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Only attention Grossman knows is the blame game

January 30, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

BLOOMINGTON, IND. — Dr. Daniel Grossman is fiercely proud of his son, Rex, quarterback of the Chicago Bears. So proud, that he recently bought No. 8 Bears jerseys for the roughly 70 employees at his eye surgery clinic. Occasionally, he asks that everyone in the office wear them on the same day.

Not everyone who walks through the door recognizes the jerseys.

"Sometimes," receptionist Sheri Dallas said, "people will ask if we're all on the same bowling team."

Those patients should be forgiven. After all, even Rex Grossman has had a hard time this season picking out Bears jerseys when he has dropped back to pass.

During one seven-game stretch, he had 18 turnovers. An early story line in Miami is the debate whether he will be the worst quarterback to start a Super Bowl.

Grossman, who grew up 45 minutes south of Indianapolis and whose parents own Colts season tickets, seems to be taking the scrutiny in stride. At a Super Bowl XLI news conference in Miami on Monday, he patiently answered questions about the comparisons between him and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, a two-time NFL most valuable player.

"Unless you're Tom Brady playing against Peyton Manning, you're probably just the other quarterback," Bears center Olin Kreutz said. "Rex is used to that."

Grossman said he's "numb to the criticism" and has become accustomed to being judged on a what-have-you-thrown-for-me-lately basis.

"If I threw a great pass, I was a great quarterback," he said. "If I threw an interception, I was a bad quarterback."

That grates on his father, who struck up a friendship this season with Archie Manning. The two talk on the phone from time to time about the travails of being a quarterback's father.

Peyton wasn't heavily criticized this season, but his younger brother, Eli, was when his New York Giants struggled. It was Archie who reached out to the elder Grossman, a former Indiana University linebacker.

"I called him in the middle of the season when Rex and Eli were kind of getting battered," Archie Manning said. "He said, 'I wondered when you were going to call.' And I said, 'Well, misery loves company.' So he called me and said he'd buy me a drink in Miami. I might take him up on it."

If there's a safe haven for Rex Grossman, it's his hometown. He was a high school football standout in a college town crazy over Indiana basketball.

"Rex is a local legend down here," said Aaron Murphy, one of his top receivers at Bloomington South High. "He's our claim to fame when it comes to any athlete coming out of a football program in Indiana. In the last three days, you can hear people talking about 'that Grossman kid.' My roommate and I went out to lunch yesterday, and two different tables were talking about Rex."

That change has come only recently. Even early last week, after the Bears and Colts clinched Super Bowl berths, it was entirely possible to drive through the heart of Bloomington without seeing a shred of evidence Grossman grew up there.

His father's eye clinic is the exception. There, in addition to all the Chicago jerseys, the place occasionally flies a giant Bears flag that has gotten a bit tattered in the winter winds. That's typical of the support Grossman gets from his parents.

When he left for college, his parents adorned the bottom of the family's swimming pool with a Florida Gators logo. They seldom, if ever, missed his games, buying condominiums in Gainesville, Fla., then Chicago.

Rex's late grandfather, also named Rex, spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Baltimore Colts as a linebacker, fullback and kicker.

"My grandfather died right before I was born," Rex said. "But my dad told me stories about him.... I've got a lot of family members who played at Indiana University. I've got two uncles, my dad, a couple of cousins and my brother-in-law, so I kind of grew up in a football family."

In 1998, Grossman was named Indiana's "Mr. Football" after throwing for 3,080 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior at Bloomington South, leading his team to a state 5A title. That also happened to be Manning's rookie season with the Colts.

"I didn't make it to a lot of games, but I was there for his first win," said Grossman, referring to a 17-12 victory over San Diego on Oct. 4, 1998. "He completed a crucial fourth-down pass to Marshall Faulk and ended up hitting one of the tight ends for a touchdown. It was neat to be there. You knew [Manning] was going to become a great player."

As for Grossman, the jury is out. He had seven games this season with a passer rating higher than 100.0, second only to St. Louis' Marc Bulger. But he also had a league-high five games with bottom-scraping ratings lower than 37.0. That included a 10.2 against Arizona, a 1.3 against Minnesota, and a 0.0 against Green Bay.

The Bears stuck with him throughout, even though backup Brian Griese took half the snaps the week after the Minnesota game -- a 23-13 victory by Chicago -- and there was a widespread belief that Coach Lovie Smith might make a switch.

"It's great to have a head coach that understands that and sticks by you and has a lot of confidence in your abilities," Grossman said. "Even if you're not playing up to your best. He knows eventually that you are going to snap out of it and be a great quarterback. That's what he's told me all year."

Meanwhile, back at the eye clinic, folks are wearing their No. 8 jerseys with pride. And they have a new answer for those patients who mistake them for bowlers:

Yes, they are. Super ones.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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