out to Dieter Brock. In an age of scoundrels, grouches and lawbreakers, Brock is one of the truly nice people of sport, a humble, hard-working, clean-living family man.

It's hardly fair that such a brick of a guy should be the subject of widespread abuse and criticism, but that's what makes football the great game it is.

Dieter's only failing in life is that he is slow afoot and reads defenses as quickly as he reads Russian novels. He was sacked 51 times last season. He was the only NFL quarterback penalized for loitering.

And no logical explanation has been presented for that cold, mysterious January afternoon in Chicago when Dieter's right arm seemed to take on a fiendish will of its own.

Fortunately for Brock, he still has one loyal supporter--John Robinson.

With everyone else in L.A. counting down the number of quarterback shopping days 'till training camp, Robinson is standing behind his man.

Give Robinson credit for loyalty. He has defended Brock through thin and thinner.

Robinson's reward? Criticism from Brock.

The coach didn't let him throw the football, Brock says. The offense was too conservative. Brock did a wonderful job, given the circumstances, Brock has been saying.

Even Brock's agent is taking shots at Robinson, accusing the coach of reneging on his promise to open up the offense and let Brock dust off his golden cannon.

Who will attack Robinson next? Brock's dog? His barber?

"My client has been losing his hair because of the restrictions under which he is forced to labor," the barber will tell the media. "The man is going prematurely gray because he is not allowed to throw dump-off passes to Eric Dickerson."

It's true that when conversations turn to history's great, bold offensive strategists, of the Napoleons and the Coryells, Robinson's name seldom comes up.

So the Brock vs. Robinson controversy boils down to a philosophical question: Which came first? The chicken-livered passing attack designed by Robinson or the egg on Brock's face after another sub-100-yard passing game.

If injected with truth serum, Robinson would probably say he really wants to open up the Rams' offense but is stuck with a quarterback who is not the next Johnny Unitas. Robinson would probably say that Dieter Brock looked a lot better on the game films from Canada than on the playing fields of the NFL.

Then why don't the Rams write off the Dieter Brock gamble and go find another quarterback?

Because the man has a four-year contract, good for three more seasons, and Ram management expects a day's work for a day's pay. If Peter O'Malley had a similar policy, the Dodgers would still be featuring the talents of Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse.

Georgia Frontiere is about as likely to eat Brock's contract as she is to eat a cowhide quiche.

So Dieter Brock is the Rams' quarterback, for another three seasons, taking us up to the brink of the next decade.

What then? Shouldn't the Rams be grooming a replacement?

Remember Pat Haden, the Ram quarterback who retired after the 1981 season? Well, the rumor is that Haden didn't actually retire. Ram management considered Pat too young to quarterback the ballclub and asked him to redshirt a few seasons, until Brock's eligibility runs out.

To keep in shape, Haden is working as a lawyer in Pasadena. Pat turned 33 last month, which is an OK age for a lawyer, but far too young for the demanding position of quarterback.

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