Bob Gagliano, the National Football League's version of the traveling salesman (arm for sale), was back home in Ventura, Calif., again last Monday, but he wasn't unpacking any suitcases or anything as drastic as that. The first thing he did that morning was call his agent, Dave Penniall, who is trying to find Gagliano another team in need of that rare quantity in the NFL these days - an able-bodied quarterback.
"There's never a dull moment," says Gagliano with a laugh. "You have to have a sense of humor."Not to mention a map. Gagliano has been seeing the country this fall - through a facemask. Since last August, he has been signed five times by four different NFL teams - the San Francisco 49ers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Houston Oilers, the Indianapolis Colts and the 49ers again, although the latest signing was disallowed because of an obscure league rule that prevents the re-signing of a free agent twice in one season. Penniall and Gagliano are fighting the rule now. In the meantime, Gagliano is trying his best to stay in shape, but it isn't easy.
"I don't have anyone to throw to," he says. "My friends are at work during the day, and by the time they get off work it's dark. I guess I'll have to throw to my fiance."
With NFL quarterbacks falling like autumn leaves, backup quarterbacks have been in big demand this fall, and none of them more than Gagliano. Through the first nine weeks of the NFL season, some 20 quarterbacks have been sidelined for at least one game by an injury, and that fact has kept Gagliano on the move.
Gagliano, who finished his collegiate career at Utah State in 1980, spent the preseason with the 49ers, then was let go on the next to last cut. The Bucs signed him immediately, but a week later they let him go. Then came the injury calls. Houston invited Gagliano to town when Warren Moon broke a shoulder, then let him go a month later without ever activating him. The Colts signed Gagliano after Jack Trudeau was shelved with a knee injury. He stayed there for two weeks, dressed for one game, then was released again. With Joe Montana and backup John Paye both hurting, now the 49ers are hoping to sign Gagliano.
"I guess teams like my experience and think I can handle a team under pressure," says Gagliano. But not enough to keep him around for very long. "You do feel rejected and unwanted," he says.
By now, Gagliano should be used to the comings and goings of football. Even his college days were unsettled. Gagliano originally attended U.S. International University, but just before his senior season the school dropped football. Gagliano transferred to Utah State, where he threw for 2,365 yards and 20 touchdowns and led the Aggies to a 6-5 record - their last winning season.
Since then, Gagliano has changed teams eight times and changed leagues twice. He was drafted in the 12th round by the Kansas City Chiefs. He stayed there three years, backing up Bill Kenney and Steve Fuller, then jumped to the now defunct United States Football League - first to the San Antonio Gunslingers, where he stayed two weeks, and then with the Denver Gold, where he stayed two years. In his second season, he beat out NFL veteran Vince Evans for the starting job and threw for well over 2,000 yards to lead the Gold into the playoffs. But then the league foundered, and Gagliano missed an entire year waiting for the league to reorganize. When that didn't happen, he put himself on the open market.
In 1986, when Montana and backup Jeff Kemp went down with injuries, the 49ers called first, asking Gagliano to back up starter Mike Moroski. Three weeks later he was unemployed again.
Last year, Gagliano spent the preseason with the 49ers, but was released on the final cut. He was re-signed during the strike games and played well enough - he completed 16 of 29 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception - that he was retained after the strike ended.
Gagliano hasn't played a down of football since then in a regular-season game. In fact, he has rarely even put on a uniform on game day, or even practiced with a team. He has spent most of his NFL time this season on the inactive list.
"This can't go on forever," says Gagliano, who recently filed an employment application with a local fire department. "I'm 30 years old. It's time to start thinking about settling down."
Gagliano can only hope that eventually he sticks with a team, if only for a while. It's unlikely. It seems once a player is tagged a journeyman, he stays a journeyman. But there is always the case of Babe Laufenberg. He roamed the leagues a la Gagliano for a couple of years. This season, he not only stuck with the San Diego Chargers, he became their starting quarterback.