He was the Staubach of the Yukon for 11 years, but now the career of Dieter Brock approaches flashing yellow lights.
He is the 34-year-old rookie quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and because he is a rookie in the NFL nomenclature, nobody seems to realize he is the same age as Dan Fouts and Ron Jaworski, and just 17 months younger than another American to escape the football Elba Island in Canada, Joe Theismann.
Of course, for the longest time, many of the folks in his home town of Gadsden, Ala., did not realize that this is the same guy who used to go by the name of Ralph Brock, and who played backup to Pat Sullivan at Auburn in 1971, the year Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy.
It's a natural then that Brock admits he's seen "The Natural" five or six times, including once in his hotel room last week in Philadelphia. Brock says he sees similarities in a 34-year-old baseball rookie named Roy Hobbs and a 34-year-old football rookie named Ralph Dieter Brock. "We both just kind of appeared," Brock says.
The transition moves slowly so far for Brock, who throws three-quarters sidearm, like a football Quisenberry. Ray Jauch, the former Washington Federals coach who was Brock's coach for years in Canada, says, "There's no question Dieter has got it all. It's a matter of getting used to the American game. People have to be patient. Give him a year."
Indeed, the playing field is 10 yards shorter and 12 yards thinner than it was for Brock in Canada, and the game plan is plenty different, too. Brock once threw 58 passes in a game in Canada. Thirty-seven times he threw for more than 300 yards in a game. He's a two-time Canadian Football League most valuable player with nearly 35,000 career passing yards. A CFL coach once was quoted as saying Brock "can throw a marshmallow through a tornado."
In 1981, Brock was a Winnipeg Blue Bomber completing 42 of 47 passes for 429 yards in one game against Ottawa. "He did that in the rain, too," Jauch marveled.
In the Rams' 2-0 start, however, Brock has made 80 assorted handoffs and pitchouts to such backs as Charles White and Mike Guman; he has initiated 61 pass plays, 27 for completions and six for sacks. When breakaway back Eric Dickerson returns Monday night against Seattle, the number of Rams passes likely won't swell much, either.
Brock has thrown three interceptions and just one touchdown pass and the scoring toss was a two-yard overthrown job that tight end David Hill turned into a fingertip, leaning-tower catch.
"I hate to hear people think I'm not doing the job when they only look at the stats," Brock said. "That doesn't tell the whole story. After two games, I hope nobody will make a decision on whether I've made it or not. We've won both games and that's the most important thing."
"I don't think he's had a brilliant game yet," Rams Coach John Robinson said on the one hand. On the other, Robinson added, "He keeps playing and working hard. I'm satisfied."
"I don't know much about football in Canada," said Bill Bain, the Rams' veteran tackle, "but you got to be good to get those kind of stats. If he gets half of those numbers this year, it should be our step in. In where? In the Super Bowl."
Many southern Californians buried heads in hands when they heard the Rams had picked up another quarterback older than 30. These fans recalled how in 1977 the Rams signed Joe Namath, then 34 with quivering knees. Namath played six games, completed 46 percent of his passes, threw three touchdowns and five interceptions. Then he retired.
In September 1981, the Rams signed Dan Pastorini, who was 32. Pastorini played seven games, completed 42 percent of his passes, threw for two touchdowns with 14 interceptions. Pastorini was released prior to the 1982 season.
That's when the Rams signed 30-year-old Bert Jones. The ex-Colt played just four games in the 1982 strike season, throwing for two touchdowns with four interceptions. Burdened with irrevocable shoulder damage, Jones retired before the 1983 season.
"We've had old guys come in, take a hit and they are gone," Bain said. "But none of them work out like Dieter does."
Brock's weight work has become locker room legend. One story goes that as he traveled from Green Bay to Cleveland to Buffalo to Los Angeles for spring NFL tryouts, Brock carried a 70-pound exercise machine in his suitcase. In the end, the suitcase broke, which is something the 6-foot, 195-pound Brock never has done. Remarkably, he never has had to undergo knee surgery.
Brock is verifiably tough, renowned for holding the ball until the last split second even with a defensive freight train bearing in. In a 17-6 victory over Philadelphia last Sunday, Brock waited, waited, waited before dumping off a 13-yard screen pass to running back Lynn Cain. As he released the ball, defensive end Greg Brown lowered the boom. No matter. The play went as smoothly as "Oh, Canada."
The Rams' offensive linemen, who form one of the league's best pass- and run-blocking units, say they have been told to prepare to hold their blocks for five seconds, instead of the normal three. That's because of Brock's will and verve.
Because Brock plays and looks so young, guard Dennis Harrah calls him "Dick Clark."
"Obviously, this is my 12th year so I don't expect to play a heck of a lot longer. I'd like to play for four or five more years," said Brock, who signed a reported four-year, $2.1 million contract.
"I haven't lost anything throwing the football. I feel like I have a good opportunity here. It's just a different style."
NFL scrapbooks are full of quarterbacks who made it BIG! in Canada only to struggle in the States. Montreal's Sam Etcheverry led the CFL in passing for six straight seasons and was 31 when St. Louis signed him in 1961. He played two years, produced middle-of-the-league numbers in one year as a starter, then disappeared.
In 1980, Tom Clements signed with Kansas City. All-league for three of his five seasons in Canada, he was the No. 3 quarterback with the Chiefs for one season before he fled back to Canada, where he remains today.
Most recently, of course, Warren Moon came to Houston. In six seasons in the CFL, Moon had led Edmonton to five Grey Cup championships and averaged 24 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions per season. In his debut season with Houston, 1984, Moon threw for 12 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
None of this bothers Dieter Brock. "There's always the question in my mind 'Can I do it?' " Brock admits. "There's no question I can do it. I just have to hang in there."