IRVINE, CA. — It’s always sunny in Southern California and the late August day Sammy Watkins showed up for his first practice as an L.A. Ram was no different. The compact training camp digs at U.C. Irvine, while hardly state-of-the-art, provides a sense of community. Fans gather for autographs. Watkins and other players sign and subsequently high step onto the field. Coaches yell. The Rams are still a couple weeks away from their first regular season game at this point, and questions about the team’s progress under new head coach Sean McVay—and his possible effect on a certain second-year quarterback –permeate the air.
Another Rams quarterback strides along the outskirts of the field. Jim Everett, now 54, walks with the exuberance of a man half his age. As he approaches me, his lack of a noticeable limp or any another other marker of debilitating health issues that often plague ex-NFLers signal that he is one of the lucky ones.
“You should have seen me this morning,” Everett chuckles when I make this observation.
It turns out his healthy veneer is all a façade. The Dana Pont, CA resident had attended rehab that morning, a regular occurrence after undergoing three shoulder surgeries in as many years. He also has a metal hip and knee issues. As for his brain, Everett comments, “Sure, you get headaches. Can you attribute that to CTE, who knows?”
To people of a certain age, Everett is most known for a stunning moment in television history when, during a 1994 interview, he leapt across a table and lunged toward host Jim Rome after Rome refused to stop calling him ‘Chris Everett.’ Of the incident Everett says, “[Rome] had his brand and actually I don’t hate it. Coming across the table at a reporter…yeah, there was probably not justification for physicality.’”
But Everett has a much larger footprint in football history as the last Rams franchise quarterback before the team moved to St. Louis in 1995.
A star at Purdue, Everett threw for 7411 and 43 touchdowns in a prolific college career and was widely considered the top QB prospect entering the 1986 draft. Yet Everett’s path was far more circuitous than Jared Goff or most quarterbacks handpicked by scouts as first round prospects.
The Houston Oilers selected him with the no. 3 overall pick, but not because they had any intended use for him, according to Everett. They were simply playing chess.
“Houston drafted me because they knew Indianapolis [who had the no. 4 pick] wanted me and they were trying to hijack them. Houston had Warren Moon, they weren’t going to draft a QB. It was part of the game back then,” says Everett.
The Colts had been so intent on drafting Everett that terms of a contract were already in place. Everett says the Oilers were offering half of that so the disgruntled rookie held out.
“I was the bad guy holding out for money. Team reporters would say I was another John Elway. I didn’t have Twitter, or all these other channels to clarify. “
Everett calls the experience the most important lesson learned in his career. “It made me realize the business of football before I even started.”
Green Bay and San Francisco attempted to trade for Everett, but in September it was the Rams who won the bidding war, sending All-Pro offensive guard Kent Hill, along with two first round picks to Houston for Everett’s rights.
“We weren’t looking for a bargain,” then Rams head coach John Robinson said at the time. “But we made a dynamic move to be a major factor in the NFL for years to come.”
Everett would be a Ram for eight seasons, six of them fully as the starter. Once Everett took the reins the Rams were indeed a major factor for a couple of years, making the playoffs in 1988 and advancing to the NFC championship in 1989 in dramatic fashion.
Everett led the NFL in TD passes those two years and was also named to the Pro Bowl in 1990 back when that was still highly meaningful. But the Rams’ glory was short-lived. A downward trajectory for the team and Everett followed. Two losing seasons later, Robinson was fired in 1991. Everett’s deepest regret as a player was that he was too quiet during this period of transition.
“I know it’s part of the business, but I think I should have been more outspoken with our next coaching pick.”
The Rams hired Chuck Knox but insisted he retain offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese. Everett says Zampese and Knox were in “constant conflict” and if he could do it over he would have initially vocalized his support for Mike Holmgren, another head coaching candidate at the time, whom Everett played for at the Pro Bowl.
In hindsight Everett wishes he had been traded in 1991. Instead he muddled through three statistically poor seasons before being shipped to the Saints in 1994, just a year before then Rams owner Georgia Frontiere would ship the entire team to St. Louis where they would remain for 22 years. Everett retired in 1997 after 12 seasons and the Midwest native made Southern California his full time home. He has been an Angelo ever since.
As Everett takes in the spectacle that is a training camp practice in 2017, he marvels at the modern player. We walk past 6’7”, 333 pound offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth. “That is a mountain of a man. I didn’t see that shit when I was playing.”
It is not only the size of current players that makes Everett’s jaw drop but the vast pool of resources to evolve both their game and brand. Unlike his modern quarterbacking brethren, Everett had no marketing consultant or speech coach or nutritionist. He had no special training facility for which to spend his offseason. He is fascinated by the trends, not bitter. But the one tool he really wishes was available in the late 80’s/early 90’s: Twitter. ”I would have loved the platform to correct people in the media who misinterpret your words.“
Everett had no designs on using his football fame for a post-retirement career. His immediate goal was simple. Go back to school. Growing up the value of education had been so instilled in him that he wasn’t satisfied knowing his B.A. in Industrial Management from Purdue sat at the bottom of the Everett family totem pole of advanced degrees, including a doctorate earned by his father.
“I was the least educated in my family, I need to catch up,” he jokes.
Just months after retiring, Everett pursued his MBA at Pepperdine University in the stunning beach town of Malibu, California. In 2000, he started his own asset management company, which he ran for 14 years. Everett loved managing the money of others but eventually his body ached to get outside the office.
“When you are sitting there behind the computer for so long, you would like to do something else,” he says.
And his body simply ached.
“I can’t sit in a desk. I have to move around at events because I literally can’t sit.”
The transition out of the corporate world almost perfectly coincided with the Rams’ return to Los Angeles in 2016, which provided a huge sense of comfort and familiarity. The St. Louis years were odd for many former Rams, and Everett is no exception.
“A lot of us L.A. guys felt homeless. Homeless in LA,” he laughs.
Rams employees in St. Louis attempted to bridge this gap with an outreach program to Rams greats, but Everett says St. Louis never really felt like home. When Stan Kroeke announced the migration back to Los Angeles he was ecstatic for the community.
“It was like the genie just came out of the bottle. A dream come true,” Everett says. “This kid who is now 10 years old. They didn’t have a team to root for. Now it’s like ‘we just had a Ram come visit us at school.’’’
Upon returning to Los Angeles, the Rams made it an immediate priority to coalesce to its storied past. Everett instantly felt at home with the new Los Angeles Rams, and the sense of connection palpable. The ballboy during his playing days is now the equipment manager. Kevin Demoff, the Rams COO, is the son of Everett’s agent. Everett was embraced as a Rams Legend and has become a mainstay in the local football community, even dabbling in Rams pregame analysis during the preseason.
Even with the bouts of residual pain, Everett is the embodiment of California cool. Relaxed, smiling, not in a hurry. He is at peace with his life and the relatively blank easel that lies ahead. He loved the strategy and game planning aspects of football as much as being on the field but never considered a coaching career because of the toll it takes on families.
“Coaches see their kids once a week,” he says. Everett has three children (two adults, one in grade school), and Ancho, the 3-year English Shepard who travels everywhere with him. Everett is tinkering with projects here and there to stay busy but mostly relishes being in control of his life.
“Life’s had its grinds and I want to enjoy enough of it while I still can. I’m doing stuff I love which is the key to my happiness.”