DENVER — OK, boys and girls, what time is it?
It's Raider Time!
And in this redoubt next to the Rockies, which has known the tramp, tramp, tramp of Raider boots for lo, these 25 years, they're well into their Raider drill: manning barricades, hiding women and children, etc.
Friday, with two more days to advance the game, the Denver Post ran five stories in its sports section, plus a box on the front page of the newspaper with comments from Bronco players, including this one by linebacker Jim Ryan:
"I hate their uniforms. . . . They call themselves the 'Pride and Poise Boys' . . . (but) when they lose, they have no pride and they have no poise."
The Rocky Mountain News, alluding to Lester Hayes' complaint that Bronco receivers chop block, ran a cartoon of a giant Lester, carrying a mace, standing next to a midget Steve Watson. Lester is crying to a man wearing sunglasses, dressed in a leather jacket with Al on it, "Yeah, but . . . sniff . . . he . . . sniff, sniff . . . hit me back!"
There were daily updates on injured Broncos--"Wright's Condition Upgraded." Former Broncos came back to practice. On Thursday, the old Orange Crush linebackers, Randy Gradishar and Bob Swenson, turned up, Gradishar wearing a Raider World Champions T-shirt to add his two cents to the psych.
There no longer seemed to be anything like an injured Bronco, or a retired one. Today, the wounded are expected to throw away their crutches and the alumni to try to suit up.
You couldn't get that much passion out of Los Angeles, unless the entire city of New York was marching across country to invade, but this is only a little above par here. That's just part of the Raider challenge today.
Briefly, what is at stake for each team is its season.
Each is 9-4.
The winner will need only one win to clinch the AFC West title. If it wins its final two, it will be at home all through the playoffs.
The loser will be shunted off to the wild-card race, where it may well find itself one game behind with two to play. The Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets, all 9-4, too, are playing the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills, respectively, today.
What we've got here are two clubs that are more gritty than overpowering.
The Broncos are the only 9-4 team in existence that surrenders more yards on each play than it gains, 4.9 to 4.7. They've been in three overtime games. Six of their last nine games have been decided by three points or fewer. Last week, they scored two touchdowns in the final 1 minute 45 seconds to win at Pittsburgh, 31-23, or it would have been seven out of nine.
They excel in making the big play: Daniel Hunter's interception of Dave Krieg's pass in overtime; Dennis Smith's consecutive blocks of field goal tries by Bob Thomas in overtime; and, of course, the snowball that cost the San Francisco 49ers a field goal in a one-point Bronco victory.
For their part, the Raiders bear faint resemblance to their powerful 1982-83 teams. In 1984, they went 4-4 in the last half and were knocked out in the first game of the playoffs. They lost one quarterback early this season and have regrouped around another, who has played hurt.
Raider plays are sent in from the sideline for the first time in franchise history. Raider players have been warned against taking cheap penalties for roughing, fighting or talking, for the first time since they moved down from Oakland.
Each team has a tough defense. The Raiders may be a shade more menacing physically, but the Broncos have given up 10 fewer points.
Each has an offensive star the other has yet to find a way to stop.
The Broncos have quarterback John Elway, whose remarkable combination of size, scrambling ability and that cannon of a right arm turned the dreaded Raider rush into an afternoon of sucking wind in their first meeting.
The Raiders had been instructed to make sure, above all, that they contained Elway. But an agile quarterback can usually dodge a 270-pound defensive end without undue trouble and Elway did, scrambling for key first downs, or running around until Watson could put a few more moves on Hayes.
Is there something else the Raiders can try this time?
"Yeah," Coach Tom Flores said. "We're going to tackle him when he comes out of the tunnel and hold on to him."
Howie Long suggested: "Lose some weight and gain some speed."
The Broncos have the task of turning off Marcus Allen, who hit them for 173 yards the last time, including the reverse-his-field 61-yarder for a touchdown that turned the game back around after the Broncos jumped off to an early lead.
Allen has a 49-yard lead on Atlanta's Gerald Riggs in his drive to become the first Raider ever to lead the NFL in rushing. Walter Payton has just broken the old O.J. Simpson-Earl Campbell record of seven straight 100-yard games, but Allen is right behind, at six.
Allen is hot. Last week, he got 156 yards against the Falcons, giving him 329 in two weeks.