Pat Haden says Jeff Rutledge is terrific. Jeff Rutledge says Dan Pastorini is wonderful. Dan Pastorini says Pat Haden is great. Haden thinks Pastorini is a prince. And Rutledge says Haden is his ideal.
Love and beneficence are everywhere in the Los Angeles Rams locker room these days, the three quarterbacks gushing about each other nonstop.
Sunday, after the Rams had dramatically rallied to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 37-35, behind some cool-hand quarterbacking by Rutledge, the three quarterbacks staked out various corners of the locker room.
Haden, replaced by Rutledge in the second quarter when the Falcons' Wilson Faumuina caused stretched ligaments in Haden's ankle by slamming his helmet into the back of the quarterback's left leg, was talking about Rutledge.
"He just did an incredible job," said Haden, a cast on his left foot, purple bruises still evident on his forehead. "It's great for us that Jeff was able to come in and play so well. You couldn't have asked for more than he gave us."
Rutledge was just happy the team had come through. "I really didn't have a chance to think about the situation when I went in," he said. "I saw Pat go down and I thought, 'Got to get warm quick.' I have confidence in myself, though. I've been here three years, I know the system."
Pastorini wanted to know what the questions were about. "Controversy about the quarterbacks?" he said. "What controversy?"
Ram quarterbacks and controversy have been synonymous since the 1950s when Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin played musical snap counts. The latest was the now infamous Vince Ferragamo-Haden feud of 1980. It ended with Ferragamo migrating north to Montreal in pursuit of happiness and big bucks and Haden installed as this year's No. 1 quarterback.
Haden has been dealing with quarterback questions thoughout his seven years with the Rams. Off the field he has it all, blond hair, blue eyes, wealth, fame and intelligence. But he has been rapped as a nonwinner in spite of a 34-13 record as the starting quarterback because Ferragamo took the Rams to the Super Bowl in 1979 when Haden was hurt.
Before Ferragamo took over, John Hadl, James Harris and Ron Jaworski all had their turns. Now comes Rutledge, a ninth-round pick out of Alabama in 1979, a man who went unnoticed the last two years during the Haden-Ferragamo wars.
"How did I feel watching him do well?" Haden asked, repeating a question in an incredulous tone. "I felt incredibly great. This is a team and Jeff and I are trying to accomplish the same thing -- win. How else would I feel?"
Haden's clear blue eyes register disgust when questions like, "does Pastorini's presence create pressure for you?" are asked again and again.
"It isn't exactly a novel approach," he said. "I've been answering the question for seven years now. I understand why they ask, but there was a time when I tried to give an intelligent answer to it. I don't bother anymore."
Pastorini, ex-Houston and Oakland, has been through it before, too, especially last year when Jim Plunkett took over after he was injured and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl. Pastorini isn't about to make waves.
"I appreciate being here and I appreciate these guys, they're a good group, a tight-knit group. If they weren't, they couldn't have won today. Some teams would have been way down when Pat got hurt, would have quit.
"I'm just trying to help in any way I can. I prepare as if I'm going to play, but Pat Haden is this team's quarterback. I know he's been rapped for being too short, but that's bull. He's a little man that every player on this team looks up to."
It often has been said that the most popular man in any NFL city is the backup quarterback. With Rutledge having pulled out the Atlanta game and with Haden possibly out for a couple of weeks, the revolving quarterback door undoubtedly will open again.
For the 4-2 Rams, it will be just another chapter in a bizarre season. Ferragamo left, Fred Dryer, the defensive end, left in a contract dispute and offensive tackle Doug France slugged an assistant coach.
"In Los Angeles, you get used to that kind of stuff," said defensive end Jack Youngblood. "This season hasn't been any different than the past. The guys here understand their jobs. During the week we all get it said and on Sunday we just worry about football."
Never was that more evident than against the Falcons. "You can say anything you want to about this team but you can't knock the way we play the game," General Manager Don Klosterman said at halftime. "We go through it all. But these are the clouds of adversity that test a team's resilience. You watch, this team will come back."
The team did come back and now has two more tough road games, Dallas and San Francisco. Haden says he may be ready this week, if not next. Pastorini says his arm feels great. Rutledge is just happy to be playing.