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NFL's Senior Citizens : Anderson, Ferguson and Strock Were Once Quarterback Stars; Now, They're Teachers, Sounding Boards and Insurance Policies

November 02, 1986|BARRY WILNER | Associated Press

Most of them stand on the sideline, with clipboard in hand, headphones over their ears.

They are the senior citizens of the NFL, card-carrying members of the quarterback club, formers stars and starters. Now, they are insurance policies, sounding boards and teachers.

Joe Ferguson in Detroit. Ken Anderson in Cincinnati. Don Strock in Miami.

If they get into a game, either the score is lopsided and the clock is running down, or the No. 1 and possibly No. 2 quarterbacks are injured.

Other old-timers are more involved in their teams' offenses. Jim Plunkett has started for the Raiders this season when Marc Wilson has been unavailable, and Steve Grogan, who calls all the players in New England anyway, played when Tony Eason was hurt. The Rams signed 12-year-man Steve Bartkowski in the offseason and made him their starter from the outset this year.

Even some of the forgotten veterans get a call and find themselves back in uniform. Richard Todd was cut by New Orleans during the exhibition season but, when Jet quarterback Ken O'Brien hurt his knee, Todd was summoned back to the team he led for eight years, though he didn't see any action.

"It can be a thankless job, unless you know exactly what is expected from you," says Strock, who might be the perfect NFL backup quarterback. Strock knows he can't beat out Dan Marino, just as he knew that Bob Griese was first string in the 1970s. "I wouldn't have been in the league this long (this is his 13th year) if I didn't understand what it takes to be a backup."

What it takes is patience, a willingness to work out even when you might never call a play, and a fertile mind. The more you can absorb about running offenses and reading defenses, "the more value you will have to the coaching staff and the young quarterbacks ahead of you," Strock says.

"It's not a burden," Ferguson says. "I had a lot of help when I was young (at Buffalo). (Quarterback) Dennis Shaw and (coach) Leo Hart spent hours and hours with me. This is just my way of paying it all back."

The 14-year-veteran pays it back by working with rookie Chuck Long, Detroit's quarterback of the future, while Eric Hipple, the QB of today, gets the playing time.

"Chuck's eager to learn," Ferguson says. "He asks a lot of questions. I'm there to answer them."

Grogan has performed so well in relief of Eason that there easily could be a quarterback controversy with the defending AFC champions. But Coach Raymond Berry defused any potential fireworks last summer when he named Eason the starter. And Grogan makes it easier for Eason with his approach to the game.

"I know Steve loves to be in there but there's never any problems when I'm playing," Eason says. "Steve calls the plays, he's as involved in the game as anyone."

"It's hard to be on the sidelines but only one guy can play and, right now, that's Tony," Grogan says. "I stay ready to get in there but I also want us to win, which means working with Tony and the coaches."

Few veteran quarterbacks have survived unscathed. Bartkowski, Plunkett, Grogan and Philadelphia's Ron Jaworski have undergone surgery for various injuries, costing them games and seasons.

Ferguson and Anderson have been luckier.

"I'm very fortunate not to have had any major injuries," Ferguson says. "Also, I have a good workout routine during the offseason. I work out about three-fourths of the offseason.

"It's probably more luck than conditioning," Anderson says. "I've had my share of injuries, obviously. Luckily, nothing bothered my throwing shoulder or knees or anything like that."

How do they keep sharp?

"You just by and large keep yourself ready to play," Ferguson says. "I watch a lot of film. I try to stay mentally ready to play. I guess your disposition has a lot to do with it. I know I'm the so-called aging veteran around here. Naturally, you'd rather be the starter, but I've always been a team player and this is the way the coach thinks I can best help this team."

NFL coaches generally are a conservative bunch and they rarely entrust the most important position on offense to youngsters. A Marino or John Elway is an exception, but the cases of Long and O'Brien are more common. Long has yet to play a down this year.

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