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Another Quarterback Controversy: Do Rams Really Need It?

September 15, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

If the Rams paid Steve Bartkowski based on his statistics, the poor guy would have had to sweep up peanut shells and beer cups at Anaheim Stadium Sunday to earn gas money home from the Ram-49er game.

But in the end, they threw the statistics out the window, and Bartkowski threw the 49ers out the window, and the Rams won, and isn't that what football is all about?

In the end, it came down to one pass apiece.

Jeff Kemp took his last shot halfway through the fourth quarter. It might have been another Ram-stunning zinger, like Kemp had been throwing all afternoon, but defensive end Doug Reed swatted away the pass at point-blank range.

Then Bartkowski got his chance. His last shot was a 32-yard mini-bomb to Bobby Duckworth, setting up the game-winning field goal.

Crazy game, isn't it?

Should the Rams feel good, bad, sad, lucky, plucky or simply ducky?

Good: They beat the 49ers, 16-13.

Bad: But the Rams' passing game didn't show up until about 3:30 p.m., in a game that started at 1. "I didn't play very well," Bartkowski said. "A lot of things kept us off balance. Today we just weren't that good."

Sad: The Rams traded Kemp to the 49ers, greatly aiding the arch-rivals to the north. Couldn't the Rams use this kid who, at one point Sunday, completed 16 of 17 pass attempts?

Lucky: The Rams faced the 49ers the first week they were without Joe Montana, who usually carves up the Rams like a Christmas turkey.

Plucky: Kemp Joemontana-ed the Rams for 3 1/2 quarters Sunday, but the Rams hung in there. Did Doug Reed give up? Did Bartkowski or Duckworth give up?

Ducky: Check the standings.

Ram Coach John Robinson summed it up pretty well after the game, when he talked about how Bartkowski isn't playing as well as the Rams think he can play. But Robinson paused a moment and said:

"So what?"

Sure. Let the hotshot kid Kemp run all over the lot, making you look like fools for trading him away. Let your older, immobile quarterback struggle all afternoon, get sacked four times, misfire regularly.

So what?

When each quarterback got his one last shot, didn't your veteran win it, with his arm and his head?

Didn't Bartkowski read a 49er blitz and loft up a sweet, cool little game-breaker to Duckworth?

Isn't this the kind of poise and intelligence you look for in a guy like Bartkowski?

He made one big play Sunday. How many do you need? As Bartkowski himself said of the Rams' last drive, and the fact that the 49ers had outgained the Rams: "I don't care if they had 8,000 yards at that point. I had every confidence we could put together a drive and win the football game."

The big play was designed as a pass to Barry Redden in the flat, but Bartkowski never even bothered to look at Redden. Bartkowski knew he would have a flying Duck wide open.

"They tried to blitz us," Bartkowski said. "I knew where I was going. I knew all I had to do was loft it up there for him (Duckworth) and he would run under it.

"I knew they'd try to come after me. They like blitzes when we get into field goal range. I knew they might send the whole house after me. It's not so much that you see the blitz; you feel it."

That's been the Rams' quarterback problem the last couple of years. They feel the blitz, a painful type of braille reading.

Sunday, Bartkowski was sacked four times, had a long pass dropped by Duckworth early, had a sensational long catch by Michael Young taken away when an official erroneously ruled the ball was trapped.

A terrible day for Bartkowski, except for the last couple of minutes.

It's the kind of finish Joe Montana would have loved. Each guy gets one final pass. Montana will end up in in the Hall of Fame by finding open receivers in situations like this.

But Montana was watching the game from a hospital bed, awaiting back surgery that might put him out for the season, or might end his career.

"I'm not Joe Montana, I don't replace him," Kemp said after the game, minutes after being informed of Montana's impending surgery.

Kemp talked of Montana as if Joe had passed away.

"I spoke to him last Friday," Kemp said, quietly and sadly. "He wished me the best. We shook hands, he said, 'Go get 'em. I wish I was going. I love to play the Rams.' He'd expect me to carry on, and I expect to carry on."

And he did, except for the last pass. The only difference between Kemp now and Kemp when he played for the Rams is what the coaches now allow him to do--pass the football.

"They (the 49ers) let the quarterback play," Kemp said. "They let the quarterback be a big part of the game."

Randy Cross, 49er guard, said: "The best thing you can say about Jeff is we didn't notice him. Joe Montana's the best in the business. Jeff was cool and poised and had great presence and did a hell of a job."

Except for that one last pass. And Sunday it all came down to one last pass apiece.

"I just thank the Lord," Bartkowski said.

"God, I wish we'd've beat 'em," Kemp said.

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