March 26, 2011

1985: Rams Sign CFL Star Dieter Brock

On March 26, 1985 the Los Angeles Rams announced the signing of QB Dieter Brock, an 11-year veteran of the Canadian Football League who had played out his option with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was reported that the 34-year-old Brock agreed to a four-year deal (three years plus option) with the Rams for $2.1 million.

The acquisition sealed the fate of Vince Ferragamo, who had himself signed a four-year contract extension with the Rams a year earlier. Ferragamo had come off the bench to lead LA to the Super Bowl in 1979 after starter Pat Haden went down with an injury, followed up with a 30-TD year in ’80, jumped to Montreal of the CFL in 1981, and, after performing poorly in Canada, returned to the Rams in ’82. He was inconsistent, but kept regaining the starting job, before going down for the year with a hand injury suffered in the third game of the 1984 season. Head Coach John Robinson made clear, in announcing Brock’s signing, that Ferragamo would be dealt.

While not guaranteed the starting job off the bat, Brock said “I just feel this is an excellent opportunity for me and I'm not afraid of competition. This is a dream come true.”

Brock’s 11 seasons in the CFL included the first 9 1/2 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the last 1 1/2 with Hamilton. He was traded by Winnipeg to Hamilton during the ’83 season for QB Tom Clements after staging a series of walkouts in an effort to get out of his contract. His career numbers in the CFL were 2602 completions in 4535 attempts for 34,830 yards with 210 touchdowns and 158 interceptions; he led the CFL in passing four times and won the Schenley Award in 1980 and ’81 as the league’s MVP.

Brock, from Birmingham, Alabama, had backed up Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan at Auburn before transferring to Jacksonville State. Sensing little interest from the NFL, he signed with Winnipeg before the NFL draft in 1974 (consequently, no team had prior rights to him).

Before signing with Los Angeles, Brock tried out with Buffalo, Green Bay, and Cleveland. Buffalo was rumored to have the inside track, especially since they were looking to replace 34-year-old Joe Ferguson (ironically, they ended up getting Ferragamo). The Packers reportedly made the highest offer, but were committed to veteran Lynn Dickey as the starter.

The club Brock was joining had made it to the postseason in 1984 as a wild card team with a 10-6 record (they lost in the first round). But while RB Eric Dickerson had performed brilliantly in his first two seasons, gaining a rookie-record 1808 yards in 1983 followed by a NFL record 2105 yards in ‘84, the team had not done well through the air. Young QB Jeff Kemp went 9-4 starting in place of Ferragamo, but the Rams ranked at the bottom of the NFC in passing offense.

Kemp was still with the team, as were the untested Scott Tinsley and veteran backup Steve Dils, but it was clear that the starting job was Brock’s to lose. While Coach Robinson preferred a run-oriented attack (going back to his years as a college coach at USC), he hoped that improving the passing game would, if nothing else, make Dickerson even more effective (he also expressed a desire to utilize the star runner, who had caught 51 passes in 1983 but only 21 in ’84, more often as a receiver out of the backfield).

The 1985 Rams, even with Dickerson holding out at the beginning of the season, won their first seven games and ended up at the top of the NFC West with an 11-5 record. Brock set a then-club record by completing 59.7 percent of his 365 passes for 2658 yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. However, he played conservatively, rarely throwing long, and, even with one of the best offensive lines in the league in front of him, was sacked 51 times. The Rams still ranked low in passing yards.

In the postseason, Brock's performance was especially disappointing. While LA beat the Cowboys 20-0 in the Divisional round, it was primarily because of Dickerson rushing for 248 yards - Brock completed only 6 of 22 passes for 50 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. Playing for the NFC Championship against Chicago, Brock was successful on just 10 of 31 throws for 66 yards, again with one picked off and no TDs, and the Bears won handily, 24-0. Chicago Head Coach Mike Ditka remarked afterward that “I’m glad they didn’t play Jeff Kemp.”

Brock returned for the 1986 season, but back and knee injuries, the latter of which required surgery, kept him from playing. Steve Dils and veteran Steve Bartkowski, who had been obtained from the Falcons, handled the starting quarterback duties initially, but an early-season trade with Houston brought highly-touted rookie Jim Everett to the team, and he was the starter by the end of the year – and clearly the first choice to start going forward. Brock chose to retire.

Dieter Brock’s NFL career was brief and undistinguished, but he was recognized for his outstanding play in the CFL by being selected as one of the Top 20 All-Time Greats for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to mark the franchise’s 75th anniversary, and he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1995.