HOUSTON — Before another letter-to-the-editor could be stamped and addressed, before another talk-show phone line could be angrily buzzed, Ram fans were granted their fondest wish Sunday afternoon.
Jim Everett the tin-hearted--scratched.
Jim Everett the clueless-in-the-pocket--sidelined.
Jim Everett the worst-rated passer in the league pulled, jerked, hooked, replaced, swept aside, sent to the locker room, banished to the inactive list, demoted to the bottom of the depth chart.
A seldom-seen Jim Everett did the honors himself.
With the wolves baying outside the doors of the Astrodome, plus a few more sitting in the press box, Everett produced the kind of performance that won't silence his critics, only confound them.
Why can't he do this every Sunday?
Why can't he do this, even, on back-to-back Sundays?
Seven days after stinking up the Meadowlands--his position coach's choice of verbs--Everett stood tall in the pocket, stared Buddy Ryan's blitzing linebackers straight in the face and passed for 316 yards, three touchdowns and a 28-13 victory over Houston.
The Oilers were a disappointing 1-2, playing in the House of Pain, playing with Jack Pardee's job and Warren Moon's reputation of the line--they couldn't lose.
Everett was embattled everywhere he had turned, castigated in the media, ridiculed by the public, buried in the passing-efficiency statistics--he couldn't win.
T.J. Rubley was the Rams' quarterback of the future, and if the future wasn't now, it was going to come knocking on the door next weekend at the latest. One more blowout, that ought to do it. Another underthrown ball to Flipper Anderson, another rash of passes sent skidding into the Astroturf, and the tide was going to wash Everett all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Last week, the Rams all but piled sand bags around their practice facility. Was Everett out? Was Rubley in? And if not, why not?
The public rancor reached such a height that Anderson sought out Everett in the only private place he could find to ask him how he felt about it.
"I asked him about it one day in the shower," Flipper said.
"He told me, 'I don't know. I don't read the papers.'
"I don't, either, but you have to think he heard the whispers. I heard them."
Ted Tollner did, too. Tollner is the Rams' quarterback coach, Everett's personal caretaker, and even if his pupil canceled all subscriptions and unplugged all radios, Tollner claimed he didn't "know how you cannot feel it. It's hard not to be aware of it . . . "I don't know if it was as tough a situation as maybe the media made it out to be. You know, 'It's his career,' 'He can't do it,' all the negatives.
"I look at the papers. I try to keep a feel for what's being said. I think you need to. So I think it was very important for him, individually, to do what he did today."
Everett had taken the faces of Everett-bashers everywhere and slapped them with 19 completions in 28 attempts and touchdown passes to Anderson, Henry Ellard and Travis McNeal.
"I couldn't care less about the negativism," Everett said. "I honestly couldn't . . . that has never bothered me. Each week, I try to give the best I can. Hopefully, that will be enough."
He was asked if he had approached this game with a greater sense of purpose.
"I just try to play the best football that I know how."
He was asked if felt any satisfaction in rubbing his critics' noses in 316 yards of Astroturf.
"I'll just say that my play speaks for itself."
He was asked if he felt his teammates ever began to doubt him.
Only then, and only for a moment, did Everett allow himself to shift out of automatic pilot.
"You guys . . . " he said, setting his jaw.
"You guys . . . "
A roll of the eyes and then, abruptly:
Everett's two chief receivers, however, insisted that this performance couldn't have come at a better time.
Said Ellard: "This was very important for Jim Everett. With all the criticism, you can't help but hear about it. He was bound to hear something--and when you do, you've got to deal with it. I think he did a great job doing that."
Said Anderson: "T.J.'s still a little wet behind the ears, and (Mike) Pagel's still No. 2 in practice. If Jim can continue to perform like that, there's no question, he's our No. 1."
For Tollner, that's the rub--getting Everett to step up like this more often. "Today doesn't mean it's going to happen every week," Tollner said. "But this shows the kind of football he can play.
"We can be as stinking as we were for two weeks (against Green Bay and the New York Giants), or we can be as good as we've been for two weeks (against Pittsburgh and Houston). We've got to find a way to have him play this way every week, because the ability is there."