By Bernie Miklasz
Sunday, Dec. 11 2005

MINNEAPOLIS The Kid's biggest mistake was making it look so easy the first
time he came off the bench, palmed a football and starting flinging passes in a
regular-season NFL game.

Ryan Fitzpatrick's 310-yard, three-touchdown effort on the afternoon of Nov. 27
in Houston air-lifted the Rams to an amazing comeback. The performance
installed Fitzpatrick as the Rams' No. 1 quarterback and inspired delirious
fans to call talk shows and propose various trades to ship Marc Bulger out of
town in a UPS truck.

The hysteria in Houston turned Fitzpatrick into an instant national curiosity.
His phone number was suddenly as valuable as a bank-safe combination to those
who produce segments for TV and radio. Indeed, it was a good story: Let's meet
the braniac who entered the NFL with a degree in economics from Harvard and a
right arm from the football gods. To hear some of his admirers carry on, Young
Fitz was part John Unitas, part John Kenneth Galbraith.

"It's not as easy as he made it look for the first time," said Bulger, the
Rams' injured starter. "People say you have to wait six games, you have to wait
seven games, to see what a quarterback is all about. To me, you have to wait a
year or two to see. For him to come in and play the way he did the first game
was unreal. But there's so much that goes into it, and there's no substitute
for experience in the quarterback position."

Sunday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Fitzpatrick officially became another
overwhelmed rookie quarterback - set up to be abused and confused by savvy,
snickering defenders. Intercepting Fitzpatrick five times in their 27-13 win
over the Rams, the Vikings all but swiped the Asa S. Bushnell Cup that Fitz
received as Ivy League player of the year in 2004.

There's a Harvard education, and then there's the NFL education. And for
Fitzpatrick, school is very much in session. And there's nothing wrong with
that. Fitzpatrick wasn't as great as he appeared to be in the debut in Houston,
but he isn't as bad as he appeared to be in this dome disaster.

"Obviously, nobody comes into this league and throws for 300 yards and three
touchdowns in every game," Fitzpatrick said. "There weren't too many bumps in
that game as far as obstacles for me to overcome. This is a learning experience
for me."

This loss wasn't all on Fitzpatrick, of course. The Rams advanced inside
Minnesota territory nine times Sunday and managed only one touchdown and two
field goals. But Fitzpatrick's mistakes were the most damaging.

"I can't put my finger on one thing that happened on all five of those plays,"
he said. "It was a combination of things today, but obviously I've got to take
responsibility. It was my fault for throwing those balls."

Fitzpatrick's passer rating for the game was 32.4. In two NFL starts,
Fitzpatrick has no TD passes and six interceptions for a passer rating of 40.5.
His QB rating in Houston was 117.4. Welcome to the NFL.

"When your quarterback has some troubles like that, then obviously the offense
struggles," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "He's the guy in charge of the
offense, and he's in charge of getting guys the ball."

The Rams understand the mind-blowing, confidence-leveling process of learning
to play the QB position in the NFL, which is why Holt rushed over to give the
rookie a pat on the back after the fourth interception.

Holt said: "It's like I told Fitz - 'You're our guy. You're going to be with us
next week. You have to put it behind you and you have to come back and you
gotta roll.' These are trying times that every quarterback goes through."

Fitzpatrick describes himself as an "even keel" personality who can shake off
these rotten-tomato days. We'll see, considering that he's already lost more
games as an NFL starter (two) than he did in his junior and senior years as a
starter at Harvard (one). But teammates fully expect to see Fitz make a full
recovery in time for the Rams' home game next Sunday against Philadelphia.

"He has no choice," wide receiver Isaac Bruce said. "I'm thinking he's strong
enough to bounce back. You've got to do that. If you're going to play in this
league for a long time, you've got to have a short memory."

Fitzpatrick is the first Harvard QB to play in the NFL regular season, but we
should make special mention of the late George Plimpton, the famous author and
Harvard grad.

In 1963, Plimpton went to training camp with the Detroit Lions to try his hand
at quarterback. The result was the nonfiction account "Paper Lion," a
fascinating look at the NFL through a novice's eyes.

In the book, Plimpton eloquently described the exhilaration of playing the
position: "Everything fine about being a quarterback - the embodiment of his
power - was encompassed in those dozen seconds or so: giving the instructions
to 10 attentive men, breaking out of the huddle, walking to the line and then
pausing behind the center, dawdling amidst men poised and waiting under the
trigger of his voice, cataleptic, until the deliverance of himself and them
into the future."

Yes, George.

And sometimes a guy throws five interceptions.

Bleep happens.