Midway through last Sunday's season opener between the Houston Oilers and the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Cody Carlson was planning his second-half strategy.
"I knew I didn't have to take a shower, since I wasn't going to play," he said. "So if I hurried up and got dressed, I figured I could get a good seat on the team bus."
Life, as they say, is what happens while you're making plans.
Where Carlson wound up instead last Sunday was in the driver's seat.
When an injury knocked Warren Moon, Houston's starting quarterback, out of action in the third quarter, Carlson marched into a pro huddle for the first time in a regular-season game and led the Oilers to a 17-14 overtime victory.
Quite a day. Especially when you consider that when it began, Carlson didn't even know if he'd be in \o7 uniform\f7 .
This is the second year that he and Brent Pease have been battling for the backup spot behind Moon. Last season, Carlson, then a rookie, walked out for the strike, Pease walked in, and that's the way it stayed. Even when the pickets were gone, Pease wasn't. After leading the replacement Oilers to a 2-1 record, Pease kept the backup job behind Moon all year.
This season, the battle began on the first day of training camp. In the exhibition season, Carlson completed 20 of 40 passes, Pease 16 of 31. Carlson's strengths are a good arm and his mobility; Pease is considered the more accurate passer and better at reading defenses and improvising.
Coach Jerry Glanville went back and forth. Carlson and Pease. Pease and Carlson. He didn't make his decision known until just three hours before kickoff Sunday.
And even then it didn't seem to make much difference--until the third quarter when Moon fumbled a snap. Spotting some daylight on the right side, Moon picked up the bouncing ball and decided to see if he could still make something out of the play.
Bad decision. Waiting for him was linebacker Cliff Odom, who buried his helmet in Moon's right shoulder. The result was a broken shoulder blade and a recuperation period of at least six weeks.
"I just thought he (Moon) had been knocked a little bit silly," Carlson said. "But when he took his pads off, I realized I'd be in there the rest of the game."
Now \o7 that\f7 made him nervous. So nervous he made a speech in the huddle, to calm himself down more than anything else. He cannot remember a word he said.
Houston stayed largely on the ground with Carlson in there, but he got his moment of truth in the overtime, on third and 13 at the Colt 45. Carlson responded with a 21-yard completion to Drew Hill, setting up Tony Zendejas' winning 35-yard field goal. In all, Carlson completed 3 of 6 for 59 yards.
"It's sad the way I got my chance but that's part of the game," Carlson said. "It's a violent game. I'm excited now to have my chance."
But does he? As of Friday, Glanville still had not announced his starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Raiders in Houston, although most people around the team will be shocked if it's not Carlson.
But it wouldn't be the first time Glanville has thrown his young quarterback a curve. When the Oilers played the Rams in an exhibition game this summer. Carlson played the third quarter, then kicked back and reached for a clipboard, figuring his night was over.
When the game went into overtime, Glanville told Carlson to put down his clipboard and pick up his helmet and, much like last Sunday, the green but game quarterback threw a couple of key pases to set up a game-winning field goal by Zendejas.
"Whichever quarterback we play, it's going to sort of put the excitement back onto the sidelines," Glanville said.
But nothing different, Glanville insists, into the game plan.
"We've got some big-play skill people outside," he said. "If you don't stay with the same game plan, then you really take away your chances of the big play, of striking with people like Hill, (Ernest) Givins, (Curtis) Duncan and (Willie) Drewrey. It's hard to say, 'We got a new quarterback so let's go do something else,' when you've got all those receivers. We'd do better to keep going the way we've been going and see what happens."
\o7 See what happens.\f7 How often Carlson, 24, has heard those words.
Born in Dallas, he grew up in San Antonio, where he led Churchill High School to a 31-5 record, two district titles and two trips to the state semifinals while earning a reputation as a kid with a good arm who couldn't run much.
At Baylor, he got caught in Coach Grant Teaff's "quarterback shuffle" with alternate Tom Muecke. Even so, Carlson managed to play enough to set school records in most passing categories and finish fifth in total offense, sixth in passing yards and seventh in completions among Southwest Conference career leaders.
And, running out of the veer, he got a new reputation as a guy who runs \o7 too\f7 much.
According to Joel Buchsbaum, personnel analyst for Pro Football Weekly magazine, Carlson's big plus is his arm, and his big minus an inability to see the whole field and size up changing defenses.
One good game, of course, could change all that.
Glanville said: "I tell our team that NFL stands for Not For Long. So while you're here, you've got to go in a hurry."
But no longer in the direction of the team bus. Carlson figures he has worked too long and too hard to take a back seat to anyone.