Who is the “what if” quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams’ glory years during the 1970s? An answer you might hear to an Alex Trebek question on his Jeopardy game show; not to mock the team and its fans, but to point out the obvious.
Football isn’t for the weak of heart. Not even in the 70s when the Rams were their most dominate selves; they won seven-straight division titles from 1973 to 1979, compiling a combined record of 75-26-1.
It was a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” era, and the Rams had already proven that pattern with quarterbacks after Roman Gabriel gave the team seven-straight years as a starting QB. Gabriel’s replacement at starting QB went as followed: John Hadl (1973), James Harris and Hadl (1974), Harris and Jaworski (1975) and Pat Haden, Harris and Jaworski (1976). It didn’t end there, there was a guy named Joe Namath, Vince Ferragamo and Jeff Rutledge were also used in the decade. Seven QBs over seven years.
Jaworski would become a Super Bowl quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1980 after two years of playoff appearances with the team. He was the NFL Player of the Year in 1980 and the accolades go on.
What if patience was a virtue for the Rams after drafting Jaworski in the third round in 1973? What if owner Carroll Rosenbloom hadn’t drafted his choice of quarterback, Pat Haden in 1976 and started Jaworski over the rookie?
Haden fairly beat out Jaworski for the top spot in training camp, but the “Polish Rifle” was the known factor; even without having the “anything lately” tag.
Jaworski served as a third string QB under Harris and Hadl, learned valuable lessons but only played in one game at the point Haden arrived. He got into just two other games afterwards.
Jaworski was fond of his time with the Rams and his friendship with Harris. He told the LA Magazine, “James and I became good friends. We were roommates at the Beverly Hilton the night before games. He would bring his hate mail. We would laugh because there was nothing else you could do. None of that stuff ever bothered Shack. He just lined up and played.”
In 1975, Harris was injured after a 12-2 season forcing the team to give Jaworski the start in the first playoff game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Rams won 35-23, which saw Jaworski run for the first TD of the game, throw a 66-yard scoring pass to Harold Jackson and was 12-of-23 for 203 yards. A peculiar thing happened in the next week’s game, instead of riding the wave of success into the NFC Championship game against Dallas, head coach Chuck Knox put Harris back in as a starter. The Rams lost to the Cowboys, 37-7.
Rosenbloom pulled off an illegal trade with the Eagles before the 1977 season, when he traded Jaworski for All-Pro Charlie Young, the heralded tight end. Both players’ contracts had expired after the 1976 season, but the trade was swept under the rug and it was consummated.
Just once, had the Rams showed some patience and some growing pains, like Philadelphia did, the Rams may very well have made themselves a dynasty well into the 80s.
We will never know, but we do know that the 70s was the team’s greatest decade, because of what they did do throughout the years.