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MIKE PENNER

This One Was Hard to Watch

August 29, 1993|MIKE PENNER

The Battle of L.A. was waged mainly on the freeways Saturday evening--and, certainly, traffic jams have assembled for far worthier causes than this sneak peek at Ram and Raider Professional Football.

If this is the state of the local game, late summer 1993, maybe it's time we reassessed the Angels and the Dodgers.

You know, we're really going to miss baseball this fall.

By the time Jeff Jaeger and Tony Zendejas finished their private session of step-and-kick aerobics-- six exhibition field goals, need I tell you more?--the Rams were 0-4 in the exhibition season for the first time ever, and the Raiders ended a three-game losing streak without scoring an offensive touchdown after the first eight minutes of the game.

The Raiders' leading rusher? Vince Evans, the 38-year-old backup quarterback, who scrambled once for 21 yards, took a game-closing knee for a one-yard loss and wound up netting six more yards than The Man Who Made Eric Dickerson Expendable, Nick Bell.

The best-looking quarterback on the field? The only one of the four who has yet to set foot in an NFL game that counts, T.J. Rubley, who rallied the Rams' second unit to 13 second-half points after Jim Everett produced as many field goals as he did fumbles--two.

In fact, it was 14-0, Raiders, before Everett attempted his first pass, due in large part to his botched pitchout to Cleveland Gary on the Rams' first possession and his cough-up after Anthony Smith plowed into him four plays later.

The first fumble set the Raiders up at the Ram 25, five plays away from a Steve Smith touchdown.

The second resulted in another touchdown, by another Smith, with no waiting required. Anthony did it all--crashing in on Everett from his right defensive end position, popping the ball loose, scooping it up and lugging it the remaining four yards to the end zone.

It was 17-6 by the time Everett gave way to Rubley, and Rubley finally gave the Anaheim Stadium crowd something to watch.

He scrambled out of trouble.

He completed desperation passes on the run.

He forced a 25-yard pass into double coverage and pulled a remarkable first down out of his hat.

Rubley threw 13 times, had eight completions, accumulated 134 yards. Given three possessions, he produced points with each of them. Touchdown, field goal, field goal. He actually had the Rams in front, 19-17, with three minutes left, before Evans orchestrated one final dash into Jaeger's comfort zone.

It would be wonderful to report that Rubley, the former ninth-round pick from Tulsa, has created an honest-to-goodness quarterback controversy in Anaheim. Lord knows, the Rams need something to keep their fans from blacking out around the middle of the second quarter every Sunday. And Everett has more than done his part, driving the Rams to precisely one touchdown (and four field goals) in 21 possessions this preseason.

Anthony Smith, too, tried his hand at stoking the hot coals. When asked in the locker room what he thought of Everett, Smith called him "antsy," then looked quizzically at a writer.

"Do we play them this season?" Smith asked.

"No."

OK then. The coast was clear.

Make that "very antsy," Smith elaborated. "He's a quarterback who doesn't like to get hit. It's very noticeable.

"Now, No. 12," Smith added, alluding to Rubley. "Now there's an athlete."

Unfortunately, no one in the Ram dressing room was biting.

Not Everett, who dressed and left the premises before reporters could reach his locker.

Not Chuck Knox, who blamed Everett's second fumble on a missed blocking assignment, pointed out that Everett was working without Henry Ellard, Jerome Bettis and "two-fifths of our offensive line" and declared, "Jim Everett is our No. 1 quarterback. We haven't even decided who's No. 2 yet."

And no, not young Rubley, who played the part of the good soldier in front of the television lights.

"No way can you even think there's a quarterback controversy," Rubley said. "I'm one of the backup quarterbacks here, and I'm going to be one for a long, long time, until whenever Jim decides to retire. Jim's an iron man. He's started 80 games in the NFL, what more do you have to say?

"Jim is a friend of mine. There is no controversy. There is no comparison. I am a backup quarterback for the Rams. Jim is one of the best quarterbacks in the league."

Still, Everett is the first starting quarterback on any Ram team to complete a preseason without a victory. Before this year's 0-4, the previous low for a Ram summer was 1-5, set in 1972 and 1977.

Knox was asked if he was concerned.

"I don't think that matters," he said. "There were teams last year that went 5-0 in the preseason and 4-12 in the regular season.

"Obviously, we'd like to win them all. . . . But I saw a lot of enthusiasm on our sideline tonight. They didn't fold their tents. They didn't say, 'Hey, we're down, 14-0, in our last exhibition game'--just like that."

Knox snapped his fingers.

"We've got some character on this team," Knox wanted the room to know. But 0-4 is 0-4, and the injury list is over-crowded, and the Green Bay Packers are waiting for the Rams next week, which might be why Knox added, with a semi-smile:

"We're going to need it."

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