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September 20, 1986|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Jack Trudeau was working out in the University of Illinois weight room one afternoon this summer when a friend walked up with a rocking chair and a newspaper.

"Sit down and read this, Jack," said Chris White, son of Illini Coach Mike White.

Some players were already snickering as Trudeau sat down and looked at the sports page White had handed him.

Irsay Offers to Send Trudeau Rocker to Sit Out Year, read the headline.

Trudeau was more amused than enraged by the comments of Robert Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts. Drafted in the second round by the Colts, he had already missed a week of training camp when contract negotiations bogged down.

"I wasn't mad," Trudeau said, breaking into a smile. "To be honest, I got quite a kick out of it."

Soon, though, the rhetoric got considerably nastier. Both Irsay and Colt Coach Rod Dowhower took shots at Trudeau.

Dowhower, responding to a rumor that the Colts were trying to pick up a veteran quarterback as a backup for starter Gary Hogeboom, said: "You have to start looking around. The further we go, the less valuable Trudeau becomes because he won't know what to do. He has no idea what he's missing."

Irsay, when asked the status of dealings with his No. 2 pick, replied: "Trudeau who? I don't even know who the guy is and never will."

Apparently, an introduction is in order: Mr. Irsay, meet Mr. Trudeau, your starting quarterback. Bob, this is Jack.

Trudeau went from nonentity to the Colts' man of the moment in a hurry.

He agreed to a three-year contract, reportedly worth about $1 million, on July 31, after having missed 14 days of training camp--and also missing 24 practice sessions, Colt management quickly pointed out.

But that didn't stop Dowhower from immediately putting the 6-foot 3-inch, 210-pound rookie in the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

"He'll be able to watch Gary and learn," Dowhower said at the press conference after Trudeau had signed.

So much for watching.

Trudeau became the quarterback in the third quarter last Sunday at Miami when Hogeboom chose not to run out of bounds and wound up with a separated shoulder that will sideline him for at least 12 weeks.

"I didn't even get a chance to warm up, and we were already trailing, 30-10, so I wasn't too nervous," Trudeau said.

Trudeau figures that Sunday in the Hoosier Dome, however, the Ram defense will introduce him to new adventures in pressure.

"I'm not sure what they've got in store for me," Trudeau said. "I expect they'll probably come after me, though."

As for his timetable, well, he has fallen asleep each night this week studying the Colts' playbook.

"When you're the backup, you can feel like you're familiar with it and be comfortable," Trudeau said. "But when you're behind the center, you want to know everything that can happen and exactly what you've got to do.

"Any quarterback would tell you that starting the third game of your rookie season is a little earlier than what you'd like if you could write the script. It's a complicated system. You just hope brain-lock doesn't set in."

Trudeau said that Dowhower has increased his chances for success--or, at least, decreased the opportunities for embarrassment--by cutting back on the offense.

Still, that doesn't go a long way toward easing the mind of a young man who just turned 23 and is starting in a league notorious for putting rookie quarterbacks in their place.

Trudeau got rave reviews, though, for his poise during a record-setting career at Illinois.

Maybe he is better equipped than most when it comes to dealing with stress.

"I don't know if this is the biggest challenge of my life," he said. "But it is big. There's no doubt about that. If you look back in history, a lot of quarterbacks haven't done very well in their starts as rookies. My goal is to play well and execute this offense.

"I don't think that this game will be the deciding factor in my career as a pro player. It's not a do-or-die situation, but I want to have a solid performance.

"I'm here to play--I want to play--and I want to be the starter," he said, smiling. "Heck, this isn't going to be too bad. I think that this can be a great, great advantage for me because if I can go out there and prove myself, it's going to really help my career.

"I'm excited about the chance to go out there and see what the pro game's all about."

In case you'd forgotten, Trudeau had the college game wired. He rewrote Illinois passing records and set the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. record for passes without an interception, 215.

He probably would have been a first-round pick had he not undergone arthroscopic knee surgery after the Japan Bowl last January. He wears a brace now but says he has recovered and hasn't lost any of his mobility.

Trudeau's passport to pro football was issued because of his right arm, not his knees, anyway. The first to notice his potential was his mother, Mary Lou. She was watching her 8-year-old son throw rocks at a water tower near their home.

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