HOUSTON — Kent Hill spent the better part of his week telling himself, as well as anyone who asked, that Sunday's game against the Rams was nothing special.
So what, he said, if he spent seven years as the Rams' starting right guard before a surprise trade brought him to Houston and the often hapless Oilers in 1986. And who cared if the Oilers began their season against the Rams.
"It was just going to be a regular week for me," he said.
Moments after an unexpected 20-16 Oiler victory, Hill stood near midfield, helmet in hand, and yelled toward the Astrodome roof. Then he made his way toward the Oiler locker room, sat down in front of his dressing cubicle, and cried.
"All the week, I kept saying, 'It's going on like a regular week,' " he said, his eyes red with tears. "But when we got out there in the middle of the war, it just came on.
"The only thing I've got left (with the Rams) is some friends," he said. "As far as a football team, my blood is running Oiler Blue."
Then there was Drew Hill, another Ram alumnus, who left with 5 receptions worth 98 yards. That was only 27 yards less than the entire Ram passing offense."Just a great game," he said of the day's events. "A great game. Hey, we beat the Rams."
William Fuller, included in the deal that sent Kent Hill to Houston for the rights to quarterback Jim Everett, was in attendance, too. Fuller, a defensive end, was easy to find; he was the one who spent considerable time visiting the Ram backfield and Everett.
Said Fuller: "I feel the same as Kent and Drew: It was a great win for us as a team, but there was a little something extra for us."
Actually, Fuller and the Hills weren't alone in compiling personal victories. Oiler wide receiver Ernest Givins overcame an early fumble and the taunts of Ram cornerback Jerry Gray to finish with 117 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth period that tied the game.
Patrick Allen, not exactly known in league circles as a premier cornerback, helped prevent that supposedly newfangled Ram offense from working. He introduced receiver Ron Brown (hip pointer) to the bench with a jarring tackle early in the third quarter and generally made things difficult for anyone who ventured his way.
Oiler quarterback Warren Moon, booed generously during much of the game, threw two fourth-period touchdown passes. Safety Keith Bostic intercepted two Everett passes. Defensive end Ray Childress led the Oilers with six tackles, including the one that stripped Eric Dickerson of the ball with less than three minutes remaining, essentially ensuring Houston of its upset.
"I really think we dominated the game defensively," he said. "I don't think that's an understatement at all."
The Oilers wanted nothing more than to annoy Everett and punish Dickerson. With this in mind, they blitzed often and appointed three, four and sometimes five tacklers to place Dickerson on the ground.
It worked, of course. Everett was ineffective, if not entirely frustrated by the Oilers' tactics. Dickerson gained 149 yards, 57 on one carry. But he scored no touchdowns and earned every yard.
"We just can't let somebody romp through us," Allen said. "If he gets 150 yards, he's going to be really sore for two or three days. If they get big plays, they've got to pay."
Dickerson did leave the game briefly in the first half with a slightly twisted knee. He returned, only to find himself the center of attention.
It was an odd sight. With each gang tackle, Dickerson would pop off the ground quicker, as if to show he couldn't be hurt.
"He'd get up, but then he'd shake his head," Allen said. "We could see it in his eyes; he was feeling it."
As for Dickerson's fourth-quarter fumble, Allen said it wasn't surprising. "He's got a reputation of fumbling late in the game," he said. "We kept pounding him, and he coughed one up for us and we got it."
It was Dickerson, said Allen, who, before retiring to the locker room at the end of the first half, approached Oiler nose tackle Doug Smith with a warning. "Dickerson was telling us, 'We got two more quarters, boy,' " Allen said.
"We kind of wore him down."
Everett was less of a problem. Despite earlier news that the Rams intended to unveil a flashier offense, Allen said the Oiler defense concentrated on Dickerson first, Everett second.
"Everett was rattled," he said. "He's good in the NFL because they have a lot of zone (coverage) and he can sit back and throw the ball around. But we really get after quarterbacks. You need a Dan Fouts-type of quarterback, an experienced quarterback who can read our blitzes and can stay in there and take a hit. You could see it in his eyes (him, too?); he was rattled early."
Givins knows the feeling. He said he found himself intimidated by Ram defenders, specifically Gray, earlier in the game. It caused him to fumble one reception (which led to a Rams field goal) and drop another key pass.
"We said some nasty things back and forth to each other," Givins said. "It was going on the whole game."
Givins: "You're no good."
Gray: "Yeah? Well, you're a little punk."
Later, Givins said he decided enough was enough. "I had to show him he was wrong," he said. "I said, 'OK, it's time to start showing who's the best on the field.' "
That 59-yard touchdown reception helped. A lot. Asked if he spoke to Gray after the catch, Givins shook his head. "Didn't have to," he said. "The crowd said it all. I got the best of him."
And the Oilers did likewise with the Rams, inspiring at least one very special celebration.
Said Kent Hill: "I'm going out to dinner with the offensive linemen. I think that's going to be a fine evening."