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Scott Ostler

Silver and Black Is Back; It Shows as Blue and Gold Is Left Black and Blue

October 29, 1985|Scott Ostler

This is the time of the football season when team personalities start to emerge.

The Rams, for instance, are becoming known as the gritty overachievers. Seattle is the steady eddies, the 49ers are flashing that winning Walsh-Montana look, Chicago is into the refrigerator.

And the Raiders? The Raiders are starting to look a lot like the Raiders.

At the end of last season and three games into this one, the Raiders were beginning to look like the Raiders of the Lost. Period.

The magic was fading, the mystique was fading, the Commitment to Excellence banners were fraying around the edges.

Monday, the Raiders played the always entertaining and sometimes dangerous San Diego Chargers, and won, 34-21.

That's five wins in a row. Beating San Diego doesn't automatically qualify you for the Super Bowl, of course. Playing against the Charger defense can afford your offense approximately the same relaxation and revitalization as a couple weeks at Club Med.

Everyone loves Dan Fouts and thinks Don Coryell is the Einstein of the airways, but the Chargers' new, improved defense has a lot of the same holes as the old defense.

Still, there is a Raider trend developing here. The pieces are falling into place. The Raiders are getting nasty again.

"Hitting is the name of this game, hitting and going to the ball," safety Mike Davis said. "We're getting back to that. Everyone realizes that's an ingredient of our game that was missing. Chicago's not the only team that can play defense."

If you're a Raider fan, there are a lot of good signs. In a recent league-wide poll of players by Sports Illustrated, Lyle Alzado finished second in the voting for the dirtiest player, and Lester Hayes was named most overrated.

This is bad publicity, which is good for the Raiders. Alzado, for instance, can't get complacent because he's No. 2. And Hayes, well, everyone knows Raiders are at their best when they are most maligned.

Certainly Hayes is still a factor to be reckoned with by enemy wide receivers. Lester's five-yard bump zone is the longest five yards in football.

Howie Long mentioned the magazine poll, that it was unfortunate that some of his teammates were cast in a negative light, but he said he liked the way the team is playing.

"If nasty is the way to describe aggressive football, that's the way it is," Long said. "It was gone, to an extent, last year. That can happen after you win a Super Bowl. Ask the 49ers."

There are other signs of health and vigor in Raiderland. The Raiders weren't penalized in the second half Monday night, but they still hold a sizeable lead over their opponents in penalty yardage, 498 yards to 345 yards going into the game.

Egos are beginning to re-inflate, there are hints of the Raider attitude for which the team is famous.

Owner Al Davis is playing it cautious, not heaping any praise on his troops yet, talking about the tough road ahead.

But the players are starting to believe in the Raider image again, getting a little of that bully, tough-guy feeling back.

They're throwing deep more often, for instance, a Raider trademark. Quarterback Marc Wilson, who has earned his varsity letter the last three weeks, threw long to Dokie Williams a couple of times.

And the legendary Cliff Branch, who missed the first half of the season, reappeared Monday night and ran a long post, beat his man, but was overthrown.

Marcus Allen is getting the football more than ever, and doing good things with it, such as his spectacular touchdown dive in the second quarter when his hang time was about four seconds.

On defense, the Raiders are hitting. Mike Davis leveled Kellen Winslow with a lethal hit as Winslow was about to catch a pass early in the second half.

Then Davis took the best crunch of the night when he collided with fellow defensive back Sam Seale and had to be carried off the field.

For the most part, though, Raiders hit Chargers, not other Raiders. It was just like old times.

"I think this team was in a minute slump against the 49ers and Chiefs," Lester Hayes said. "The fascinating thing is that this team always starts slowly. I think that the Silver and Black mentality is now back.

"Our defensive front seven is consistently dominating, and that makes it easier for us (defensive backs).

"People who were saying we were going to have a 9-7 season, well, that's psychological fiction, gentlemen. So be it."

Then it's official. The Raiders identity crisis is over. The Raiders are the Raiders again. Until next Sunday, so be it.

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