Had fate and the waiver wire not intervened about 6 weeks ago, Steve Dils still would be a Ram.
His itinerary for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons probably would have read:
Bring baseball cap for sideline use.... Wear sun block No. 7. . . . Play catch with starter Jim Everett. . . . Position self near Ram Coach John Robinson for maximum television exposure. . . . Neatly fold uniform and return to equipment manager at game’s end.
That about covers it. Dils’ job as an understudy to the young and firmly entrenched Everett required no heavy lifting and only occasional active duty. It was a job that Dils understood and appreciated. No ungrateful employee he.
“I would have been very happy to back up Jim, to be with the Rams,” Dils said. “It was a great situation: I liked the team, I liked the coaches, everything.”
About the only thing Dils could have done without was Aug. 29, the day a Ram roster miscalculation left him available for the taking. Waiting eagerly in the waiver wire room were the Falcons, who snapped up Dils on Aug. 31, the same way they had snapped up Hugh Millen, another Ram reject, a day earlier.
But Dils’ story doesn’t end with a change of address.
There is mystery: Why did the Rams risk losing their No. 2 quarterback, anyway?
There is intrigue: Just how desperate were the Falcons that they needed two former Rams?
There is irony: An injury to Falcon starter Chris Miller leaves Dils as the No. 1 man Sunday.
Soon we will find out if Dils’ story has a happy ending.
How could it be that a division rival plucked a matching pair of reserve quarterbacks from waivers? Even Dils, a 10-year veteran, was stumped.
“This situation doesn’t arise too often, I guess,” he said.
Strange thing is, none of this should have happened. Dils, who spent the last 4 seasons with the Rams, shouldn’t have been claimed. The Falcons shouldn’t have been that needy. The Rams maybe shouldn’t have been so careless.
The plan called for Dils to spend a day on waivers, long enough for the Rams to adjust their roster. They figured that Dils would remain untouched, allowing them to protect players such as special teams expert Tim Tyrell. Either that or put Tyrell on the 6-week injured reserve list.
The Rams gambled . . . and lost.
“Basically, they were down to about four guys that they thought they might be able to get through (waivers),” Dils said. “John felt that . . . at that point of the season, teams wouldn’t be looking for a quarterback, that they wouldn’t want to bring somebody else in and try to teach them a new system.
“I guess, except for one team, he was right.”
Millen, a long-term project gone sour in the Rams’ mind, they could do without. But Dils’ unexpected absence created some problems--nothing major, but bothersome, nonetheless. It left the Rams with less than a week to find an experienced replacement in time for the season opener Sept. 4. They eventually chose former Bronco, Colt, Charger Mark Herrmann.
In retrospect, the Falcons had no choice but to raid the waiver wire. The Rams simply made the selection that much easier by dangling Dils.
Falcon Coach Marion Campbell had Miller, who was entering his first full season with Atlanta, and little else. Erik Kramer was gone and Scott Campbell, a sometime starter, was out for the season with a knee injury.
“I just know that we had absolutely no, no quarterbacks,” Campbell said. “I’m sitting here with absolutely nothing.
Then he saw Dils’ name flash across the waiver wire. The decision-making process? How long does it take to type, “We’ll take him?”
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Campbell said of the Rams’ roster move. “I just felt that they probably had somebody else that they wanted to add and that’s the direction they went.”
As a vested veteran, Dils didn’t have to accept the move. He could have refused to report to the Falcons and become a free agent. Campbell knew this, which is why he called Dils immediately after the acquisition to reassure him.
“Coach, what’s your plan?” Dils said.
“I want you to come in here and back up Chris, be around Chris, have a veteran with him,” Campbell said. “If anything happens to Chris, you’re the quarterback, you’re going to be the guy.”
Dils considered the offer. Then Campbell delivered what turned out to be the clincher.
“I think he was encouraged by the fact that I really wanted him here, that I wanted to use him and that he could be very useful to us,” he said. “I said, “I’m not going to bring you in here for a week or 2 and then bounce you out of here.”’
Good thing, because Miller went down with an ankle injury 2 weeks ago against the Dallas Cowboys and is expected to miss at least one, probably two more games. That leaves the Falcons with that former Ram duo of Dils and Millen.
“We laughed about it at first, how strange it was,” Dils said. “Actually, it was really nice for both of us. We had a built-in buddy. And it was fortunate we were in the same position (because) we could help each other learn the offense.”
What the Falcons secretly are hoping is that Dils learned enough of the new Ram defense during his stay in Anaheim. Considering that the Atlanta attack is without running backs Gerald Riggs and Kenny Flowers and tight end Alex Higdon, the Falcons will take whatever edge they can get.
Sorry, said Dils.
“I’ll have somewhat of an advantage over the average quarterback, but not something that will really tilt the scale as to how the game’s going to turn out,” he said.
Dils doesn’t even know where his Ram playbook is, anyway. At last look, it was either in his locker at Rams Park or at his house in Mission Viejo. “But it’s not here,” he said.
As for working up a lather against his former team, forget it. Dils couldn’t be more gracious, complimenting the Rams on their 4-1 record and wishing them only the best. And when asked to choose between backup status with the Rams or temporary starter service with the Falcons, Dils hesitates for only a moment.
“That’s a loaded question,” he said. “I guess the way it stands, I’m happy to be here. Right now, I’m getting an opportunity to play and that’s great. If I was still there, I wouldn’t be playing.”
The Rams will decide today whether to activate tailback Charles White. The decision will be based on whether safety Vince Newsome, who has a pinched nerve in his neck, can play against Atlanta. If Newsome can, White will not be activated, instead rejoining the roster Monday.