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Dieter Brock: Mythbusting NFL's last 7-0 rookie QB

The SportsXchange

In the midst of a crazy season for many NFL quarterbacks, Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs became the only one since 1985 to start 7-0 in his first year with a team. Dieter Brock did it last in his weird, rookie year with the Los Angeles Rams.

Smith can only hope his fate does not continue to follow that of Brock.

After that 7-0 start in 1985, Brock lost four of the next six games and, although the Rams made it to the NFL Championship, that was something best forgotten.

For NFL fans who don't remember Brock, there is good reason. He entered the league as somewhat of a mysterious, mythical southern boy by way of the northern tundra and quickly vanished, lasting only that one season. But it was a dramatic one -- he threw for 2,658 yards and 16 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 81.8, all franchise records for a rookie -- although he was 34 years old.

A 34-year old rookie? How's that? The more appropriate interrogative might be ... eh?

Born in Birmingham, Ala., Brock played at Auburn and Jacksonville State. Then, after being ignored by the NFL, he went to the Canadian Football League and carved out a legendary career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger Cats (1974-1984), earning a spot in the CFL Hall of Fame.

So Canadian football fans remember Brock well, especially those of the Blue Bombers, who just last August mounted a mini-campaign to recruit him as the team's coordinator on offense. Or, as many of the Canadian tweets specify, "offence."

In the CFL, Brock completed 2,602 of 4,535 passes for 34,830 yards and 210 touchdowns. He was the CFL passing leader in 1978, 1980, 1981 and 1984. Add his one year with the Rams and Brock's pro football passing yardage of 37,488 would -- just for perspective -- rank 17th in NFL history, just ahead of Donovan McNabb and Jim Kelly and just behind Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dave Krieg and Boomer Esiason, names that NFL fans certainly remember.

Brock played for the Tiger Cats in the 1984 Grey Cup championship, losing to his former team, the Blue Bombers, who traded him away in 1983.

"After that I wanted to try the NFL and we got serious with five teams, including Buffalo, who really wanted to sign me," Brock told The Sports Xchange this week in a phone call from his Birmingham home. "Buffalo was almost an extension of the CFL for some fans, but I'm from Alabama and I wanted better weather and a better team, so Los Angeles looked good."

Smart move, considering the Rams also had a great offensive line and a running game that featured Eric Dickerson setting the NFL single season record of 2,105 yards in 1984.

"He calls up and comes in for a workout," John Robinson, head coach of the Rams at the time, reminisced this week with The Sports Xchange. "We shake hands and first thing I notice is his arms look like Popeye's. Huge. Then he throws a few balls and it was really shocking."

Brock's throwing arm was legendary back home in Alabama, where he was nicknamed the Birmingham Rocket and was known for using a weighted ball to throw while working out. In Canada the legend grew, with tales about him throwing the ball 93 yards in the air, and 55 yards while down on one knee.

"I taped pellets to the balls -- four pounds, three pounds, two pounds -- and by the time I threw a 14 ounce football, it was light," he said. "I worked out like a javelin thrower to strengthen my arm. All those stories are true about how far I could throw."

And Robinson was a believer.

"I'd been around a lot of strong-armed quarterbacks, including Dan Fouts," Robinson said." But this guy had the strongest arm I ever saw. It was a rocket launcher. Those tales about how far he could throw were no bull."

So, exit well-liked quarterback Jeff Kemp, who managed the Dickerson-led offense. Enter the mysterious Birmingham Rocket, via Canada.

"They said we would open up the offense, throw a lot more," Brock recalled. "It never really happened."

Passing was never really a major part of Robinson's DNA, at USC or in the NFL.

"Passing is a good concept, but we had Dickerson, we were a running team," admitted Robinson. "We wanted a quarterback who could run things and not screw it up. The fact that defenses knew Brock could throw a mile was probably helpful.

"Honestly, the main reason we got Brock was he didn't cost a lot, which was always a major factor. Great kid. Quiet, professional, hard worker with football smarts, listed at about 6-foot but had that huge arm."

The media, with which the likeable Kemp was friendly, never warmed up to Brock and rode him mercilessly, often without reason. Even fellow players didn't know what to make of the 34-year old newcomer. When Dickerson first met Brock he said, "Man, he is old."

"We had a great start at 7-0," Robinson said. "Then our last game was the NFC Championship in Chicago against that great Bears team.

"It was ridiculously cold. I told Dieter, 'hey, this must feel right at home, just like Canada.' He said, 'yeah, it's great, I feel great.' But he was wearing gloves. That should have been my first clue. It got really ugly."

In what turned out to be his last game, Brock completed only 10 of 31 passes for 66 yards, one interception and was sacked three times as the Bears mauled the Rams, much as they did most teams that season, 24-0.

"The next year Brock got injured in preseason," Robinson said. "We acquired Jim Everett and, well ..."

"I moved to coaching," said Brock, who began his new career back home at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, then as a popular offensive coordinator for several CFL teams and he even helped with high school teams in Alabama.

Brock still thinks of coaching, but stays close to home these days with his wife, Jamie, who developed epileptic seizures a few years back. They have two children, Kaleb (14) and Hayley (18). He follows the CFL on TV and the internet and has a devoted Twitter following north of the border.

He helps when teams call for advice, but nothing came of this year's mini campaign by Winnipeg fans who clamored for his return as a coach.

"It's nice to know people remember you and appreciate you somewhere," he said.

Even if it isn't the NFL.

Frank Cooney is the publisher for The Sports Xchange and a 20-year member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. He covered Dieter Brock's eighth game in 1985 when the San Francisco 49ers jumped out to a 28-0 lead en route to a 28-14 win as Brock completed 35 of 51 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked four times and threw three interceptions.
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