Johnnie Johnson slipped into the black tunnel of anesthesia Wednesday morning without knowing what was at the other end.
"I was thrilled to wake up and not have anything on my leg," the Rams' free safety said by telephone from his room at Centinela Hospital.
He feared he might see a large, cumbersome cast, which would translate into "out for the season."
"That's the first thing I looked for: to see if there was anything on there, and there was nothing but a bandage. That's when I realized I was coming back."
Ram surgeon Dr. Clarence Shields peeked in with an arthroscope to see how seriously Johnson had injured his right knee in practice at Cal State Fullerton Tuesday.
Shields' finding: a partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament but no cartilage damage. Prognosis: out two to three weeks.
"The news is much better than what we'd supposed," said Coach John Robinson.
Two other players in the defensive backfield face uncertain futures. Cornerback Gary Green is out at least two to four weeks with a swollen disc in his neck, and corner-safety Eric Harris may retire because of a lower back injury.
Johnson, starting his seventh season, also felt a lot better than he did at this point two years ago when he fractured his left ankle in training camp, was on injured reserve for the first seven games and was hardly himself thereafter.
"That was the same week," he said. "In fact, it was the same day of the same week, the same morning practice, about the same time in practice.
"It happened on one of the last three plays. I just felt it the most on the last play. It didn't stiffen up until last night. I felt like I could still go on it yesterday.
"It was weird. There was a collision and I was avoiding it. I went to jump over (other players). I didn't feel it go. Contact didn't cause it. It was just being off balance and making the wrong step. I don't know if I did it when I took off to go in the air or when I came down. I don't even remember the way I came down.
"(Defensive backfield coach) Steve Shafer was standing there and I just turned around and said, 'Hey, Steve, I'm gonna have Gie (trainer Garrett Giemont) check my knee.'
"It just felt uncomfortable, not like anything major was wrong with it. It didn't hurt. It never hurt. But my tolerance level for pain is very high. My ankle never hurt."
Shields conducted various tests on Johnson's knee Tuesday and found nothing, but he decided to do the arthroscopy, anyway.
Johnson: "He felt this was the best time to go in and see if there was anything wrong, so he could correct it and I'd have time to come back."
Johnson hoped to be out of the hospital in time to attend tonight's scrimmage with the San Diego Chargers (admission free) at 7 at Anaheim Stadium. Fans are invited to arrive at 6 p.m. and take pictures of the players on the field.
"I'll bring my camera," Johnson said.
All of the healthy Ram veterans will participate in the noncontact skeleton passing phase of the workout with the Chargers at Anaheim Stadium tonight, but only reserves and rookies will mix in the live scrimmage, with the exception of reserve quarterback Steve Dils and rookie Hugh Millen. Dils is the long shot in the quarterback contest with Dieter Brock and Steve Bartkowski, but Coach John Robinson said: "I want him to have a chance. A chain of events could lead any of them to be in front." . . . Rookie guard Tom Newberry, the second-round draft choice, was held out of Wednesday afternoon's practice after aggravating a tendinitis condition in his right elbow in the morning. Defensive end Reggie Doss left practice early with a bruised shin, and Gary Jeter was excused because of exhaustion. . . . The Rams spent a lot of time working on their passing offense Wednesday. "We'll be more difficult to defend," Robinson said. Ron Brown and Chuck Scott had good days, and Eric Dickerson ran several routes out of the backfield. "We're trying to give him more opportunities to catch the ball and run," Robinson said. . . . There were no significant developments with the six holdouts. "It's been an unsettling week, on and off the field," Robinson said. "It's not a good way for a team to start, but maybe things will smooth out."