HOUSTON — With the threat of a players' strike looming, today's opener between the Rams and the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome becomes more important because it could decide a divisional championship in a two-game season.
All striking and kidding aside, the Rams really don't need any more incentive for this one. After months of talking, writing and whispering, it's finally time to unwrap the new offense.
"All I can say is just watch and see," said Ram quarterback Jim Everett, who is in charge of ribbon-cutting. "I'm not meaning to tease, but the things we're about to do, the different formations, well you're just going to have to watch and see."
And isn't it interesting that the Oilers should be standing in the way?
No team contributed to the Ram offense more than Houston, the franchise that gave the Rams the gifts of both Everett and Eric Dickerson.
In 1983, the Rams traded the third pick overall in the NFL draft along with two fourth-round choices to Houston to move up one spot in the drafting order. With that selection, the Rams took Dickerson. The rest is rushing history.
In 1986, the Rams sent two first-round choices, a first-rate offensive guard (Kent Hill), a throw-in defensive lineman (William Fuller) and a fifth-round choice to the Oilers for the rights to a rookie Purdue quarterback Houston couldn't sign, Everett.
The Rams signed him a week later. So is this a great town to spend your first NFL opener? "I'm just excited to get going," Everett said. "It just so happens to be Houston. And it just so happens they traded me. That's a decision they made on their part."
Everett, though only 24, has been around long enough to know how not to incite a riot.
His feelings toward Oiler General Manager Ladd Herzeg are chronicled. Everett doesn't like the man. But for now, he'll leave it at that.
"I'm not blowing this game out of proportion," he said. "There's no revenge factor. I hope I have a higher character than that. I couldn't be happier about the whole thing. I could bad-mouth people, but I'm very happy with the way things worked out."
More motives: Dickerson was raised in Sealy, about 40 miles west of Houston. It will be his first game here as a professional, and the whole town of Sealy is closing down to make the trip to see him.
It was also against Houston, in 1984 at Anaheim Stadium, that Dickerson broke O.J. Simpson's single-season rushing record with a stunning 215-yard performance. Afterward, he called the Oilers the dirtiest team he'd ever played against.
"That surprised us," Houston Coach Jerry Glanville said of Dickerson's comments. "Because usually to be dirty you have to catch him and hit him, and I don't remember us doing either one of those things."
It should also be noted that, for better or worse, it was Oiler Bo Eason who knocked Ram quarterback Dieter Brock out of an exhibition game last summer on a safety blitz, a stunt that Ram Coach John Robinson did not consider necessary so early in the season. The knee injury all but ended Brock's Ram career.
So, the scene is set.
"Their style is safety blitzes," Robinson said. "It's feast or famine. They're coming at you. If they have a bad day and you have a good one, you could put up some points on them."
Robinson talking about offense and points. It almost sounds funny.
"I feel good," he said of his offense. "From where we are now, we will be much improved by the end of the year. Sometimes that doesn't happen. It didn't happen last year."
Glanville, in his second season as Houston coach, makes it sound like the New York Giants are coming to town.
"The Rams are scary," he said. "They look so strong everywhere. And if Everett's not having a good day, he can turn around and give it to the guy with the glasses (Dickerson)."
And when Glanville talks about his team being young and green, he means it. Former Ram wide receiver, Drew Hill, is the oldest Oiler at age 31. He and quarterback Warren Moon (30) are the only players over 30.
Nine of the Oilers' 14 draft picks made the final roster. It'll be 10 if No. 1 Alonzo Highsmith ever gets around to signing a contract.
"Half of our guys use Clearasil instead of shaving," Glanville said. "I've got socks older than the Rams, but that's about it. Eventually, I'd like to say we're as old as the Rams. We're the youngest team in football and I'd like to quit saying that."
To compensate, the Oilers rely on the talent of their scrambling quarterback, Moon, and his two 1,000-yard receivers, Hill and Ernest Givins.
On defense, the Oilers like to roll the dice and close their eyes.
"They're the type of team that takes gambles," Everett said. "A team can expect to take it on the chin a few times. But with the things we have, their defense better be prepared."