The Men Before Goff – A History Of The Rams QB Position

It’s no secret that Jared Goff is the LA Rams franchise quarterback. The Rams drafted him first overall in 2016 and doubled down on his job security with a four-year contract extension worth $134 million. While there are plenty of people that would argue that a quarterback of his caliber doesn’t deserve that kind of money, the overall value of Goff’s deal ranks sixth at his position. Nevertheless, since Sean McVay took over as Head Coach in 2017, Goff has been QB1 and there hasn’t been a whisper of a QB controversy in Ramsland since. 

Goff led the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance in 2018 and looks to get the team back on track this season. You can check out the Rams’ current Super Bowl odds on sportsbettingdime.com. With a record of 9-7 in 2019, they are currently sitting upper-mid on the odds table at +2800. But how did the team fair before Goff was the franchise guy?

The Rams’ history at the quarterback position has had varying levels of success. In the team’s 84 years in existence, it’s drafted six quarterbacks in the first round. Very few of the team’s Hall of Famers were quarterbacks. Even the most recent quarterback inductee, Kurt Warner, played only six seasons for the Rams. However, there have been a number of quarterbacks that have had the spotlight fixed on them like it is currently on Goff. Here is a look at the best and worst franchise quarterbacks in Rams’ history.

Sam Bradford

The 2010 NFL Draft was not kind to quarterbacks. There were 13 taken and only two in the first round, with Sam Bradford as the first overall pick by the Rams

It’s easy to say now that the Rams could have gone a different direction, but at the time Bradford was rated the top prospect to be drafted number one. This, despite Bradford missing most of the Oklahoma Sooners’ 2009 season with a shoulder injury. In 2008 Bradford threw for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns, which earned him the Heisman Trophy and a trip to the National Championship game.  

The Rams weren’t deterred by the injury to the AC joint in Bradford’s throwing shoulder. They were enamored with Bradford’s eye-popping sophomore season, and they were ready to move on from Marc Bulger. Drafting Bradford marked the first time the Rams had drafted a QB in the first round since 1963. The Rams then signed Bradford to the richest rookie deal in NFL history. It was a six-year, $78 million deal, with $50 million in guarantees. 

By the beginning of his first season, Bradford earned the starting job, beating out A.J. Feeley. Bradford shined in his rookie season and St. Louis saw their bright future laid before them. The team improved from 1-15 to 7-9. Bradford completed 354 passes for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year.  

The 2011 season was a big setback. Bradford only won one of 10 starts and missed the rest of the season due to a sprained ankle.

The following year was a shakeup for the Rams. Head Coach Steve Spagnolo was replaced by Jeff Fisher.  Upon taking the job, Fisher made it clear that Bradford was still the man in St. Louis. Bradford was the starter from week one, and 2012 saw him return to his rookie season form. He threw 329 passes for 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns, and the team was heading in the right direction going 7-9-1. Bradford’s 2012 campaign marked the last time in his career that he would start 16 games in a season.

In 2013 Bradford continued to shine as he was on track to throw for another 4,000 yards and had already thrown 14 touchdowns. However, in Week 7 of that year, Bradford tore his ACL, and then in a 2014 preseason game, he tore the same ACL and missed the entirety of that season.

The Rams decided to move on and traded Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles before the 2015 season. Bradford played the final four years of his career with three different teams, unable to ever recapture the potential he once had.

Kurt Warner

Kurt Warner’s story is different from the rest of the guys in this article. The others were all highly sought after talents that were touted as franchise quarterbacks. That’s not Warner’s story.

In high school, he anchored the Regis Royals to the Iowa Shrine Bowl. He was named to the first-team all-state and led the team to a one-point victory and was named MVP of that game.

Despite that, Warner didn’t get aby Division 1-A and attended the University of Northern Iowa in his hometown of Cedar Rapids. Warner eventually earned the starting role his senior season and led the team to the Division 1-AA playoffs and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors in the Gateway Football Conference. 

Always overlooked, Warner he went undrafted in 1994. He did sign as an undrafted free agent with the Green Bay Packers but was cut just five weeks later. Warner worked at a local supermarket, earning $5.50 an hour, but was still working out at his alma mater, staying prepared for his next opportunity in football. 

From 1995-97 he played for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League, leading them to two appearances in the Arena Bowl. Warner was also named to the first team All-Arena for both of those seasons.

In December of 1997, they signed him to a futures contract and sent him to play in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals.  He played one season in Europe and led the league in touchdowns and passing yards

By the fall of 1998, Warner made the Rams roster, but he was third-string behind Steve Bono and Tony Banks. Then in 1999, the Rams acquired Trent Green to be the starter, but he tore his ACL in the preseason, setting Warner’s fate in motion.

Warner marched that team to a 13-3 record, leading the league in touchdowns with 41 and finished second in passing yards. He was also the most accurate passer in the league with a 65.1% completion percentage. Warner was named the MVP that season, the Rams won the Super Bowl with Warner as the Super Bowl MVP. 

In 2000 the Rams signed him to a seven-year $47 million contract. That season Warner suffered a hand injury and Green started five games and played well. But when you’re the franchise guy the coach puts you back in when you’re good to go. That’s what Head Coach Mike Martz did and Warner did what you do when you give him a football, he played great. He led the Rams back to the Super Bowl in 2001 but was thwarted by another unheralded backup quarterback by the name of Tom Brady

Yet the clock struck midnight on Warner’s Cinderella Story in St. Louis almost as quickly as it blossomed. In 2002, the glass slipper fell off and Warner threw picks to one touchdown and started the year 0-3. He missed several weeks with a broken finger only returning for two more games that season, both defeats. Then in 2003, the wheels to the pumpkin completely fell off after Warner fumbled six times in the season opener. It was revealed later that he was playing with a previously broken and that had not completely healed. The damage was done, though, and Marc Bulger took over as the full-time starter and Warner was released with three years still left on his deal.

The love from a team for their quarterback can be fickle and usually, the franchise guy gets some leeway. Especially if that QB led the team to its only Super Bowl win in its history. Warner earned some latitude to play poorly. He had just strung together three seasons of nearly flawless quarterbacking. But that was not the case here. To be fair to the Rams, it should be pointed out that Warner threw one touchdown and eight interceptions in the first four games and was replaced because of injury. 

What had become apparent was that the bloom was off of Warner. Bulger had played well in Warner’s stead in 2002 and when Warner was injured again in 2003, his time as the golden boy in St. Louis was officially over. He was cut before the 2004 season. 

Some think of Warner’s rise to prominence is the real story, but his quick fall from grace is pure drama. From the King of St. Louis to an unceremonious castaway in less than four seasons. 

The Rams found success with Bulger at QB for a few seasons, but ultimately Warner saw more. He captained the Arizona Cardinals to their first division win since 1975 and into the Super Bowl for the team’s first time

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Warner’s story is being made into a movie, set to premiere next winter. Some critics may think the movie won’t be any good, but that’s been part of the narrative all along. 

Roman Gabriel

Roman Gabriel was another of the Rams’ first-round quarterbacks. Gabriel was selected second overall in 1962 out of North Carolina State. By the time he left college, he held every Wolfpack passing record in the books.  Although after being drafted in the first round, Gabriel wasn’t the full-time starter until 1966, when George Allen took over the head coaching job. 

Before then Gabriel was in a QB carousel with Zeke Bratkowski and Bill Munson, who was drafted by the Rams in the first round in 1964.  From 1962 to 1965 he started 23 games going 11-11-1. While not terribly impressive, the records of the other QB’s were a combined 4-27-2.

Allen recognized the talent he had in Gabriel and in 1966 the Rams finished 8-6 for their first winning season since 1958. In 1967 the team went 11-1-2 making its first playoff appearance since 1955. Gabriel was sixth in passing yards and fourth in touchdowns. Over the next few seasons, he continued his consistent performance, even leading the league with 24 touchdowns in 1969 and winning the league’s MVP award. That consistency oversaw six straight winning seasons and the team had a 57-22-5 record. 

Allen’s time in LA came to an abrupt ending after missing the playoffs in 1970 and without his coach backing him, Gabriel’s time with the Rams was limited. Gabriel’s production waned under a short stint with Tommy Prothro as head coach and another coaching change in 1973 brought in Chuck Knox. Knox brought on John Hadl in a trade with the San Diego Chargers and Gabriel was sent to Philadelphia. In his first year with the Eagles, Gabriel led the league in passing yards and touchdowns

Jim Everett 

The 1980s were a hard time to play in the NFC West. The 49ers were wiping the floor with the rest of the league and Bill Walsh was single-handedly changing how the game was played. The Rams had to play against them, twice a year, every year. They were regularly edged out of the top spot in the west by the 49ers. The era of the quarterback had begun. In 1983, three Hall of Fame quarterbacks were selected, John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino.

The Houston Oilers were absolutely sure that the rocket-armed Purdue Boilermaker, Jim Everett, was the next Dan Marino. In 1986 they drafted him third overall, but Everett and the Oilers couldn’t come to terms. Houston already had a future Hall of Famer in Warren Moon and Everett apparently didn’t want to wait for his opportunity. In San Francisco, Joe Montana was sidelined for the season with a back injury and made a play for Everett. They offered two first-round picks, a second-round choice, and nose tackle Manu Tuiasosopo. The Oilers declined because they preferred the 49ers star nose tackle, Michael Carter, instead. 

The 49ers weren’t the only team interested in Everett. The Packers, Colts, and, of course, the Rams were in the mix. The Rams came out on top. They traded All-Pro offensive guard Kent Hill, defensive end William Fuller, and three draft picks to the Houston Oilers for the rights to the former Purdue quarterback. Those three draft picks were a 1987 first-rounder and fifth and a 1988 first. Head Coach John Robinson was confident about the trade, stating, “We paid full price, we weren’t looking for a bargain. But we made a dynamic move to be a major factor in the NFL for years to come.”

That trade certainly wasn’t a bargain. The Oilers drafted Haywood Jeffires and Lorenzo White with the first-round picks from the Rams. Houston went to the playoffs seven straight seasons and won the AFC Central twice. 

The Rams had a good thing going before Everett arrived. Under Robinson, and with Eric Dickerson leading the offensive charge, the Rams had made the playoffs three years straight. Now Everett was supposed to put the Rams over the top.

Statistically, Everett was a good QB for the Rams. He led the league in touchdowns twice in ‘88 and ‘89 and was in the top 10 for passing yards for a good five-year stretch and in the top five for passing attempts in five of the eight years with the Rams.

Despite the good numbers, Everett is now more famous for an altercation with  Jim Rome than for being the Rams career leader in passing yards and second in touchdowns. The cold hard fact about Everett is that he only led his team to two winning seasons in his eight years at the helm of the Rams. 

Robinson was absolutely sure that Everett would propel the Rams for the foreseeable future and he could have. Everett is a perfect example of just how unpredictable this game can be. 

“Buckets” Bob Waterfield & “The Dutchman” Norm Van Brocklin

Two quarterbacks splitting time under center is unheard of in today’s NFL, but the great Rams teams of the early 1950s did it with excellence. In the years between Norm Van Brocklin‘s rookie season, 1949, and Bob Waterfield’s retirement in 1952, the Rams played in the playoffs all four years. Three times they competed for the championship, winning it all in 1951. 

There is no formula to using two quarterbacks because it’s not supposed to work. One, a team is lucky to have one quarterback that is as good as either of these guys. Two, Waterfield’s and Van Brocklin’s temperament and playing styles complemented each other perfectly. 

Waterfield led by example, which was good because he barely spoke. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Rams linebacker Don Paul recalled of Waterfield, “You could spend 10 days with him on a fishing trip and count the words he said on the fingers of one hand.”

But his example said enough. Coming out of UCLA, he was considered a triple threat. He could run the ball, pass it, or kick it with the best of them. He was also a gifted defensive back; over his pro career, he intercepted 20 passes. Rams Hall of Fame receiver, Tom Fears, said of Buckets, “He could do everything. None of us had ever seen an athlete quite like that.” 

While Waterfield brought speed and finesse to the Rams offense, Van Brocklin brought sheer strength and intensity. Van Brocklin had the best arm in football. Former Rams receiver Bob Boyd summed it with this, “Buckets threw a ball as light as a feather. The Dutchman threw bullets.”

Throwing the ball was what Van Brocklin was good at and that’s pretty much all he did. For nearly 70 years, The Dutchman holds the single-game passing record. He set the mark in 1951 at 554 yards in a blowout win against the New York Yanks. Van Brocklin completed 27 passes at 20.5 yards a catch and five touchdowns. 

Not only did Van Brocklin complement Waterfield as a player, but he also complemented him as a leader. “Buckets” was quiet. The Dutchman was loud.

Paul said of The Dutchman, “He’d get down your throat screaming if you messed up.”  Elroy Hirsh said, “If you dropped a pass, you wouldn’t see the ball for another quarter.” And Boyd added, “…In ’54, I think he was teed off at both Elroy and Tom, so I had my best year.”

Conversely, Waterfield was overtly considerate of his teammates. Fullback Dan Towler recalled of Waterfield, “I didn’t know anything about football when I came to the Rams from college at Washington & Jefferson. I was at a loss until Bob Waterfield, that good man, took me aside to show me how things were done.”

Both were well-liked by their teammates because both worked so incredibly hard at what they did. Furthermore, they liked each other. A reason a quarterback committee has rarely worked is the QB position is riddled with gigantic and fragile egos. Even the slightest threat can result in a full-scale temper tantrum that threatens to wreck the team. But not between Buckets and The Dutchman.  “…I never heard either [Van Brocklin] or Waterfield say anything bad about the other,” said  Tom Fears. “We played just as hard for one as the other. Why shouldn’t we? They were the best there was.” 

Perhaps there was no ego chafing because they truly shared the job, even statistically. In those four seasons, Waterfield attempted 794 passes, for 5,929 yards and 44 touchdowns. Van Brocklin attempted 690 passes for 6,123 yards and 51 touchdowns. 

Both QB’s saw success without each other. Buckets led the Cleveland Rams over Washington to win the 1945 NFL Championship and The Dutchman led the LA Rams to the 1955 NFL Championship. But neither saw the level of success they saw when they were sharing the backfield together. Both also went on to coach in the NFL, though neither were successful. Waterfield was too laid back to be a head coach and Van Brocklin had the opposite problem. Has a team ever experimented with two head coaches?

They were even statistically close in death. Buckets passed in March of 1983 at 62 and The Dutchman died at 57 just six weeks later. 

Ryan Anderson

Author Ryan Anderson

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