By Zane Miller
After being drafted with the 176th overall pick of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Pat Haden had an uphill climb to simply make it onto the Rams roster, let alone become the starter. Not only was Haden not taken in the draft until the seventh round, but James Harris, the team’s primary starting quarterback, had just come off an impressive 1974 season which saw him go 7-2 after taking over the starting role in the second half of the year. Not only that, Haden was behind on the depth chart to backup quarterback Ron Jaworski, whom the Rams had picked in the second round of the 1973 draft and would go on to have a long playing career of his own, making it clear that Haden would most likely not be seeing the field for his hometown team in 1975.
Fortunately for Haden, the World Football League was willing to give him a shot in the meantime, as he stayed in the LA area to play for the Southern California Sun. Though the WFL itself was on its last legs, Haden had an impressive season, passing for 11 touchdowns and 1,404 yards, with the Sun holding the division lead before the league ceased operations with six weeks remaining in the regular season due to financial problems.
Despite the successful on-field production, Haden was still somewhat unlikely to get significant playing time in 1976, as Harris had a career year in 1975 with 14 passing touchdowns and 2,148 passing yards for an 11-2 record, while Jaworski got the win in his lone start of the year as well. However, events would quickly align for Haden to get his big break, as Harris was unable to start the season due to a shoulder injury. With Jaworski struggling in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons with just 90 passing yards and an interception (although he did have a touchdown pass), Haden entered the game and immediately threw a 47-yard touchdown to wide receiver Ron Jessie. Though this would be his only passing attempt of the game, this was enough for Haden to be named the starter temporarily.
Though Harris returned a couple weeks later, he would be reinjured with five games to go, giving Haden the starting spot for the rest of the season. Haden led the Rams to their fourth straight NFC West title and won the first round playoff matchup 14-12 against the Dallas Cowboys, before losing the NFC Championship Game 24-13 to the Minnesota Vikings. In 1977, despite initially being relegated to backup as the Rams brought in longtime New York Jet and eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath in what would be Namath’s final season in the league, Haden again took over the starting role after a 2-2 start, going 8-2 the rest of the way to earn the Rams’ fifth consecutive division title.
While the team was again bumped from the playoffs by the Vikings, this time in the first round, Haden made it glaringly obvious that he would not be relinquishing the starting job again for 1978. With this opportunity, he would indeed start every game in the season, but it would be the last time he would do this as well.
Haden’s best game of the season came on November 19th on the road against the San Francisco 49ers, passing for a pair of touchdowns and 267 yards with no interceptions as the Rams edged out a 31-28 victory, with kicker Frank Corral drilling the game-winning field goal with no time left. Haden and the Rams would end the season with a 12-4 record, as Haden improved upon his 1977 season, coming up just five yards short of 3,000 passing yards to place seventh in the league, just behind San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts who came even more agonizingly close with 2,999. While his 13 touchdown passes were not as prolific, he would still finish in a tie for 15th in the league with Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins (now Washington Commanders) and Matt Robinson of the New York Jets. As Los Angeles wrapped up its sixth consecutive NFC West title, it was time to start off the new four-round postseason format at home against a familiar foe, the NFC Central-winning Vikings. Only this time, the results would be much different from previous meetings.
With both teams awarded a first-round bye due to being division champs, the New Year’s Eve contest saw both defenses seem to take advantage of the extra rest as the sides were tied at 10-10 at halftime. However, the Rams offense found their game while the defense authored a second half shutout, as Haden led three touchdown drives in the second half as Los Angeles romped to a 34-10 victory to claim their first-ever postseason victory over the Vikings following defeats in their first four games. While quarterback Fran Tarkenton added one touchdown pass and 219 passing yards, his two interceptions proved costly, meanwhile Haden had a solid evening with two touchdown passes for 209 yards and just one interception to move the Rams to the NFC Championship Game.
On January 7th, 1979, the Rams remained at home to take on the Dallas Cowboys, with Dallas looking to go back-to-back as Super Bowl champions. However, defense would become the name of the game, as two of the league’s best put on a clinic to keep the game locked in a scoreless tie at halftime. As the second half commenced, it appeared the phenomenal defense from both teams would continue throughout the night, though the Cowboys were first to find the end zone on a Tony Dorsett touchdown run to make it a 7-0 game through three quarters. However, quarterback Roger Staubach and the Cowboys’ offense roared to life in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdown passes while the defense successfully completed the shutout with an interception return for a touchdown to boot. As the LA Memorial Stadium crowd stood stunned, the Cowboys took the 28-0 victory to reach the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. As Staubach had an underwhelming stat line of two touchdowns, 126 yards and two interceptions, Haden’s performance was atrocious as he passed for just 76 yards and no touchdowns to go along with three interceptions. On the third interception, Haden was knocked out of the game with a broken thumb and replaced by Vince Ferragamo, although he also fell flat with 130 passing yards, no touchdowns and two more interceptions.
While Haden remained with the Rams for the rest of his NFL career, this tenure unfortunately would not last as long as initially hoped due to a rash of injuries. He had a respectable 1979 campaign going before another broken finger ended his season early, though his performance still allowed the team to take their seventh consecutive NFC West title. Haden returned in 1980 and was expected to take the reins as full-time starter once again, but instead suffered a broken hand in the first game of the season. Although Haden did come back before the end of the year, Ferragamo kept the starting job in what would be a dominant 11-5 regular season. As Ferragamo left for the Canadian Football League, Haden reclaimed the starting spot in what would be his final season of 1981. However, despite going on a four-game winning streak, Haden and the team slowed before suffering a season-ending knee injury, as the Rams would miss the postseason for the first time since joining the team. With his most recent injury requiring surgery, Haden opted for retirement at season’s end, finishing with 35 career wins, in spite of missing 26 games of what should have been his prime due to various injuries.
After retirement, Haden followed the example of several other retired quarterbacks and joined the broadcast booth, becoming a color commentator for NFL on CBS from 1982 to 1989. He then moved on to become color commentator for Sunday night games on TNT beginning with the 1990 season, holding onto the role through the end of TNT’s NFL coverage in 1997. Haden continued his color commentary career with NBC the following year, covering University of Notre Dame football from 1998 to 2009, along with commentating the Arena Football League for the same network from 2003 to 2006.
Once his time as a color commentator wrapped up, Haden moved on to become the athletic director for the University of Southern California, his alma mater. Serving in the position beginning in 2010, Haden oversaw the football team’s victory in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl, as well as the 2014 Holiday Bowl, before stepping down in 2016.