If the San Francisco 49ers make it all the way to the Super Bowl this season, as well they might, then they will owe a long stretch of that journey to the strong right arm of Quarterback John Riley Brodie. Ah, but to what does John Brodie owe his strong right arm? Hold on to your hip flasks, sports fans. If one is to believe Brodie himself, and there is no cause to doubt him, a large part of his success in piloting the 49ers last year to their first title (NFC, Western Division) was due to a gnomish wizard who can wing a pigskin approximately nine yards on the fly, run from scrimmage at minus five yards per carry and block with all the rugged authority of a roll of Charmin.
The hierophant in question is L. Ron Hubbard, a reformed science-fiction writer and the founding prophet of Scientology. And what, you might ask, is Scientology? Gather around the Sacred Computer, heathens, and harken to the Holy Bleep.
Acknowleged by a federal judge to have met the qualifications of being a religion, the Church of Scientology claims six million adherents and some 700 churches and missions scattered from California (naturally) through Europe and Africa to New Zealand. Scientology is a streamlined amalgam of positive thinking, computer science and diluted Freudian self-analysis. Riteless—and basically wrongless—it encourages its adherents to break the closed circle of their own doubts and concentrate their energies on the fulfillment of wishes that they had never before believed possible. To achieve these ends, the "priests" of Scientology, identified in the Handbook for Preclears (its dust jacket copy commends it as "a magnificent bridge out of unwanted conditions to the beginnings of Scientology") as auditors, guide the faithful through an intense and intensive sequence of 15 self-analytical Acts, during which the neophytes clear their mind banks of doubts in the manner of a computer warming up for a new problem. These self-defeating hang-ups are known in Scientologese as "service facsimiles." According to High Auditor Hubbard, "Arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, myopia, astigmatism, bizarre aches and pains, sinusitis, colds, ulcers, migraine headaches, toothaches, poliomyelitis deformities, fatness and skin malformations," not to mention sexual inadequacy and the blahs, may be "traceable to service facsimiles." As the preclear purges himself of these "definitely nonsurvival situations," he brings into full play his powerful "Theta." Whazzat, you say? Well, if you didn't know you had one, it's located just under your.... Actually, Theta is "the mathematical symbol for the static of thought. By Theta is meant the static itself. By facsimile is meant Theta which contains impressions by perception."
An Operating Thetan, or O.T., as the fully cleared Scientology adherent is known, can master nearly any earthly or extraterrestrial situation, from beating out a co-worker for a desirable promotion or coping with a cantankerous wife through defeating the Dallas Cowboys or death itself. The aim of the O.T. is to be the Cause in all developments, never the Effect—a laudable aim for any human being, and particularly for NFL quarterbacks.
In any event, an O.T., as Brodie hopes to become, is not to be taken frivolously, as the defenses of many a team discovered last season when he was only a Scientological beginner. Intense but in tune with the totality of the universe, he knows what he wants, when he wants it, why, where and how to get it. Aware of the rights and sensibilities of others (including pets, plants, wildlife, newsmen, the earth, the stars and the very cosmos), he nonetheless realizes that he must be in firm control of his environment and never dilatory in pursuit of his goals. O.T.s have been known to claim that they can move mountains in the Koranic sense. If so, an O.T. was once asked, why are the Himalayas and the Rockies still in place? "We only move them at night," came the reply, "when no one is looking."
John Brodie's problem is not quite so big as the transposition of mountain ranges. All he has to move is a football team. To that end, his Scientological explorations seem to have proved fruitful. "I'm very serious about Scientology," he says, with his muddy-brown eyes hardening toward flint to dissuade any quips. "People have tended to portray me as something of a goof-off. I'm a lot more serious than that." He grins and extends his passing arm full length. "In the past I felt my talent was out to here, but my performance was only about there." He hacks at his elbow. "Early last season my arm was bothering me. Ever since I broke it in 1963, it hadn't been completely right. A friend of mine suggested that I take a crack at Scientology, just to see if I couldn't clear it up. Maybe it was psychosomatic—a 'service facsimile' that I called up from the past to justify my failure or, in fact, to set up another failure and another gratifying session of self-pity. Well, I know it's hard to believe, but after just two hour-long sessions my arm got better and it's been right ever since. I've gone a long way since then—I'm just a step short of 'clear.' For the first four months of my preclear, I didn't say a word to my wife or kids. But Susan could tell that something was going on. Finally she asked me what I was doing, what was changing me. Now she and the four kids are into Scientology, too. In fact, Susan will probably beat me to clear."
There was little in John Brodie's earlier life that would lead one to believe he would become a convert to a cult like Scientology. He was born and raised in San Francisco, where his father was an administrator of the Kaiser Medical Plan that flourished after World War II. Educated at good schools, though not with the best of grades, he went on to Stanford, where he refused an athletic scholarship and majored in history. Although he got his degree, Brodie had his problems at Stanford, in studies if not in football—he was unanimous All-America in 1956. He was accused of cribbing on a cinema-studies exam, and no less a San Francisco tastemaker than Lucius Beebe called him a "boob." Brodie still bridles at the accusation. "Who was more of a freak?" he is wont to ask. And he firmly denies the cheating charge. Nonetheless, it did seem a bit too easy for the young Brodie. Blessed with natural athletic talent, endowed by nature and his clothiers with a certain inalienable charm, he married well—Susan is the daughter of a successful Bay Area physician—and signed a good pro contract.
Eventually, he paid off for the 49ers. While hutting the team to a 10-3-1 record last year—the best ever in the club's NFL history—he passed for 2,941 yards, tops in the league. His 24 touchdown passes, half of them to Wide Receiver Gene Washington, were also a seasonal high, while his eight sackings were a low for any regular quarterback. In the league ratings, only Washington's Sonny Jurgensen was ahead of Brodie in pass completions—59.9% to 59%—and no one in the NFC had fewer interceptions (10). As the new season gets under way, Brodie ranks seventh on the NFL's lifetime list of leading passers.
Little wonder, then, that Brodie was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player for 1970. Dallas Coach Tom Landry, who is not known for gushiness when it comes to the opposition, dripped verbal honey all over him: "The highest tribute that can be paid a quarterback is to say that he strikes a little fear into whatever defensive team he faces. Brodie does that. I marvel at the way he has now mastered the art of quarterback." Landry, of course, could afford to be effusive. In the NFC championship game, the Dallas defense—as parsimonious of yardage as its mentor is of praise—snagged two of Brodie's passes and limited him to only one touchdown pass, and the 49er season came to a close with a 17-10 loss. To those who fancy the occult, it appeared to have been a triumph of shrink over computer: Brodie's opposite number, Dallas Quarterback Craig Morton, had been undergoing hypnosis therapy throughout the season and keeping it just as quiet as Brodie had his own Scientological involvement. (In the final analysis, of course, it was the unconstructed, free-swinging, extroverted toe of Baltimore Placekicker Jim O'Brien that determined the NFL championship—a kick in the tail for both Freud and Hubbard.)
Last year was the first in its 21 years of NFL existence that a San Francisco team had fought it out all the way and avoided the choke that has given the city a loser's reputation in professional sports. It was as strong and dramatic a finish as any in recent seasons. After dropping a "must" game to the Los Angeles Rams at Kezar Stadium 30-13, the 49ers had to win their remaining three regular-season games in order to stay in contention for the division title. In the saloons and salons of Baghdad-by-the-Bay, the faithless winced and waited for "El Foldo," which blows into town as regularly as the Pacific fog. Not to worry. The 49ers came from behind in all three games, surprising not only their fans but themselves. Brodie passed for 647 yards and had only one interception. Seven of his passes went for touchdowns (five of them to Washington). Against the Saints, who had tied San Francisco 20-20 earlier in the season, Brodie added insult to injury by running the ball in from a yard out. "Brodie has always been a good quarterback," Coach Dick Nolan argues stoutly. "Last season he was a great one. The 49ers were a better ball club, stronger in almost every department. But it was John's consistency that brought us the division championship."
More than that, Brodie's cool self-assurance shored up a club that in the past had been undercut by self-doubt. When the 49ers journeyed to Minnesota for the NFC's interdivisional playoff against the Vikings, few gave them a chance. Bud Grant's Purple People Eaters had the best season record in the league, and they were chomping their ugly jaws in their own frosty backyard. The thermometer read 8° just before kickoff, but a bright, California-style sun shone on the hillocks of snow in the end zones. While the Viking fans warmed themselves with schnapps and visions of Miami, Brodie came on with his own central heating, courtesy of Hubbard. Wearing a short-sleeved jersey and appearing impervious to the cold, he hit on 16 of 32 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown, then ran another in himself for the clincher late in the fourth quarter. Final score: 49ers 17, Vikes 14. "We beat them at their own game," Brodie exulted afterward. "Hard-nosed defense and a balanced offense that never really exploded. But, by gum, we popped loud enough to be heard on the scoreboard at the right times."
During his 14 seasons Brodie has taken more abuse from fans than most quarterbacks. Only in his rookie year, 1957, did the Kezar Cruelty Brigade chant "We want Brodie!" with any real enthusiasm. And even that was suspect, for in those distant days the 49er fans were down on another quarterback, Y. A. Tittle. When Tittle moved east to star for the New York Giants, Brodie inherited both his job and his jeering section. The chants now rang out: "We want Kilmer!" "We want Waters!" "We want Mira!" Goaded to new highs of rancor by fog, sea gulls, defeat and boilermakers, Kezar crowds took to pouring restoratives on Brodie's head as he ran down the ramp to the dressing room after a loss. "Sometimes they didn't bother to take the beer out of the cans," Brodie recalls with an icy chuckle. "Finally we had to put up a Cyclone fence to protect ourselves from their hardware."
Despite all the garbage he was collecting on the field, Brodie accrued plenty of compensation. San Francisco, for all its glamour, is still a pretty small pond, and "Brode," as he came to be known, was one of its biggest athletic fish. What's more, in a town that considers itself to be quite dashing and devil-may-care, he was a born gamesman. Regardless of what the critics might think of his football skills (which have always been considerable), no one could question Brodie's verve or nerve in other games. A fine amateur golfer, he gave the pro tour a whirl for several years. "I learned that as a pro you could only handle one sport at a time if you were to succeed," he says, "and my sport is football." Still, he shoots scratch golf to this day. At cards Brodie is equally dangerous—"poker, gin, bridge, I enjoy them all." Nor is he a piker: he once dropped $3,200 in an evening of gin to a notorious San Francisco player. Tennis, Ping-Pong, paddleball, handball, even dominoes or jacks—Brodie will play them all, and well, given the proper circumstances. "If there's action," he says, "I like it."
The old American Football League learned that to its great dismay in 1966. That was the year of the Big Raids, when the AFL, in a desperate effort to achieve parity with the NFL, was buying up superstars at astronomical prices—or threatening to. Playing the Houston Oilers against Pete Rozelle, with the fear of an antitrust suit as the zinger, Brodie collected a reported $750,000 and helped precipitate the merger of the rival leagues.
Explaining what John Riley Brodie has done during his 36 years is not, of course, explaining who John Riley Brodie is, as L. Ron Hubbard would be the first to admit. "The only thing that's real is the moment," Brodie philosophized recently. It was a California statement in a California setting, and to one listener, at least, it brought back memories of the Haight-Ashbury district during the abortive Summer of Love in 1967. In those hopeful days one might hail a hippie wearing a wristwatch and ask him "Hey, man, what time is it?" The hippie would peel back the buckskin fringes covering his watch and display its blank, handless face with a grand gesture of contempt for temporality. "Like, man," he would say, "it's Now."
Brodie would never use such cliché-ridden language, but his meaning was the same. He was sitting in a dark, air-conditioned cocktail lounge on the northern outskirts of Santa Barbara, where the 49ers spend part of their preseason training time. Sipping slowly and alternately at a glass of tomato juice and a Coors beer, taking an occasional drag on a Marlboro, he was surrounded by some of his "translators," as the San Francisco sportswriters call Brodie's closest friends on the team. Dave Wilcox, the outside linebacker now in his eighth season, is a slow-talking Oregonian with a wide, playfully evil grin—nobody's fool and a certified hell raiser in any NFL city, on field or off. Another good buddy is Julian Douglas Cunningham, nicknamed "Goober," the fifth-year rushing back out of Mississippi whose aggressive blocking and sure hands on short patterns more than compensate for his lack of size (6', 192 pounds). Finally, and physically the most impressive, there was Stan Hindman, the massive defensive lineman, with his blond Zapata-style mustache and his off-beat reputation as a painter and sculptor of considerable merit. It was an odd quartet but fully in keeping with Brodie's new breadth: the Quarterback-Philosopher, the Linebacker-Chaser, the Halfback-Man of Action and the Lineman-Artist.
"Yeah," said Brodie, after a double sip of tomato juice and beer, "the moment is what counts. And ever since I took up Scientology, every moment has been important, if not fun. Some were pretty frustrating all right—the losses along the way last year. But I was learning from them, not moping over them or trying to shut them out of my consciousness. And learning how to handle things is the essence of being alive. I've never felt younger since I was 30." Wilcox snorted and leered at a passing waitress. Goober stared at the ceiling, puzzled and embarrassed by the heavy words. Hindman mumbled something about age and pain: perhaps he was contemplating a new sculpture.
"Look," Brodie continued, "I don't want to sound like one of those goody-goodies who are always making it sound so easy, but Elmer Fudd could quarterback many of these NFL teams to a championship. My old lady could do it. Not that Unitas or Morton or Plunkett or Snead—any of them, for that matter—is Elmer Fudd. God forbid they should paste a quote like that on their locker door! What I mean is, the whole overemphasis on the quarterback is misplaced if you really understand what football is about. If you have balance, depth, a strong-willed but sympathetic coach like we have in Dick Nolan, a good stable of assistants, then you have the makings. After that, as a quarterback, you have to be cool and contained, a bit of a stud, perhaps, but not necessarily a scrambler. Not if it's going to hurt you and, through you, your team. No need for pain."
Hindman tugged at his mustache. He knew pain more recently than Brodie. The season before last Hindman had a knee operation. Last year, coming back from the physical and psychological torture of that commonplace surgery, he played backup defensive end as part of Nolan's Awesome Eightsome—the 49ers circulated two whole rush lines for most of the season, keeping fresh pressure on the enemy almost at will. At this particular Scientological moment, however, Hindman was fighting hard to stay in the lineup. The powers that be were considering moving him from end to defensive tackle where, as the coaches put it, his "intelligence and quickness" were bound to pay off in a game that increasingly favors mobility over sheer strength. The trouble is, Hindman has lost much of his quickness to the surgeon's knife. He compensates with even more intelligence. "Pain," he sighed. "No friend of mine." One day he will put it into a sculpture, taking great pains himself with the blowtorch.
Goober Cunningham, reclining in his chair well out of the mainstream of the conversation, sniffed peckishly. He wore a seedy little mustache, nowhere near as luxuriant as Hindman's, and a hard-boiled expression far tougher than Brodie's Irish good-guy mask. Clearly, Goober never heard of pain; he knows not what it is. All of this phony bull—let's talk about football!
One is put in mind of John Brodie's accident back in 1963—the one that shattered his passing arm and developed into that highly serviceable "service facsimile." Brodie had plowed into a tree while driving up in the hills of the coastal range near his country club, Sharon Heights, just west of Palo Alto. "I took my eyes off the road for a moment and that caused me to misjudge a sharp turn," he says. "Fortunately, I had time to throw myself to the right, away from the steering wheel." Curiously, John Ralston, who had just taken over as head football coach at Stanford and who had never met Brodie, was driving only 300 yards behind. Ralston stopped and his wife placed a call for help from a nearby phone.
Brodie chuckled at the once painful memory. Slick and ambitious in the past, he had felt unfulfilled because he hadn't won a championship ring. Now that he has been turned on to Scientology, he realizes that happiness should be defined as measurable progress toward a desired goal, not just the final achievement of it. Working with the team in practice, Brodie put his new beliefs into effect. Holding the tackling dummies for beefy rookies, coaching the new quarterbacks in handoffs and dumping procedures, he appeared to be the soul of selflessness, yet he had never been more "self-directed" by his desire that the 49ers win the NFL title. A most valuable player in all respects, and the upcoming season may witness his true worth. This, after all, is the prime of Mr. John Brodie.