The Boston Patriots, by virtue of finishing the 1970 season with the worst record in pro football, increased their value by $1,500,000. On the Friday before the Pats' last game, the team's stock traded at 11¾. That Sunday, Boston lost to Cincinnati 45-7 and earned the right to pick first in the draft. When the market opened on Monday, the stock began to climb. Analysts arrived at the $1,500,000 figure by multiplying the number of shares outstanding—237,800—by 6¼, the amount the stock has risen.
This flurry reflected the value investors placed on the No. 1 pick, who, to no one's surprise, turned out to be Jim Plunkett (see cover), Stanford's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.
It also demonstrated the transcendent importance a quarterback—a good quarterback—has for a pro football team. When NFL owners, scouts and coaches daydream, they do not entertain visions of Raquel Welch, gushers or tropical isles. At least not all of the time. What frequently comes to mind is a young man who stands 6'3", weighs 215 pounds, has an IQ in the very superior category, a powerful, accurate arm, good speed and a lot of poise.
With many of the fine quarterbacks of the past decade getting on in years—John Unitas is 37, Bart Starr 37, Sonny Jurgensen 36 and John Brodie 35—the search for young talent has become even more intense than usual. Twenty-three quarterbacks were chosen in the 1971 draft, although some, like Ohio State's Rex Kern, were selected for another position; Kern showed in the Hula Bowl that he could play defensive back, and the Baltimore Colts took him in the 10th round.
February 15, 1971
The three top choices this year were quarterbacks: Plunkett, Mississippi's Archie Manning, who was drafted by New Orleans, and Santa Clara's Dan Pastorini, selected by Houston. This dreamy trio joins half a dozen other young quarterbacks already in the pros, who could become the Starrs and Unitases of the future: Dennis Shaw of Buffalo, Greg Landry of Detroit, Greg Cook of Cincinnati, Bob Griese of Miami, Terry Bradshaw of Pittsburgh and Don Horn, recently traded from Green Bay to Denver. Not all of them have been successful to date, but all have shown they have the stuff that dreams are made of.
Gil Brandt, the chief scout of the Dallas Cowboys, presides over what may be the most sophisticated scouting system in the league. If player evaluation can be reduced to a science, Brandt and his boss, Cowboy President Tex Schramm, have come as close as anyone to doing it. Computers in Palo Alto sift the vast amount of information gathered by Cowboy scouts and from the printouts emerge the archetype for each position.
"We look for a number of things in a quarterback," Brandt said last week. "In our system he must have an IQ of around 120. All of those you have mentioned [the six listed above and the three rookies] except one, are in that range."
Brandt was dining in a plush Dallas restaurant and he arranged a short saltcellar and an equally short pepper shaker on either side of a tall vodka and tonic. "Then you have to have height," he said. "The quarterbacks coming up must be able to see over the defense. I think in the last 10 years or so, defensive lines have grown two or three inches taller on the average and the six-foot quarterback can't see over them. The quarterback [he tapped the saltcellar] is small and his receiver [the pepper shaker] is small and the defensive end [the vodka and tonic] is big. If the quarterback rolls to one side or the other, he cuts off half the field, since most quarterbacks can't throw back against the roll. So we demand height."
All the young quarterbacks deemed most likely to succeed are 6'2" or over except for Griese, who is 6'1".
"One statistic you don't see is tipped or blocked passes," Brandt went on. "They don't happen to tall quarterbacks. A tipped pass invites an interception. When you see in a scout's report that a kid has three or four passes a game tipped or blocked, you can bet he's too short."
The Cowboys—and all the other clubs—also look for a quick drop and a quick release and, in recent years, speed and agility in retreating to the throwing area. "We have a list of 20 NFL quarterbacks, showing their average release time last season," Brandt said. "It used to be that if a quarterback had 3.2 seconds to throw, he could get the ball away most of the time. These 20 averaged from 2.4 to 2.8. The quickest release was Joe Namath's, but it isn't reflected in his time because he drops back 10 yards, instead of seven.
"Quarterbacks have to have stability, too," Brandt went on. "They have to be able to follow a game plan and not free-lance. They must know when to throw the ball away and when to eat it. A quarterback who tries to force a pass is asking for an interception against the defensive backs in pro football today. They're much faster and quicker than they were 10 years ago."
Finally, Brandt looks for leadership, a quality that quarterbacks develop in different ways. "Types like Bobby Layne and Joe Kapp had it on their personality," Brandt explained. "Others, like Bob Waterfield and Bart Starr, were leaders by ability, by example."
The nine young quarterbacks listed earlier (all of whom are 26 or younger) have these qualities in varying degrees. But the three rookies have not been tested, and they will remain suspect until a season or two has gone by.
"Manning is probably the best athlete of the three," Brandt said later, in his office. He thumbed through a thick loose-leaf notebook of scouting reports on Archie. "He's 6'3", weighs 205 and he's got 4.7 speed in the 40, which is exceptional for a quarterback. And he's a terrific passer. One scout says, 'Fluid, great physical ability, capable of throwing long or short from any position. Semi-rollout pass is the best I've ever seen.' Manning's a tough kid who has overcome a lot; his dad committed suicide, for one. In his sophomore year he played with cracked ribs and this year he came back and played with his left arm in a cast. In the Hula Bowl, operating an offense he didn't know, throwing to strange receivers and hurting, he completed 20 out of 33 and had two dropped on him.
"He'll have to learn to stay in the pocket, though," Brandt added. "But I think he has the chance to be better than Plunkett. Plunkett played a pro-type offense at Stanford and he's very, very good, but I don't think he'll improve as much since he's already attained a good deal of his potential."
Brandt's book on Plunkett shows he is 6'2½", 212. The scouting books are always more accurate than college programs; college publicity men are not above adding an inch or two and a few pounds to make a player appear larger than life.
"Plunkett has a big plus," Brandt said. "He could win the big games—Ohio State, USC, UCLA. You could see his poise in the first game of the season, against Arkansas, laying the ball off to his backs when his receivers were covered. Statistics don't mean much in college ball, because of those seven-and eight-yard passes, but he showed a lot. He has all of it, just like Manning, but he's not as quick or as fast. But he sets up fast, throws very well and he can take a beating. The name of the game is a guy who can play 14 games a season, not seven or eight. He's sharp mentally, and he was coached by Jack Christiansen, the ex-49er coach, so he reads defenses well."
The third of the first-round quarterbacks was Dan Pastorini. He's 6'2½", 220 and the slowest of the three. He has a tremendous arm, is accurate and he was a drop-back quarterback in college, but he doesn't scramble well.
"Pastorini's a fine athlete," Brandt said. "And he's an exceptional ball handler, better than Manning or Plunkett, which could be useful on play-action passes. But he missed five games last year with a knee injury and he's been hurt before. He has one thing over the others, though—he can punt and place-kick so you save two specialists with him. On the other hand, Santa Clara's competition wasn't much—Humboldt State, Lewis & Clark. Against Humboldt State he was 10 for 12, for 188 yards and four touchdowns. But Humboldt State isn't Green Bay."
Plunkett, Manning and Pastorini could share the fortune of Shaw or the misfortune of Bradshaw, both of whom started last season. Shaw performed well enough for Buffalo to become Rookie of the Year. Bradshaw was nearly crushed by failure. He came to Pittsburgh ebullient, confident, talkative. By midseason, he had become cautious and withdrawn, and at times wept in his car after defeats.
"The pressures kept building up," Bradshaw said last week. "Fans, writers, everything. I felt I had to retaliate, but instead I kept digging myself a bigger hole. You wouldn't believe all I did to try to complete a pass. I had never dreamed of a day when I couldn't feel I could complete one. The plain truth is I didn't know how to attack a defense, how to set up one thing by using another. I had such a lack of knowledge of the game. A lot of the time I was just grab-bagging out there. It was a guessing game. Yeah, I expected to burn it up, fire right through them. Shoot, I didn't think anyone could stop me. I still think I'll make it, but I know it's going to take the application of all I learned and went through last year."
Bradshaw came from Louisiana Tech, a relatively small school where he had been a hero. "I wasn't used to booing," he said. "The first time I heard it, my knees shook. I came close to being a No. 1 flop, but I learned a lot. Be patient. Don't panic. Now I have this ice-cold feeling."
In Brandt's book, Bradshaw's a winner—6'2½", 212, nearly as fast as Manning, with an arm strong enough to break the national high school javelin record. "He had flashes," Brandt said. "His release is so quick it's unreal. Sometimes he tries to force a pass, but he'll learn. He'll be great."
Shaw was great immediately. He completed 55% of his passes under pressure and never lost his poise. He was drafted on the second round a year ago, which disturbed him, but he reacts very well to challenge. He is the classic size, 6'2¼" 204, has a fine arm and good speed, although he is only an average scrambler. He has good but not exceptional release and he excels in stability.
Like Plunkett, Shaw got a boost by playing a pro set in college. "I had to learn to read defenses for our offense to work," he said recently, "so I didn't have that problem when I came into the pros. What really shocked me was that they don't teach you that much in the pros. You have to learn the play-book, and that's about it. But I had the philosophy they wanted. All I had to learn was to use the players the best way I could to avoid creating helter-skelter. The guys on the Bills, they're all young, like me. That helped. And they didn't expect much, so there wasn't that much pressure, not like the pressure on Bradshaw. So I had fun. I have fun performing in front of people. I play things mostly by instinct and I don't fail that much. A coach can go over a game plan and I get it down, but once you're in the huddle and the center says he can take his man out, if he's telling the truth you do it. I've used things I've made up in the huddle. It's like being a little general out there. It's cool. You know you're doing something only a very few can do.
"Right now I think I'm in better shape at this stage than any rookie ever, except maybe Namath. I'm truthful, not cocky."
Greg Cook, who missed the 1970 season because of a shoulder injury, has a similar attitude. "You have to feel you're the best," he says. "I hate to talk this way. Once I had the feeling that you should be happy if you're a starting quarterback in the NFL. Why, there are only 26 of them. You're part of the elite. But when you get to that point, you suddenly start thinking you should be better than being one of them."
Cook has long hair and he paints, which is not the image of a Paul Brown quarterback, but Brown believes in him. "The idea that it takes three to four years to make a quarterback is a fallacy," says Brown, who started Otto Graham as a rookie. "It's easier for a coach to go with a veteran. It makes it safer for him. It's easier to say that the rookie's not ready, but it doesn't bother me to have a quarterback learn on the field. Y. A. Tittle became great because he had to go right in with Baltimore and fight for his life."
Brandt's book on Cook shows him to be 6'3", 205, a trifle slow but a good runner. "He's an above-average long passer, but he had interception trouble in college," Brandt said. "I think he tried to force the ball, but Brown cured that. There's no doubt he has all the qualities. The only question is whether he'll come off his injury in good shape."
Cook, like Shaw and Bradshaw, started in his rookie season. Greg Landry, who picked up the Lions during the second half of last season and came within six points of taking them into the NFL championship game, backed up Bill Munson before he got his chance.
Landry was the first quarterback selected in the 1968 draft, but he didn't get to play that year until Munson was hurt. Landry's first start was against Dallas; he completed his first six passes, one for a touchdown, then watched helplessly as the Lions lost 59-13.
But Landry overcame his traumatic debut; last year he played the final five games with a small fracture behind a knuckle in his passing hand. He refused to have it X-rayed because, "I could still throw and I wanted to play."
Landry is a runner of Manning's stripe—quick, strong and capable of overpowering defensive backs. Last year he went 76 yards on a quarterback sneak, the longest run from scrimmage in the National Conference. "I'm sure I won't be running as much when I get to know a little bit more," he said the other day, "but I'm not going to stop running just for the sake of not running."
Brandt is as enthusiastic about Landry as he is about Manning. "He's the same size," he said, "and a great athlete. Marvelous passer, long or short, aggressive, could be a terrific defensive back. He's not quite as fast as Manning, but he's very competitive."
"Landry makes things happen," says Joe Schmidt, the Lion coach. "He seems to generate the offense. He might not do exactly what he planned to do but something happens."
Don Horn has the same faculty. He has the size, too—6'2", 195—a quick release, poise and a faculty for making the big play. And he has had four years of indoctrination under Starr.
"In Green Bay I felt I was never going to be the quarterback until Starr retired," he said after being traded to Denver. "In that country Bart is a legend, a lord and a saint. Now I feel I'm mature enough to command a starting job."
And he has learned to throw the ball away when necessary, a knack Starr developed to perfection. "You look for the band," Horn says. "You aim for the tuba."
Bob Griese has already proved himself. He's a trifle short, but he has learned to read defenses and stay in the pocket and he is willing to eat the ball or throw it away when the situation requires. In the Pro Bowl he was sacked five times but threw no interceptions; in the same game Daryle Lamonica was never tackled but he threw two interceptions and two more of his passes should have been intercepted.
There are some wild cards in the draft, too, like Karl Douglas, a 6'2", 208-pounder from Texas A&I. "He could be the first black quarterback to make it big in pro ball," says Upton Bell, the son of former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell and director of player personnel for the Colts, who drafted Douglas on the third round. "There's something special about this young man's makeup that makes me think he will. I've seen every quarterback in the country. You name 'em, I've looked at them. Douglas has the arm, poise and courage to match any of the top three chosen."
He's not quite as fast as Manning, but he punts and kicks off, like Pastorini. His statistics are, like all of the top choices, well, fabulous. And he has been a winner. The last two years he took A&I to the national small-college (NAIA) championship.
Douglas is a long shot, but so, for that matter, were Starr, a 17th round choice in 1956, and Unitas, whom Pittsburgh picked ninth in 1955, then released, and who was playing for the semi-pro Bloomfield (Pa.) Rams when Baltimore paid him $100 to sign in 1956.
By the same token, first draft choices can be No. 1 flops. Whatever happened to Richie Lucas, Bob Garrett, Bernie Falony and Don Allard?
THE TOP 15 PROSPECTS
TERRY BRADSHAW, 22, Steelers
VIRGIL CARTER, 25, Bengals
GREG COOK, 24, Bengals
MARTY DOMRES, 23, Chargers
KARL DOUGLAS, 21, drafted by Colts
BOB GRIESE, 26, Dolphins
EDD HARGETT, 23, Saints
DON HORN, 25, Broncos
GREG LANDRY, 24, Lions
MIKE LIVINGSTON, 25, Chiefs
ARCHIE MANNING, 21, drafted by Saints
DAN PASTORINI, 21, drafted by Oilers
JIM PLUNKETT, 23, drafted by Patriots
DENNIS SHAW, 23, Bills
AL WOODALL, 25, Jets