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It's Time to Come Back : Although Dave Stalls Didn't Know It, the Raiders Weren't Finished With Him

August 02, 1985|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

OXNARD — Dave Stalls, the Rent-a-Raider, is back, on a more permanent basis.

Last time, he was in for six regular-season games, two playoffs and a Super Bowl, after which he picked up his ring with the three diamond footballs on it and reported, as scheduled, to the United States Football League.

A more complete description of Stalls' last football season goes like this:

July, '83--Holding out from Tampa Bay's training camp, waiting to be traded or waived. Stalls did not enjoy what you'd call a close, personal relationship with Coach John McKay and figured he was on borrowed time anyway.

August, '83--Stalls, negotiating with USFL's Denver Gold, is told he'll have to report to satisfy his National Football League contract.

Stalls reports and is fined $40,000. Unlike most holdout fines, which are repaid as part of the new contract, Stalls actually has to pay his.

October, '83--Stalls signs with Gold for future delivery. Informs McKay. Is waived.

But a funny thing happens on the way out of the NFL. Raiders call and offer tryout. Stalls impresses them. They pick him up for the last six games of the season. He excels as the nose guard in passing situations.

"They put me in the first game," Stalls said. "I couldn't believe it. All of a sudden I was in there.

"I just ran around like a maniac. They put me in over the nose and said, 'Go somewhere. Try to get the quarterback.' As the weeks passed, I became more familiar with the people, but I couldn't adjust my techniques. Earl (Leggett, defensive line coach) had to pretty much put up with what I had. They just wanted me to run around and confuse people. I can do that pretty good."

January, '84--Joins new Raider teammates in frolic in the Redskin backfield in the Super Bowl rout.

February, '84--Joins new Gold teammates for training camp in Casa Grande, Ariz.

"I took two weeks off," Stalls said. "They were very, very good about it. Craig Morton was the Gold head coach. He said: 'Take as much time off as you need.' If I'd taken all the time I needed, I'd have taken six months.

"It was quite an adjustment. . . . We went to Casa Grande. You know where that is? (In the desert between Phoenix and Tucson. The Angels used to do time there, too).

"You're talking about two-three weeks of total isolation. The food was horrid. The ground was like this cement. You couldn't wear cleats on it. You had to go to mountaineering school to find something you could get in the ground.

"I got so fed up with the food one night, I threw a plate into the turkey something-or-other. The next night, I ordered like 25 pizzas and we all ate them instead of the chef's concoction.

"We started the season 7-1, 7-2, something like that, but all of a sudden, the bottom dropped out. We ended up 9-9.

"About halfway through the season, I'd just had it. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I had started every play, I was their defensive leader and captain. I just told them I had to go.

"I made no promises about when or if I'd be back. They were very smart. They didn't pressure me. That made it easier to find my way back. I sat out one game. Then I did come back and finish."

At the same time, Stalls' wife was pregnant with their first child. The Stalls family had planned to settle in Colorado, which was why he'd selected the Gold. And when Dave was accepted by Colorado State's veterinary school, he retired from football.

He completed one year but found that school kept him from his family even more than did football. The Raiders had kept in touch, and the money wasn't bad, either.

"I was very, very disappointed about leaving school," Stalls says. "I had worked so long for it. Especially since I don't know what else outside football I want to do. I've always taken pride in knowing that. Because so many don't. But the No. 1 reason I came back was because it was an optimum situation--that it was with the L.A. Raiders.

"You take these guys. On the practice field, they're very serious, very dedicated, extremely motivated toward one goal: winning the Super Bowl. Not going to the playoffs, not going to the Super Bowl, but winning the Super Bowl. At the same time, when that practice is over, you can find 50 different personality types.

"The philosophy that governs this place allows for that. What Dallas (where Stalls played his first two seasons) does, Dallas molds you to fit the system. Which is fine. They win with it, even if I wasn't always happy with it.

"This place is so much more fantastic. This is a living experience."

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