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MIKE PENNER

For Everett, Playing Well Is His Best Retort

September 13, 1993|MIKE PENNER

He was Fred Astaire, all right. Mr. Happy Feet, outside the pocket again, his white shoes tapping, his legs jigging a full-on jitterbug on the Anaheim Stadium grass.

Finally, Jim Everett was hit head-on, clanging helmets with the man in pursuit.

And then Everett gave Mike Pagel a double-barreled head slap and the two Ram quarterbacks let out a banshee yell, rejoicing in the first touchdown pass to be thrown by a Ram quarterback in 1993.

It happened Sunday.

With 13:41 left in the second quarter.

On a tight-end screen to Troy Drayton, who stood behind a great wall of blue and gold, took the ball and followed his thousand-pound escort service down the left sideline, 22 yards, for a 6-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I was so happy," Everett said, "I wanted to cry."

Was this the second game of a still-toddling season, or the Super Bowl? Everett clenched both fists and punched the air. He slam-danced with Pagel, his faithful backup. He thrust both arms overhead, a la Rocky, and bounded to the sideline, where he looked up at the press box and began to point, quite defiantly, as if to say, "Chew on that, media jackals."

"I was pointing up to the press box," a stern-faced Everett said in the locker room, "because I knew you guys . . . "

Everett's voice trailed off. Pause for effect and then the deadpan goes dead.

"No, I was pointing to Ernie Zampese," he said, breaking into a grin, referring to the Rams' offensive coordinator.

"Ernie called a great series, a great mix of runs and passes. The touchdown was another great call on his part. At times, Ernie doesn't get enough credit, and I thought this was a very good example of the things he can do."

It was a reminder, too, for Everett, who had gone an entire exhibition season and one dog day afternoon in Milwaukee without completing a touchdown pass. In the process, Everett-bashing had reached an all-time crescendo, with "We Want Rubley!" chants echoing in sports bars across Orange County and "Everett Eats Quiche" T-shirts spotted at Anaheim Arena on the opening day of Mighty Ducks training camp.

Angry talk-show callers have taken to mocking him--"Jittery Jim" is the new handle--and, as local sports figures go, Everett entered Sunday's home opener behind Jackie Autry and Jim Harrick in popularity polls, although still ahead of Darryl Strawberry by a nose.

"My wife doesn't let me read what you guys write about me any more," Everett told a group of reporters. Maybe he was kidding, maybe he wasn't.

"I'm not going to lie to you. The criticism takes a toll on you. You try to block it out the best you can . . .

"I can only look at it as 'this is what I do for a living, and I think I'm pretty good at it.' In my heart, I feel the fans know I give it my best out there. I hope they know I lay it out there on the line. There are always going to be people who knock you, no matter what you do."

There were even cheers for Everett as he limped off the field late in the fourth quarter after twisting his ankle while running out the clock on a stunning 27-0 victory. This was in stark contrast to the way the day began, with a Neil O'Donnell-to-Ernie Mills first-down completion drawing a huge ovation. The Rams had to wonder: When did they rename the place "Anaheim Three Rivers Stadium"?

Apparently, the crowd had decided it finally was going to root for a winner, no matter what color uniform.

Everett had to go a long way to win the prodigals back, but he went the distance. He completed all seven passes he threw on the first touchdown drive and finished the afternoon 21 of 34 for 221 yards, including nine connections with long-lost batterymate Henry Ellard.

"Back in '88 and '89," Ellard said, "we did this every week." But that was then and this is now--and now, such sightings are rarities, so uncommon that Everett is driven to spasms of ecstasy by the completion of one touchdown pass.

"We were ahead, 7-0," Everett explained. "That's the first time that's happened in a long time."

So what is to be made of a 27-point victory over the defending AFC Central champions, one week after a 36-6 spanking by Green Bay?

Just another eight days in the lives of your friendly neighborhood schizophrenics, the Rams, who began last season on the same kind of yo-yo--way down against Buffalo in the opener, up again the following Sunday for a 14-0 shutout of New England?

Or as one reporter, working in ballpark figures, put it to Everett, "How do explain going from scoring three points one week to 30 the next?"

"We had six points," Everett corrected. "You taking points away from us already?"

Everett attributed the turnaround to fear of humiliation. Again. "I think everybody was embarrassed last week," he said. "I think we were all motivated to go out against Pittsburgh and kick some ass."

Better to kick than to be kicked, Everett always says.

"A man likes to go out and do something that makes people applaud," Everett said. "You know, it is all right to get praised.

"I've taken my share of criticism, but the fans were very nice to me today. I appreciate that."

"Now," Ellard chipped in, "we have to go out and do it again."

There always is a catch, isn't there?

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