Catching Up With Jaws – Part 1

Jaws sharing stories and interesting tidbits. Photo Courtesy: Jeff Kern
Jaws sharing stories and interesting tidbits. Photo Courtesy: Jeff Kern

By Will Martin

My memories of Ron Jaworski go back to his days with the Rams (prior to the Eagles), competing against the likes of people like Pat Haden and James Harris. With a million thoughts in my mind I started to ask my questions. Here’s the full extent of that discussion.

Welcome to Dallas, Jaws. So tell us, you got the call. You’re asked to come speak at the SMU Forum. What went through your mind, and what do you hope to bring to the discussion?
Excitement! Yeah, excitement is what I’m going to bring. The first thing I always do is speak to some of the people who have spoken at it prior. You know, you see when a Brett Favre was here, pretty cool. John McEnroe was here too.

I texted Brett when I got here and told him I hope I can hold it up to your standards in my presentation. So that pretty much tells me this is a big thing, a significant event. Pudge Rodriguez was here so this tells me the type of people who are here are high level people that have a great history in sports. I’m excited about this opportunity.

I always enjoy coming to Dallas. It hasn’t always been the best place for me but it’s a great city, a great football town. I’m very familiar with SMU. They have a great history and tradition with all the great things they have accomplished.

Don Meredith was a guy that I obviously had a lot of respect for as a player and as a Monday Night Football analyst of which I was both so it’s kind of cool to come talk to the people at the school he went to. Of course I don’t need to go through the lineage of people who have come through this program. It’s pretty amazing, you talk about SMU football and the SMU athletic program with a great history and tradition. So I was excited at having this opportunity!

Speaking of excited, I think back to 1980-and today happens to be a birthday for Brett AND Jim Plunkett-the latter you played in November in a 10-7 win over the Raiders at home. You didn’t win the rematch in the Super Bowl in New Orleans that January.
I was having a good day, why did you have to bring that up? (LAUGHTER)

What I do remember is witnessing one of the hardest hits you took as a quarterback in a game against the Bears 10/26/80. Mike Hartenstine with the blind side pop. Even Pat Summerall in the booth said, ‘Oh Wow!’ and remained silent therafter. Was that the hardest hit you ever took?
That WAS the hardest hit of my career. Mike Hartenstine hit me on a Sunday afternoon and I awoke Tuesday in the hospital. That was a good blind side hit. Mike was hit with a fine ($1000) but there was no penalty. I didn’t get any of the fine money so that didn’t help me any but yeah, that clearly was. I took a lot of hard hits in my career but I’d definitely say that hit was #1.

Prior to coming to Philadelphia in 1977, you had the pleasure of playing in Los Angeles alongside quarterbacks like Pat Haden and James Harris. You had that great playoff win over the Cardinals 35-23 in 1975. What was it like playing with Pat Haden?
It was great! You know we had a great quarterback group. We had a veteran in James Harris. Pat and I were both kind of the upstarts looking for an opportunity. We had breakfast every morning at Recreation Park in Long Beach before going to our quarterback meeting. We became very good friends. We remain in close communication.

James is now an NFL scout while Pat is the Athletic Director at USC so we had a good quarterback room. We all wanted the job. We all fought for it but we also supported one another. It was a pretty good room and everyone has done well in their postcareer after leaving the Rams.

I always think back to a story that has been told throughout your career about when you first came to Philadelphia. Opening Day 1978 ironically against your old team the Rams. Dick Vermeil pulls you aside and essentially says, ‘I don’t care what your struggles are. You’re my quarterback now until I say it’s over and done!’ You went on to win that game 16-14 and reached the playoffs before facing Atlanta. What was it like playing for Dick Vermeil?
Well that moment was still a seminal moment for me. And I use that story when I talk to a lot of quarterbacks, young quarterbacks as I travel around the National Football League and guys talk to me about my playing days and lessons I learned.

I invoke that sideline message that I got from Dick Vermeil because it was captured by NFL Films. At the time I didn’t know that Dick Vermeil was wired where you heard everything that was going on. I can still remember it to this day.

I’m down probably 20 feet from Dick. Fans are booing, we’re having one of those rough days and ┬áhe yells, ‘Jaworski: GET OVER HERE!’ He puts his arm around me and says, ‘Ya know the fans have been changing the quarterbacks around here for years and never won. You’re my quarterback, don’t worry about anything. Now go out there and play football!’ And…that meant a lot because when your boss (and your head coach) tells you, ‘You’re the guy’…yeah I’d heard it before in meetings but this was in a game when things weren’t going well. It showed I had his support and I could make a mistake.

It’s hard enough playing 11 guys on defense but if you’re worried about a coach who has a short leash that makes the job even tougher. That really was one of those great moments. It wasn’t until a few months had passed that NFL Films had captured that moment. It’s one that is still very important and one I’m very, very proud of. It really showed the relationship Coach (Vermeil) and I had. It went beyond just quarterback and coach.

Knowing that you had that NFL Films moment was there an instance in which you said, ‘You know what? I might want to go this route when my career is over and cover this game I love.’ Was that moment a precursor for you?
Not really (heavy laughter) when you’re playing you’re play to play, week to week. That’s where your focus is. You’re not looking at a post career, post playing career, you’re just trying to get better and win football games. I mean, it’s very focused and very much a tunnel vision way of life. I wasn’t thinking about coaching. I wasn’t thinking about Monday Night Football. I was just thinking how to get a first down.

Since you played in Philadelphia there is a current record holder also from Philadelphia who has passed for most yards in a game. He also spent time in Los Angeles. His name is Norm Van Brocklin. While watching Sunday’s highlights from Sunday’s 51-48 game between the Cowboys and Broncos was there a part of you rooting for Tony Romo to break the all time record of 554 yards (Tony was at 506)?
There was literally in my mind the process of thinking about Norm Van Brocklin watching the game. I’m in the airport at O’Hare in Chicago. I had just done the Chicago Bears-New Orleans Saints game. I’m watching that 4th quarter and Tony Romo was absolutely on fire. He was playing phenomenal football, controlling the ball with accuracy, velocity, playcalling was simply tremendous.

When they got the ball back with 80 yards to go. Sitting on 506 at that moment I was thinking, ‘He’s going to break Norm’s record’. He was in a groove and unfortunately he had an interception. He was really in a zone and I thought he would break that record that has stood since 1951.

In today’s game by the way that’s pretty hard to believe! I will stand by this. I said this at the beginning of the season that this season the passing record will be broken.

I know Warren Moon came close with 527 in a game against the Chiefs in 1990. What quarterbacks today impress you the most and do you feel there is more scrutiny at the position compared to your day?
Oh my God, yes because there’s so many more media outlets that scrutinize them. We have so much more technology. I’m going to be doing stuff at this meeting while breaking down plays. I remember the old days we had film. We couldn’t look at film until the next day with all the time it took to develop it. The breakdowns, the splicing of the tape…Now it’s instantaneous. Coaches are breaking down film the minute they walk off the field. The technology is that great and the media outlets. The national outlets, the national media, the local broadcasts, the local media. Players are under greater scrutiny with talk radio, shock radio there is just so much going on. There’s clearly a much higher scrutiny.

The NFL indeed is quite the fraternity and over time you build great relationships. I am reminded of one individual you added to your team in 1980 who was intrumental to your Super Bowl run. #87 Claude Humphreys. Any quick stories about Claude that come to mind? He was one fiery competitor!
Yeah, I remember Claude Humphreys when he was with the Falcons and I was with the Rams. He’d knock you down, he may not get the sack but he’d tell you, ‘I Will Be Back!’ He’d chirp the whole game. He was a pre Lawrence Taylor. A dominant pass rusher, always chirping, always talking so I was glad we acquired him a few years later to come to Philadelphia.

Not only was he a great football player but he was a tremendous human being. When you have a young football team like we had at that time we needed a guy like Claude Humphrey. I tell you he was a guy that young people looked forward to talking with anytime not only with the game of football but also about life. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball where we had a lot of young players.

Check back for Part 2…