MINNEAPOLIS — All he has done is win the last five games he has started, and he may have just temporarily saved the Lions’ season, so you can see why Bob Gagliano is the throwaway quarterback on this team, right? A rookie does what Gagliano did Sunday, tosses three touchdowns in a come-from-behind victory, the coach goes nuts, the kid’s the next Joe Montana. Gagliano does it, and it’s just the aging veteran pulling one out of his hat.
Well, that must be some hat. Because Bob Gagliano keeps pulling them out. They call on him when the young gun gets hurt, or when the draft pick doesn’t show because he’s waiting for Porsche money in addition to Mercedes money. And Gagliano answers like a repairman in the middle of the night. He pulls out his wrenches. He gets the job done.
“Wayne Fontes says you’ve got the best touch of all three quarterbacks,” a reporter said to Gagliano in the locker room, after the Lions upset Minnesota, 34-27, with Gagliano subbing for injured Rodney Peete.
“Touch?” he said, grinning wryly. “Yes. When you have no arm strength, it’s good to have touch.”
This is the way Gagliano approaches all praise for his victories, like an actor who has read too many bad reviews to take the good ones seriously. He knows this team has two kids at his position, and, in the NFL, they think kids first, vets second. He also knows his victories are not exactly works of art. They’re kind of like the Pacific Ocean he loves so much, all over the place, splashing, thrashing, full of flotsam.
But in the end, he gets to shore. This is why you love Bob Gagliano. On Sunday, after throwing one pass into the arms of a defensive lineman, and another into the hands of the defensive back, and taking a pounding that left him “at one- quarter brainpower” — after all that, here was third down, less than two minutes left, Detroit at midfield protecting a one-touchdown lead. And instead of playing it safe, Bob Gagliano, the Repairman, he went up top, he went for big, the kind of thing the Lions never seem to do — and he got it. A beautiful floater to Aubrey Matthews that kissed his hands for 29 yards and sent the Vikings fans home.
Now that’s how you win a ballgame. This vet has touch — the winning touch
Which, come to think of it, was what Gagliano was doing the last time we saw him starting. No knock on Rodney Peete, who is a fine quarterback and a terrific guy, but in the words of Al Davis, just win, baby. No one will care how young you look. Or how dizzy.
“There was one point today where Bob got hit really hard and he came wobbling over and said, ‘Do I look OK to you?’ ” said receiver Richard Johnson.
“What did you tell him?”
“I said, ‘You’re standing up, aren’t you? You must be OK.’ “
And Gagliano went back to work. Andre Ware, the rich rookie, kept running for his helmet and throwing warm-up passes every time Bob went down. My turn? My turn? But Gagliano wasn’t coming out so easy. He has been majoring in survival for a long time.
This, after all, is a guy who played college ball at U.S. International, whatever that is. He did so well, it dropped the football program. Must have been those road games against Sweden.
From there he switched to Utah State, home of the famous Eric Hipple, and Utah State, naturally, was a big springboard to the NFL, so big, that Gagliano was drafted by Kansas City — in the 12th round. In the 12th round, they call you collect.
Gagliano spent his first three years in the NFL and threw one pass. One pass? He joined the USFL; it folded. Out of work, he did some landscape jobs back home. He was a scab during the NFL strike. “I have,” he says, shrugging,
“been around a little.”
So don’t talk to Bob Gagliano about quarterback controversies. He is the traveling musician with the cardboard guitar case, just looking for a place to play. Who knows the run ‘n’ shoot best?
And in Detroit he has found one. Or at least he should have. While the coaches are busy fawning over Peete and Ware, it is actually Gagliano who understands this run ‘n’ shoot the best. It is Gagliano, so far, and only Gagliano, who has made it sing. On Sunday, he threw for 299 yards, and the damn thing actually looked like a potent offense. Scored 34 points. Gagliano threw a few deep, a lot short, he found Barry Sanders for dump passes.
He made plenty of mistakes, sure. And yes, the Vikings are as organized as an episode of “Twin Peaks.” But say this for Gagliano: He made the big plays when he had to. In young quarterbacks, a coach sees this, he loves it. Calls him a winner. On Sunday, Fontes said only that he’d think about who would start next week.
“If you did the same things you’re doing but were eight years younger, would the coaches have a different attitude?” Gagliano was asked.
“I guess so,” he said. “It’s a youth-oriented league. And I am 32.”
He grinned again. “But I’m a young 32.”
He’s also 5-0 as a starter since last November. You can take all your blueprints and all your depth charts and you can stick a match to them. Al Davis had it right. Just win, baby. Until Gagliano starts doing otherwise, he ought to be considered more than a throwaway. Fontes says Bob has a touch. True. Right now, I’d call it magic.