DeBerg persists as pro quarterback despite stiff competition. Buc passer is itinerant in his 10th NFL season

It's probably safe to say that we all know the optimum characteristics of a National Football League quarterback. Body by Adonis; feet like Fred Astaire; the gift for reading defenses; a throwing arm that can hit a moving target; plus the durability of one of those weighted round-bottom dolls that pop up every time they get knocked down. One guy you'd never intentionally invite into that select company is Steve DeBerg of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. DeBerg moves just fast enough to go through a revolving door without having to meet its fellow occupants. Yet this is a man who has also been able to perform well when called upon throughout a 10-year pro career. And if he hasn't stayed with any one team too long, the reason seems less a question of his own ability than the fact that everywhere he goes there's either a big-name quarterback already on hand or a potential superstar showing up via the draft.

This year in Tampa Bay the competition turned out to be no less than Vinny Testaverde, last year's Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 1 overall draft choice. As usually happens in such situations, the veteran started for a while until the rookie had a chance to get acclimated. But last weekend the nod went to Testaverde, who performed well enough for a first-time starter. And as DeBerg knows from long experience, once a change like this is made, it's likely to become permanent.

Consider some of the other situations that DeBerg has encountered. In 1977, the Dallas Cowboys made this San Jose State product their 10th-round draft pick. But coach Tom Landry, who was used to looking at Roger Staubach spiraling footballs, cut Steve in training camp.

So DeBerg brought his heart to San Francisco, where the 49ers had picked him up on waivers. Over the next three years, Steve started 35 games and threw for 37 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also gave away the football 60 times via interceptions. Anyway, he lasted until the 49ers drafted Joe Montana.

Trade winds then deposited DeBerg in Denver, where he started once in 1981 for the Broncos, played off and on in 1982, and in 1983 shared the quarterback position with the team's No. 1 draft pick, John Elway.

The minute Elway began to show that he could read NFL defenses, however, the clock ran out for Steve, who was given a pair of swim trunks, a bottle of suntan lotion, and a plane ticket to Tampa Bay.

DeBerg became the starting quarterback for the Bucs in the third game of the 1984 season, and went on to lead the offense to 17 team records. He remained No. 1 until Steve Young, a hotshot passer from the lightly-regarded United States Football League, arrived in 1985. Young didn't prove to be the answer and was eventually traded to the 49ers, prompting Tampa Bay to break the bank by signing Testaverde to a six-year, $8.2 million contract.

But when DeBerg arrived at the Bucs' training camp this year in the best shape of his career, and Testaverde was slow to pick up the offense, Steve unexpectedly wound up as the starter. And although the losing, tide-is-always-out Bucs aren't going anywhere as a team, his statistics have been reasonably impressive (159 completions in 275 attempts for 1,891 yards and 14 touchdowns).

While Testaverde's first chance Sunday against New Orleans wasn't exactly a banner day (the Saints won, 44-34), Vinny did complete 22 of 47 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown, but earlier in the game fumbled twice, both miscues leading to New Orleans' scores.

It's obvious, however, that the time has come for coach Ray Perkins to let Vinny get the week-to-week feel of what it's like to play quarterback in the NFL in what remains of this year's schedule.

As for DeBerg, if any other team is interested in a gypsy quarterback who has the ability to reverse the law that says a square peg can't fit into a round hole, the number to call in Tampa Bay is 813-870-2700. Elsewhere in the NFL

San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana set an NFL record Sunday by extending his pass completions to 22 straight, as the first-place 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers, 23-12, to clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth. Montana, who completed his last five passes against Cleveland the week before, started off by connecting on 17 in a row against the Packers. His throws accounted for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Joe also scored on a 10-yard draw play. The previous NFL mark of 20 consecutive completions was held by Ken Anderson of the Cincinnati Bengals. Anderson set his record in a single game against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 2, 1983. Said 49er coach Bill Walsh: ``Montana is one of the greatest who has ever played the game and was the main reason that we've been in two Super Bowls.''

Kathy Bosworth, mother of Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker Brian Bosworth, on his Dennis-the-Menace image while growing up: ``It's a good thing Brian was a third child or he would have been the only one!''

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