Almost unnoticed, Jaworski moves up as Eagles' big gun
If the Los Angeles Rams never trade another quarterback to the Philadelphia Eagles, don't be surprised. Philadelphia has produced but two championship football teams in the past 32 years, and each one was quarterbacked by an ex-Ram. In 1960 it was Norm Van Brocklin at the controls, in 1980 Ron Jaworski.
Jaworski's 1980 season, of course, has happily carried into the new year, where it will finally end in New Orleans Sunday evening. The occasion, of course, is the Super Bowl, which pits Philadelphia (the National Conference winner) in a battle for National Football League supremacy.
Though this is the 15th such super struggle, it will be the first to match quarterbacks swapped or discarded by other teams. Jaworski we already know about. Jim Plunkett, his Raider counterpart, was headed for oblivion when Oakland intercepted him after stops in New England and San Francisco.
Actually, Plunkett rates as the better known of the two, this despite the recent disclosure that the Eagles wanted Plunkett as Jaworski's backup this season. As things turned out, Plunkett, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Stanford and the league's No. 1 draft choice in 1971, replaced injured Oakland starter Dan Pastorini and became the NFL's come- back player of the year. Jaworski, meanwhile, continued his steady improvement with little in the way of media fanfare. He eventually was named his conference's Player of the Year by the UPI wire service, but probably no one's selection ever went so unnoticed.
In fact, it's hard to remember any Super Bowl quarter- back having such a low profile entering the big game. His visibility is bound to increase this week with a phalanx of story-hungry reporters on the scene, but that doesn't change the fact that Jaworski's maturation as an NFL quarterback is a virtual secret.
Once a scatter-armed passer short on patience, Jaworski has had to come almost full circle under Dick Vermeil's coaching regime. The "Polish Rifle" can still hum the ball, but now he throws with more control, sticks to the game plan , and makes very few errors. In a word, he does what's asked of him and leaves the headlines to a highly decorated defense, offensive sidekicks Harold Carmichael and Wilbert Montgomery, plus Vermeil.
As a passer, he has improved his credential every season since stepping in as the Eagle starter four years ago. This season he threw more than ever, completed a carrer-high 57 percent, and connected on 27 touchdown passes (nine better than his previous best). Based on a formula established by the league, these and other statistics made him the NFL's second best passer, behind only Brian Sipe of Cleveland.
Having graduated from Youngstown (Ohio) State and having once been a third-stringer with the Rams, Jaworski knows the ladder of success well.
"There definitely are levels that a quarterback goes through," he explains. "First you wonder if you're good enough to play in the NFL. Then you make it but wonder if you can become a starter. Then you make it but wonder if you can become a starter. Then you start for a few years and they say you're not a winner. Then you take your team to the playoffs and they say you're not a Super Bowl quarterback. Then you get there a few times and you get that Fran Tarkenton reputation and they say you can't win the big one.
"I've fought my way here, and I want to see if I can have the big game in the big game."
Should he succeed, Jaworski's stock would certainly rise. Super Bowl victories tend to do that for quarterbacks; just ask Bob Griese, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, a trio of can't-miss Hall of Farmers.
With plenty of on-the-job training now under his belt, Ron may well be on the verge of stardom. He appears a natural in more ways than one.
Few players enjoy a better rapport with the press. Jaworski is genuinely friendly and talkative, a family man (the Staubach image), and active in community affairs (he heads up the Ron Jaworski Scholarship Fund in western New York State).
And let it be known that "Jaws" -- his latest nickname -- is entering the prime years for most quarterbacks.
Drafted by Los Angeles on the second round in 1973, he actually spent his rookie season on the Rams' "taxi squad," a reserve team. By 1976, when his apprenticeship should have been over, James Harris and Pat Haden were ahead of him on the depth chart. That made Ron expendable.
Pouncing on the opportunity to get a talented young quarterback, Vermeil sent the rights to negotiate with tight end Charles Young to L.A. for Jaworski. Though once an all-conference player, Young quickly fell out of the limelight, making the deal look like a steal for Philadelphia in retrospect.
Even with a beard and moustache, the 6 ft. 2 in, 196-pound Jaworski has a rather boyish face. But don't be fooled; he's tough and durable. Despite an assortment of injuries, he's never missed a game with the Eagles.
The achievement is a source of pride with him, particularly in light of his unimpressive physique. He once overheard a Ram assistant coach questioning how long Ron could last in the pros with "that concave chest."
"Well," Jaworski says, "maybe you don't have to be built like Terry Bradshaw to play in the NFL."
A look at the record indicates he could rest his case right there. He won't, of course, not with a jury of millions watching Sunday.