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Raiders Might Have Real Tiger in Vance Mueller

August 12, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

OXNARD — So maybe the Raiders would rather visit Hell and take tea with the devil than go back to Candlestick Park?

Maybe they didn't really give it a fair chance. How about taking one last look back through the starry eyes of Vance Mueller?

Mueller is the rookie halfback Al Davis drafted from Division III Occidental College in the wholly unexpected heights of the fourth round, kicking off a night of revelry on the Eagle Rock campus and causing one question to be asked around the NFL:

Who?

"You could say he's a bit of a gamble," Raider Coach Tom Flores said on draft day. "Then again, you look at the physical qualities and you have to go by that."

At 6 feet and 210 pounds, Mueller has size. A college sprinter and long jumper, he is presumed to have speed, although the Raiders have told him not to divulge his 40-yard dash times. Davis is said to like him a lot.

And Sunday, Mueller showed he could take the step up in class. Proving that every cloud does have a silver lining, even the thunderheads like Sunday's 32-0 loss to the 49ers, Mueller distinguished himself, gaining 37 yards in 7 carries for a 5.3 average. He also caught two passes for 19 yards.

What did Candlestick look like to Vance Mueller?

"It was just amazing," he said. "All the fans and everything. I'd never played before a crowd larger than 5,000.

"The crowd was really on Howie Long. I'm not used to such aggressive crowds. Our crowds would sort of just be 'Go! Go!' and see you later when the game was over.

"My family came down and visited me before the game (the Muellers live in Jackson, about two hours north of the Bay Area). That helped me a lot, took a lot of the tension away. I'd have hated to be in my hotel room just waiting for the game.

"Oh sure, I wondered if I could play here. You wonder, in the back of your mind. You try not to think about it. But I figured, 'They drafted me, they must think I can play.' I've been here five weeks practicing with them. You go out there, you have to feel like a Raider, not an Occidental Tiger.

"You always remember your first game. . . . My first play was on the kickoff return team. I think I'll remember that play most, just thinking 'OK, here it comes. Now we're going to see what happens. No more doubts now because it's here.'

"All I thought (when he went in on offense) was try to run hard every time you run the ball. A couple of times, I probably should have turned it on. I was just gliding, trying to weave my way through.

"It was definitely different than practice. The intensity--they tune it up about 10 notches.

"It's fun, but still the pressure is here. At this level, they don't tolerate mistakes, to put it bluntly. . . . As a rookie, you have so much to learn. You don't have the freedom to just let it hang out when you're out there. They want to see that you're learning what they're teaching. You're thinking every play.

"Do I ever think about getting cut? Sometimes. You try not to. If you're a goner, you're a goner. You try to give it your best. If you can't cut it with your best, you can't be unhappy.

"The whole thing was great. This was what every kid who loves to play football is waiting for, playing in a stadium like this, playing in the big leagues."

Raider Notes No. 1 draft choice Bob Buczkowski returned to camp after 13 days in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, all of it in traction for his sore back. "After 13 days in bed, you stand up and get a head rush," he said. "I went into the elevator and almost passed out." He is hoping to return to practice later in the week. . . . Wide receiver Mark Pattison suffered a concussion Sunday and was kept overnight in a hospital, but returned to camp Monday.

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