Everett, Rams, Fans All Better Off Today

Jim Everett, Saint?

That’s what they’re calling him in New Orleans today, a sizable mark-up from what they were calling him in Anaheim the last four years.

Jim Everett for a seventh-round draft pick in 1995?

No surprise there, really. Last November, the Rams replaced Everett in the lineup with a ninth-round draft pick.

Jim Everett, ex-Ram, starting for New Orleans while Bobby Hebert, ex-Saint, starts for Atlanta and Chris Miller, ex-Falcon, starts for the Rams?

It’s called musical quarterbacks, NFC West style, but what does it mean, now that the music has stopped?

Not much in the standings. San Francisco remains the team to beat, same as it ever was, because the best quarterback in the division, Steve Young, is staying put.


But to the Rams, Friday’s trade was tantamount to lifting a grand piano off their backs. “I think the trade will be met with relief,” said Jackie Slater, the Rams’ veteran offensive tackle. “Relief for all parties concerned. Now Jim can start his new career and get rid of all the negatives he had here in L.A. And now the Rams can move past the Jim Everett era.”

In New Orleans, Everett was so relieved he showed up giddy for his introductory press conference. “This is the proudest day of my life,” he declared, “knowing that someone believes I can do the job.” He also said, “This is the most exciting time of my life since being drafted.”

Back in Orange County, Ram fans are nodding and saying, “The feeling is mutual, Jim, the feeling is mutual” in between celebratory sips of beer.

The Jim Everett era. Talk about your loaded statements. Has there been a career, anywhere, in any era, to equal Everett’s eight years with the Rams? Where an athlete nears the pinnacle of his profession, at his supposed physical prime, is roundly assessed to be The Next Big Thing--and then falls entirely off the map, despite having suffered no injury or illness, by the age of 30?

Steve Blass, the old Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher, mysteriously forgot how to throw the ball over home plate, but Blass was never supposed to replace Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson at National League Cy Young Award ceremonies. Once upon a time, Everett was going to supplant Joe Montana.

Steve Sax, when he played second base for the Dodgers, developed a mental block so fierce that he could no longer make the short throw to first base. But through psychiatric assistance and hard work, Sax became a capable second baseman again, earning free-agent millions with the New York Yankees. Once Everett lost it--nerve, verve, self-esteem, whatever--there was no reclaiming it.

“I can’t put a finger on it,” Slater said, “but the lost-confidence thing affected everybody involved. The first person it affects, obviously, is going to be him, but it was a devastating thing for the Rams, for the franchise. There was a time when Jim brought a lot of prominence and pride to the organization.

“It was also devastating to the fans, because the people of Southern California wanted Jim Everett to be this great quarterback, to lead this great passing game. They wanted him to be a Montana, to lead them to the promised land.

“When it didn’t happen, it was such a disappointment. For all concerned--the people in management, in charge, the people who pay the salaries. It was the end of so many big hopes.”

Slater wonders if there wasn’t something more he could have done, as an offensive lineman, since he owns no Ph.D. in psychology.

“Quite frankly, and regrettably, if he was shy in the pocket at times, I might have been partially responsible,” Slater said. “It’s my sworn duty to protect my quarterback. If he became anxious in the pocket, it’s a direct reflection on me, that he thinks his protection is breaking down.”

Slater mentioned the “Phantom Sack” of the 1989 season’s NFC title game. When the topic is Everett, everyone gets around to it eventually.

“I personally believe that so much was made of that play, so much to do, that it was the beginning of a snowball effect,” Slater said. “It was such a big game, against one of our biggest rivals. I’m sure that was a big part of it.

“At the time, it really didn’t cross my mind. I had no idea what happened to him. All I know is my quarterback’s on the ground, and I’m thinking, ‘Well, I got my guy here, so it must have been someone else’s guy.’ ”

It turned out to be no one else’s guy--Everett took it upon himself to cover up and hit the deck--but Slater said, “I don’t believe anybody on our team realized it, only the people watching the game on TV. They saw the instant replay time and time again. On the replay, it seemed like he had no reason to go down.”

Everett was never the same after that game, and Friday, he admitted that “I didn’t always have confidence in myself and the people around me didn’t have confidence in me.”

Slater, who accompanied Everett in thousands of huddles, post-Phantom Sack, disputes that notion, kind of.

“I don’t think we lost faith in Jim,” he said, “but we all knew Jim was struggling . . .

“There were times when you wondered if he had all the technical wrinkles ironed out. Especially when we were facing a team with a furious pass rush. You wished he had all the wrinkles ironed out then, because there so little margin for error.”

Hmmm. A team with a furious pass rush. Could Slater be referring to . . . oh, I don’t know . . . the New Orleans Saints?

No wonder Everett’s so happy. No more Rickey Jackson in his breast plate. No more nose-to-nose Breathalyzer tests with Renaldo Turnbull.

And now, Everett stands to get booed in Anaheim only once next season.

“I had some good times with him,” Slater said. “He was a good quarterback, one of the better ones I’ve played with. The guy competed. At one point, he was getting the job done as well as anybody in the game.”

And now he goes to New Orleans for the seventh-round pick.

How he got from there to here, much like Tom Mack’s illegal motion penalty in ’74, much like Tom Dempsey’s blocked field goal in ’76, is something the Rams and their fans may never be able to fully comprehend.

* GONE SOUTH: The Rams trade Jim Everett to NFC West rival New Orleans for a 1995 draft pick. A1