Skip to main content
Original Issue


So says retired Ram Quarterback Pat Haden, who remembers a lot of bumps, bruises and boos

If I should ever get the urge to renounce my retirement and come back as quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, or any other team, I'm going to remind myself of one play. It happened against the New Orleans Saints in 1980, in the third quarter of a game we were leading 38-14. Vince Ferragamo was doing most of our quarterbacking that year—he was the darling of Los Angeles, as I had once been—and he had already thrown five touchdown passes in the game. For some reason he came out for a couple of plays, and I came in. It was third-and-eight, so I called a pass. I dropped back and was looking around when one of New Orleans' linemen hit me from the blind side—never saw him—and the ball popped into the air. Don Reese, a defensive end for New Orleans, caught it in stride and took it 34 yards for a touchdown. I was lying on the ground, a big body on top of me, watching a 260-pound man run off with my one pass of the day. You can't imagine the frustration. Had the play not been ruled a fumble, it would have been my longest completion of the year. The boos started, and you've never heard so many, in such perfect unison, in your life.

Think of that, Pat.

Sacks and boos are two very good reasons that I will be working for a law firm in Los Angeles and doing TV commentary of college games for CBS network this season. The sacks you can do something about. The boos go with the territory. I've tried to think of a position in another sport more difficult to play than quarterback, but nothing comes to mind. The simple act of throwing a ball to a receiver moving at full speed, say, 25 yards away—leading him perfectly—is difficult enough. Not many people can even do that well. Then add the other team. Start with blitzing linebackers and add a secondary with different coverages necessitating different pass routes, all of which have to be "read" in the first moments the quarterback has the ball. Add to that four guys who are faster than you, each 6'6", 260 pounds, who will be in your face in 3.7 seconds, and you can you begin to imagine the complexities of the position. That's why the quarterback is the focus of the game; why his job is more difficult than the others; why he is compensated more and abused more.

I have heard fans boo Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw and the man I consider to be the best quarterback I've ever seen, Roger Staubach. In 1976, my rookie year, I heard Rams fans boo the hell out of James Harris and Ron Jaworski. I was the darling then, enjoying the honeymoon grace period that all new quarterbacks get. I thought: "That's not going to happen to me."

It did. Many, many times. It all hit home one night last summer when I took my wife, Cindy, out to a Dodgers game. Don Sutton was pitching for the Houston Astros, and of course, everybody booed long and loud when he took the mound. "They're calling your name, Pat," Cindy said dryly.

I don't have a lot of patience with guys who complain that the new blocking rules have ruined the art of sacking the quarterback, because last season I didn't find myself getting hit any less or sacked any less than in previous years. If anything, I was hit more. Fred Dean of the San Francisco 49ers sacked me five times in one game. You could try to block Dean with a pickup truck and it wouldn't work. He's too good, too fast, and no rules committee is ever going to stop him.

You've probably heard of a "lookout" block. It's a standard joke in football, but it actually happened to me once. We were playing the Lions, and Defensive End Dave Pureifory put such a strong move on Jackie Slater, one of our tackles, that Slater literally turned and yelled, "Look out!" It was too late. Pureifory's helmet was already in my face. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled out; my face mask was like a birdcage—it was broken and flapping up and down, and the birdies were going tweet-tweet. I was barely moving, there was dust all over the place, and Slater leaned over and said with great concern, "I told you to look out."

I've found that defensive linemen react to a sack in three basic ways. The first is to jump up and down like a lunatic, brandishing a fist in the air and slapping high fives with anyone in reach—even if somebody else has made the sack. The hot dog. The second, a particular favorite of mine, is to lie on top of the quarterback for as long as possible, until everyone else is up and you're the last guy off the bottom of the pile. The public address announcer then assumes you've made the sack, even though you may simply have been piling on. The third is to rise—not too slowly, not too quickly—then stand over your prey, the quarterback, like a lion, staring down at him. That not only gives the TV cameras a chance to focus on you, but it also lets the quarterback know that you're there and intend to be back in the near future.

No quarterback likes this sort of treatment, but we understand it. The sack is a defensive lineman's vengeance, his dance in the end zone, his toss of the ball into the stands. The temptation for the quarterback is to tell all those sackers to do their dancing where the sun never shines. But no matter how outrageous defensive linemen acted after sacking me, I never said a word. I was always aware of one thing: They were bigger than I. They could have the last laugh. I didn't want to give those guys any more incentive than they already had.

Most of the great players who sacked me didn't indulge in histrionics; they let their ability speak for itself. Randy White, Mean Joe Greene (who was inappropriately nicknamed) and Alan Page simply rose after a tackle and returned to their positions. My teammate Merlin Olsen was like that, too. Bob Brazile would ask, "You O.K.?" And Lyle Alzado would often say, "Nice pass," if I had gotten rid of the football. They were the real professionals, in my opinion, and it was always appreciated.

Dean, who played with the San Diego Chargers before going to the 49ers last season, was always a thorn in my side. He was that third type, the lion who would give you the long stare. The Eighth Amendment guarantees that we will not receive any cruel or unusual punishment, but in a Rams-Chargers game in 1979, Dean violated my Eighth Amendment rights so flagrantly that I should have sued. We lost 40-16 and I had to be carried off the field twice. It was by far the worst beating I ever took, and I don't imagine too many quarterbacks in the history of football have ever had a heavier toll taken on their bodies than I did that day. I say that seriously.

The best defensive lineman I ever faced was Randy White of Dallas. In fact, all the Cowboys front four played like gods—Too Tall Jones, Harvey Martin, John Dutton—and Dallas was the best team in the league at deflecting passes. It wasn't just a matter of me being a "small"—5'11"—quarterback, either. I watched films of the Cowboys, and every time a quarterback got set to throw, they'd put their hands up. It's amazing how many teams aren't coached to do that. I'd bet my house that the Cowboys lead the league every year in tipped passes.

White really beat me up in one preseason game, which, at that time of year, isn't supposed to happen to your starting quarterback. During the game one of our coaches must have said something to our guard who was responsible for White, because the guard came up to me and said, "I can't block him." Just like that, "I can't block him." You don't know how frightening that was. I looked at the guy and wanted to say, "What do you want me to do? Do you want to throw the ball and have me try to block him?"

My rookie year, I recall Olsen telling another of our defensive tackles, Mike Fanning, that a defensive lineman has to be part charging buffalo, part ballet dancer. That's as good a description as any. But when talking about sacks, you aren't just talking about defensive linemen. The nickel defenses have changed the game. On second-and-eight, the Rams might send in five defensive backs and four defensive linemen, and they'd come from everywhere. Johnny Johnson, our strong safety, might lead the team in sacks one game. Or the Rams might dog a linebacker and blitz the free safety, leaving Jack Youngblood, an end, to cover Walter Payton. Youngblood cannot cover Payton, but the theory is that he won't have to do it very long. The most difficult thing facing a quarterback these days is reading the different blitzes. If I spotted one, I could check off in the middle of the count and call something like "Blitz, 56, left!" which would change the play, the lineblocking, the routes. It was a way of saying, "Buckle your chinstraps, here comes the cavalry."

I don't believe the pocket as we know it is long for this world. The Ram quarterbacks use the standard seven-step drop on most pass plays. The quarterback reads the strong safety's movements as he drops back, and that tells him what coverage to expect. He sets up nine or 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and waits for the play to unfold. The offensive line retreats two steps to form a pocket and tries to hold its ground. If everybody does his job, the play works. If not, maybe you've got a sack and an injured quarterback or an incompletion or an interception, or some combination thereof. Pittsburgh has used the same seven-step-drop system with Terry Bradshaw with great success.

San Francisco and San Diego, on the other hand, seem to prefer a three-or five-step drop. They essentially don't care what coverage the defense is in because by flooding three or four guys into a zone, they figure somebody's going to be open. The quarterback goes One-Two-Three Boom!—it's off. The offensive linemen don't retreat, they set up at the line of scrimmage and go right for the legs of the would-be sackers. I believe that the shorter drop will be used more and more in the future. It does a number of things, including something nobody ever talks about: It enables your quarterback to take less of a beating. Joe Montana didn't miss a game last year, and Dan Fouts hasn't missed one in the past three. If you want to know how to cut down not only on sacks but also on quarterback hits, the shorter drop is the answer.

The shorter drop aside, the classic ways to slow down a pass rush are to call 1) traps, 2) draws, 3) screens. These aren't foolproof methods by any means; they require skilled execution. The most embarrassing moment in my football career came on a screen pass when I was playing for Southern Cal. We were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, and we opened on the road against Arkansas. I threw four interceptions in the game, which was a lot considering USC had three plays at that time—Anthony Davis right, Anthony Davis left and Anthony Davis up the middle. We were on about our 10-yard line when I called the screen. I dropped back and was looking downfield, as every good quarterback should, faking, still dropping back, faking, dropping back, faking, dropping back—and the next thing I knew the official had whistled me for a safety. I was literally back against the fence and I still didn't realize where I was.

With the Rams, if we were facing a pass rush like San Diego's, sometimes I'd tell myself before the game that the first second-and-five situation we had, I was going to call a trap against Dean. Calling that trap early in the game would give him something to think about for four quarters. One trap play I'll never forget. We were playing Minnesota, and one of our guards, Dennis Harrah, came up to me and asked me to call his trap. The thing was, the play wasn't in our game plan. The computer had decided it wouldn't work. Dennis kept bugging me about it, and I finally mentioned it to our coaching staff. Forget it, they said. It won't work. Well, Harrah just wouldn't shut up, so in the fourth quarter I finally called his trap just to get him off my back. I was sick of listening to him. Wendell Tyler took the ball and went 44 yards for a touchdown. That's what I've always loved about football—the human element. The computer charts an "Opposite slot left, Zoom, Fake 36, Z reverse pass left"—and the play works because the safety falls down.

Another way to slow down a pass rush is to vary your cadence. That was a particularly strong part of my game. With a voice like mine, who needed Bradshaw's arm? My second season I came to the line against Green Bay and barked out the signals. It was a cold day, and all of a sudden my voice cracked. I've got a high voice anyway, and Jim Carter, Green Bay's middle linebacker, started laughing. "What's going on, Haden?" he shouted. "Haven't you reached puberty yet?"

The best rushers are so quick off the ball, anything you can do to slow them down is a great help. The Rams always practiced non-rhythmic counts—HUT! (pause)...hut-hut!—and my philosophy on third downs was to go on a long count. I played in the Pro Bowl after the 1977 season, and one day at practice Harvey Martin stood nearby and listened to me call the signals. He was trying to get my cadence down. I could tell that he thought he had mastered my three-count—HUT! (pause)...hut-hut!—so I kept doing it that way and made a mental note of it. The next year when we played Dallas I varied my cadence and drew him offside on a third-and-two. I tried to save something like that for important situations. Unless I was playing the Chargers. I could draw them offside all game.

My defensive linemen in L.A. used to tell me they liked to watch a quarterback's feet because it's natural to move them just before receiving the snap. So sometimes, on third-and-short, I'd move my feet before a "hut," an illegal ploy that's seldom called. You talk about guys getting frustrated. They'd be yelling at the officials, at each other. Three times in one game I drew off Green Bay's Dave Roller, and you could see the other Packers face guard to face guard with him, screaming. I only got called for illegal movement once in my career, which was enough. It's awfully embarrassing to hear a man-in-motion penalty called on the quarterback.

Of course, two can play that game. I remember how Chris Hanburger, Washington's All-Pro linebacker, used to try to draw our offensive linemen offside by yelling "Back-set!"—a defensive signal—in the middle of my cadence. He said it real fast, so that it sort of sounded like a "hut." It worked, too. Then we'd be the ones screaming at the officials.

It could get pretty noisy out there before a snap. If one of our linemen forgot the snap count, he'd ask, "What's the count?" as I was calling my signals. You couldn't very well say, "It's on one, Tom," so we had a code. "Able" meant the snap was one; "Baker" was two, etc. One time somebody asked, "What's the .count?" and Rich Saul, our center, said, "Able." Then I heard somebody else go. "No, no, it's on Baker!" And a third guy said, "No! Cuatro!" By then I'd forgotten the count myself, so I just stood there and waited for the ball to come up.

One year, Georgia Frontiere, the Rams' owner, had an interesting idea how we would cut down on sacks, which unfortunately I never pursued. She suggested I take karate, so that as I stood in the pocket with my right arm cocked, I could defend myself with my left arm. Here comes Mean Joe...Haiku! Katcho! Sa!...He's down! Haden fires the bomb! Touchdown!

Another way for the quarterback to buy more time to pass is to keep a back in to block. The Raiders do that nearly every play. I used to try to call a formation that would have the blocking back on the side of the best pass rusher. At times, however, your offensive tackle is just going to flat have to keep someone like Dean out, and he's going to have to do it all by himself—even if he's not as good as Dean—or you're not going to win the football game. It's as simple as that. I'll argue this till my deathbed: Terry Bradshaw gets the chance to show off his marvelous talents only when his offensive line gives him time to show them off.

Over the years the one thing I could never escape was this question: "What's it like being a small quarterback and having all those big guys coming after you?" Well, it was my belief that I had a lot of big guys in front of me keeping the other team's big guys away. The quarterback's size is a nonissue. Bob Griese played pretty well, and he was only 6'1". Tarkenton had a little success, and he was only 6'. If you want a big quarterback, try Bobby Douglass—he was the biggest quarterback you'll ever see. There are good and bad of both sizes.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't that I didn't want more height, it's just that I had to play with what I was dealt. I think if I'd been taller, I could have carried more weight and perhaps avoided some injuries, but I'm not convinced of that. My injuries were all freakish. In the playoffs after the 1978 season I broke my thumb against Randy White's helmet while following through on a pass. (That's a common injury to quarterbacks; Bradshaw and the Rams' Jeff Rutledge both suffered such a mishap last year.) I caught the little finger on my right hand in a seam of the AstroTurf in Seattle and broke it in 1979. And in the opening game of 1980 I broke my right hand by catching it in one of my lineman's shoulder pads on a follow-through.

I'll never forget what happened after that. I walked off the field and the doctor bandaged my hand, and a couple of minutes later, when the news flashed on the scoreboard, PAT HADEN HAS BROKEN HIS HAND, 65,000 people, a majority of them anyway, cheered. That really blew me away. I felt like a gladiator in the Colosseum, with the fans up there giving the thumbs down gesture. I never had the courage to run off the field without my helmet on. People threw bottles. If they'd had spears, they would have thrown them, too. The Loud Minority, I call them. I wonder about them, too.

But for all the frustrations, the beatings and the booings I endured, I'd still be in football if I could be guaranteed a certain feeling just three times a game. Twice even. It's when you get into a zone or a groove—whatever nomenclature you want to use—in which everything appears to be moving in slow motion. I've heard golfers describe a similar feeling; they say they can visualize a shot going into the hole before it does. On those occasions, the 3½ seconds between the snap from center and the time you release the ball seem like a month. It's the most exhilarating feeling you could ever imagine: very pure, simple. As you stand in the pocket, even if guys are huffing and puffing and grunting and groaning and hitting and growling all around you, you don't hear a thing. Complete silence. It doesn't happen every game, but when it does it's so satisfying. But it's frustrating, too, because sometimes you find yourself waiting for it to happen, and it doesn't.

I won't be waiting anymore, but I'm going to miss that blessed month in the pocket.


Dean (belting me at left) was always a problem, as were behemoths like the Cowboys' Larry Bethea and huge paws that seemed to come out of nowhere.


When linemen couldn't get to me, safeties like Atlanta's Bob Glazebrook did.


I broke my right thumb against a Dallas helmet.


I hope for better breaks in the law.