Rams' Pat Haden; The thinking man's quarterback
When quarterback Pat Haden threw his first long pass at the Los Angeles-Anaheim Rams practice session this summer -- after two years of riding the bench behind Vince Ferragamo -- the ball fluttered like a wounded duck, dropping finally in the arms of a defender. The wobbly throw was aided considerably by a wad of wet chewing tobacco that center Rich Saul had attached to the ball as a kind of "welcome back" present.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As the ball drifted down far short of target, Ram lineman Dennis Harrah threw up his arms and shouted, "Get on the horn. Call Ferragamo. Get him back. Offer him more money, whatever it takes."
And Pat Haden loved it. He was in charge again, and the responsibility is just fine with him. He's been there before. Haden is a lifetime winner who had to spend two years learning how to be a loser. Now he has his job back by default, because Vince Ferragamo defected to Canadian football when he was offered a lot more money than the Rams were willing to pay him.
But second choice doesn't spook Pat Haden -- the only Rhodes scholar now active in professional sports. Haden thinks very clearly, and seldom trips over his own ego. "Sure I was getting jerked around while Vince was doing his dance this summer," Haden said in an interview at an after-practice lunch for the players. "It was one thing one day and something entirely different the next. Fortunately I was busy at home with my children and also at law school, so it wasn't as if I was sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. . . .
"The most frustrating thing to me through all this was that I wasn't really in the driver's seat for the first time in my life. I guess I was pleased with the way I dealt with it. There are positive things to be learned from every experience. I wouldn't want to go through it again. But I still had to wait for Vince to make up his mind. I couldn't control what was going to happen to me, and that's never been true before.
Haden is a rarity in professional sports. He was a superlative student at the University of Southern California (graduating in 1975 with a 3.8 grade point average), then received a classical education from Oxford University ("I enjoyed every minute at Oxford; when again in life will I have the opportunity to sit down and read Shelley and Byron and Shakespeare without pressure?"). And he has a talent for throwing a football with such consummate artistry that he has become wealthy in a business that pays a great deal more homage to brawn than brains. Haden is bemused by this, as he is by most of the anomalies of his work.
"I likem to play football," he says."There are some very pure moments about the sport I don't think you get in any other occupation -- an exhilaration, a feeling of purity that comes out of executing something very, very well. And, I suppose, realizing that you do it better than most people in the world. It's a kind of ego trip, I guess, but it also supports my family quite comfortably; I haven't lost sight of that."
Is his kind of intelligence an asset -- or possibly a liability -- in a violent game like football?
Haden pauses before saying: "Intelligence is an asset in anythingm , but in playing football, instinctive intelligence is more important than a high IQ. Athletic intelligence is a feelm for the game, an innate sense of timing. That's what people who knocked [Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback] Terry Bradshaw didn't understand. Guys with high athletic intelligence don't have to be able to discourse on 'Richard III' if their bodies and heads can tell them what to do in certain situations on the field.
"I guess the best way to apply the other kind of intelligence -- the IQ kind -- to football is through the politics involved. I deal with 44 very different kinds of guys. They see me sitting here being interviewed" -- every player passing by wasm taking it in -- "and a lot of them wish it was them instead of me. It takes some intelligence to recognize that and deal with it diplomatically. There are lots of egos here -- some big ones -- and one of the most interesting things in sports is watching them somehow work together to a common end. Players generally recognize their roles, tough as they are to swallow sometimes. Egos have to be sacrificed. Even quarterbacks'. Mine certainly had to be sacrificed last year."