Rhome taught Chandler how to run an offense and read a defense, but mostly he taught him how to shut his mouth and play. They shot pool together, they golfed, they bowled, they went to the track. "We'd try to beat each other at anything and everything," says Chandler. "He made it fun for me to compete again. He was a father figure, a coach and a friend all in one. I was unstable back then, and all I can say is, Thank god for Jerry. Without him, I'd probably be standing on a cheese line right now. He saved my career."
Says Rhome, "For me, it was a pleasure. But the only thing I beat him in was pool."
Chandler started 13 games in 1992 and threw for more than 200 yards in eight of them, including 383 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. So what did it get him? What else? Another trip back to the bench.
In April '93 the Cardinals signed Beuerlein as a free agent, a move Chandler still considers the most baffling he has encountered during his career. "I'll never forget [coach] Joe Bugel sitting me down just before the '93 season and telling me he was going with Beuerlein," says Chandler, shaking his head. "That was a tough one to take. I knew I was better."
He also knew he was on the road again. As a free agent after the 1993 season, he signed with the Los Angeles Rams, who decided to go with Miller. One season later he moved on to the Oilers, who about six weeks after signing Chandler took McNair with the third pick in the draft.
Reunited with Rhome in Houston, Chandler proved that he was good enough to start, even if he was only keeping the job warm for McNair. He was the AFC's fourth-highest-rated passer in 1995, and in a road win over the Cincinnati Bengals he turned in one of the most efficient performances in league history: 23 completions in 26 attempts for 352 yards and four touchdowns. "The next week, they're handing out Steve McNair posters," says Chandler. "I have to admit, that bothered me. Not as much as it bothered my wife, but it bugged me. I mean, what did I have to do to get them to throw a bone my way?"
This time, though, no one had to talk Chandler out of chewing out his coach or punching his ticket out of town. He kept cool and kept playing. He started 25 games over two seasons and completed 60.5% of his passes for 33 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. While Rhome got him on track, Chandler credits another old quarterback for keeping him there. Chandler met former San Francisco 49ers star John Brodie shortly after he started dating Brodie's daughter Diane, in the summer of 1993. (They married in '94.) "The first time I met him, he told me I was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," says Chandler. "I was thinking, Oh, sure. He's just saying that because I'm going out with his daughter. But somehow he made me believe it. He told me he didn't start playing up to his potential until he was 30.1 was about 28 at the time, and I remember thinking, Well, maybe I'm right on schedule."
On the night the two men were introduced, Brodie grabbed a football, dragged Chandler out of the Brodies' La Quinta, Calif., house and worked him out. That, Brodie says, confirmed his suspicions: Chandler could play. "He has always had as much ability as anyone," says Brodie. "He has a great arm, a high IQ and bigger b——than anyone. He can make the throws no one else can make. If he ever got on a winning team, forget about it. Unfortunately he's been stuck with a bunch of losers."
Has that changed? Chandler was asleep in his off-season home in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1997 when new Falcons coach Dan Reeves called to offer him a chance to come to Atlanta. The Falcons gave up fourth-and sixth-round draft choices for Chandler, and Reeves has no plans to ask for a refund. "Honestly, I didn't know he was this good," he says. "He's a very accurate passer, as accurate as anyone I've been around."
Forty-four-year-old Steve DeBerg—who, like Chandler, has played second banana more often than Danny Glover—is Chandler's backup, proof that the Falcons have faith in their starter. "Some guys are in a strange situation: They're too good to be backups, but no one thinks they're good enough to start," says DeBerg. "I think that's what happened to Chris. He had the ability to be a starter. He just needed the opportunity."