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Just What the Doctor Ordered : Saints: New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert was sick and injured before the game, but he felt better after breaking through the Ram defense.

October 23, 1989|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rams probably don't want to hear this, but they were beaten Sunday by a quarterback who limped like Chester and was so weakened by the flu that he nearly lost his morning meal on the Anaheim Stadium sidelines.

That would be Bobby Hebert, who began the day with a fever, a tender left knee and two simple requests:

--Please let his New Orleans Saints find a way to beat the Rams.

--Please let him make it through the game without vomiting.

Turns out he was granted both wishes, and then some in a 40-21 victory.

Hebert completed 15 of 22 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, which, these days, is becoming a weekly sight against the porous Ram defense. And if Hebert's strained knee ligaments or fever were bothering him, he didn't show it. If anything, he was the picture of health.

"Modern medicine helped me continue to play," he said.

Hebert took his knee to the Saint body shop earlier this week and was treated to a two-for-one deal. First, his swollen knee was drained, and later he received a cortisone injection.

"It made me like a new man," he said.

But then came a late-week cold, courtesy of one of Hebert's children. When he arrived at Anaheim Stadium Sunday, he did so feeling woozy, just hoping to make it through the afternoon. "I was just praying to God to give me strength, because I was pretty weak before the game," Hebert said. "I didn't want to get in a position where I got dehydrated, got sick and started throwing up."

Not to worry. The Rams were more than accommodating in their treatment of the ill. They sacked Hebert only once and that came late in the game. No matter what they did, they couldn't penetrate the Saint offensive line, which provided Hebert with ample time to peel away the weaknesses of the Ram zone.

"A lot of times they were dropping seven or eight guys," Hebert said. "I'd just drop it off, just try to get something."

Hebert wasn't picky. His 15 completions went to seven receivers. He did what he had to do, which, in this case, was to be patient.

"If (Hebert) gets the time, he'll hurt you bad," said Saint wide receiver Eric Martin, who had five receptions for 116 yards and one score. "They play a zone and if you can get the protection, you can pick, pick, pick your way down the field."

There was a time when the Ram zone defense exasperated Hebert. He was either unwilling or unable to puncture the tiny holes needed to exploit it. Maybe it was his United States Football League upbringing, but Hebert sometimes felt it necessary to force the long pass when it wasn't open.

No longer. On Sunday, Hebert did what was required. In a change of pace, he outlasted the Rams.

"When the Rams are at their best, they're the best zone coverage team in the National Football League," he said.

And when they're not at their best, this happens:

--Hebert lofts a two-yard pass to running back Dalton Hilliard, who dashes 18 more yards for a score.

--Hebert finds wide receiver Floyd Turner open over the middle on a 54-yard touchdown pass play.

--Hebert fools cornerback LeRoy Irvin on a 37-yard scoring pass play to Martin.

The throw to Martin was the best illustration of how well things went for Hebert and the Saint offense Sunday. Earlier in the week, they noticed that Irvin tends to gamble a bit too much on certain plays. Sure enough, Irvin inched toward the Saint tight end, leaving Martin unattended for a precious few moments.

"Sometimes LeRoy has a tendency not to necessarily cover his zone," Hebert said.

And sometimes, especially this season, Hebert has a tendency to notice such things.

Strange season for Hebert. He has nursed a knee injury. He has been knocked out of a game. He has had a tooth dislodged because of a hit. He has seen the Saints lose four of their first five.

Yet, no one blamed Hebert for a single defeat.

"I really can't find any negative points about him," guard Brad Edelman said. "He's probably been our most consistent guy. He's had his share of nicks and bruises and I think he's still playing outstanding."

Said Martin: "I don't worry about Bobby. Bobby can take care of himself."

And take care of the Rams, too.

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