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Rams Quarterback a Man of Few Words

VALLEY 200: To commemorate the bicentennial of the San Fernando Mission and the San Fernando Valley, for 200 days we will feature people --some famous, some notorious-- who left their mark on the area.

June 18, 1997|DANA HADDAD

Bob Waterfield's life reads like a Hollywood script. Even his leading lady was a goddess of the silver screen.

Waterfield was an all-American kid from Van Nuys who married his high school sweetheart, motion picture actress and sex symbol Jane Russell. He emerged from near obscurity to play quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and, in 1951, lead them to their only NFL championship, a 24-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Waterfield remains the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to start and win a championship game, which he did in 1945 for the then-Cleveland Rams in a 15-14 victory over the Washington Redskins. He also won Most Valuable Player honors that season.

Waterfield would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and coach the Rams for three years. In 1985, Waterfield was the only player voted to three positions on the Rams' 40th anniversary all-time team by readers of The Times: quarterback, punter and kicker.

Waterfield, who grew up on Hartland Street less than a mile from the Van Nuys High campus, was not a highly recruited athlete coming out of high school in 1937.

He enrolled at UCLA and went on to set six offensive records in football before being drafted by the Rams.

On April 24, 1943, Waterfield married Russell, who by then was one of the nation's most popular pin-up girls. They later built a home in Sherman Oaks overlooking the Valley and adopted three children. The marriage ended 25 years later in a highly publicized divorce.

As flashy as he was on the field, Waterfield was a man of few words, known for his dry sense of humor.

"He used to say to me just five words all day," said Pete Kokon, Waterfield's friend and a Valley sportswriter for more than 40 years. "On the first tee he'd say, 'Hi, Greek.' And on the 18th green he'd say, 'So long, Greek.' "

In 1983, Waterfield died of respiratory failure in Burbank. He was 62.

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