Not since 1976 have the Raiders had a chance to finish an exhibition season with anything as good as a 3-1 record, but that's what they'll have if they beat the Cleveland Browns, who are 3-0, tonight.
Does Tom Flores have any thoughts about so heady a prospect?
"No," he said a couple of days ago.
Then he thought of one.
"It would be nice to finish with a victory," Flores said. "But we also finished 1-3 (the last three exhibition seasons) and we also did pretty well (in the regular season.)"
The Browns are within a game of a perfect exhibition season. Is their coach, Marty Schottenheimer, excited, or what?
"The only thing I can say about records in preseason is that being 3-0 is better than being 0-3," Schottenheimer said.
And so the stage is set for the exhibition finale. Actually, it's a wonder these teams ever play an exhibition. Their organizations are on nothing like good terms. Cleveland owner Art Modell has been described as a leading light in the movement among National Football League owners to punish Al Davis for testifying on behalf of the U.S. Football League in the recent lawsuit against the NFL in New York.
The teams will meet again in November, for real, meaning that their rivalry is moving into its West Coast phase after last season, when the Raiders seemed to be stopping in Cleveland every other week.
The Raiders were 0-3 in exhibitions a year ago before closing with a 26-7 victory in Municipal Stadium. A month later, they were unable to land in Boston because a hurricane was threatening the East Coast, so they put down in Cleveland, practiced at the Browns' training camp facility and stayed overnight.
Three weeks later, they were back for a real game, the one that Marc Wilson won with a touchdown pass to Todd Christensen in the final 29 seconds.
The Browns went on to make the playoffs with an 8-8 record. They then ran up a 21-3 third-period lead on the Dolphins in Miami before falling, 24-21.
Right after that, rookie quarterback Bernie Kosar ripped the Browns' passing scheme, or lack thereof. Tight end Ozzie Newsome said Kosar was right.
Not long after that, Schottenheimer brought in a new offensive coordinator, Lindy Infante, once of the Bengals' passing circus.
"Bernie's comments about the offense a year ago were the product of the same frustration all of us felt," Schottenheimer said. " . . . And very simply, it was my feeling a year ago that the best way for the Cleveland Browns to win was to run the football."
A year ago, the Browns became the third NFL team ever to have two 1,000-yard backs, former L.A. Express runner Kevin Mack, who had 1,104 and a 5-yard average, and Earnest Byner, who had 1,002 and a 4.1 average, and gained 161 yards in the playoff loss.
Now, the Browns are using a lot of one-back offense. Mack and Byner, who are the best of friends, whose wives are constant companions, are vying to see who gets to be the one. Right now, it's Mack. Some Brown officials think that ultimately it will be Byner.
The Browns beat the Buffalo Bills, 19-17, in their exhibition opener, a game in which Kosar appeared only briefly and completed 1 of 4 passes. In Cleveland, there were even murmurs that he might not be the superstar they thought they were getting. Last week, he played just over a half against the Atlanta Falcons, completing 13 of 22 for 222 yards.
The Raiders were stung so badly in their exhibition opener--32-0 in San Francisco--that they snapped back at the Dallas Cowboys in the second week. Then the Raiders happened upon the New England Patriots, who embarrassed them so badly the previous January, and settled their hash.
The result is the first exhibition season in which the Raiders have won two games since 1982. That and 75 cents may get them a cup of coffee, but they seem to feel better than they did three weeks ago.
Raider Notes The Browns will be without their star linebacker, Chip Banks, the ex-Trojan. Banks held out for a $1.5-million, two-year contract, but the sides now are close to agreement. Banks volunteered to be traded to the Rams or Raiders, even to the point of saying, "No comment," when asked if he talked to the Raiders, which would be tampering. Brown officials have filed no charge. "I have done nothing," Art Modell told Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Press. "I have no doubt (Banks) has been tampered with. It may very well not be Al Davis. It may be another West Coast team. I have no evidence." The Raiders' position has been if the Browns had a complaint, they ought to file charges. . . . Marc Wilson, expected to be officially designated as the Raiders' No. 1 quarterback soon, will start. . . . Napoleon McCallum is expected to return punts and to get his first action from scrimmage since the opener.