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PRO FOOTBALL '86 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON : Quarterbacks Are Crucial to Season for Raiders, Rams : Wilson Gets Key Votes and Also His Job Back

September 04, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Staff Writer

It's been a black-and-blue off-season in what Lester Hayes calls Silver and Blackdom. A federal appeals court overturned the $34.6-million penalty the NFL owed the Raiders. Owner Al Davis chose the wrong side in the USFL suit.

Last season's outstanding on-field problem wasn't redressed. Davis tried to trade his starting quarterback, even to the point of offering to pay the first $700,000 of his contract before acceding to his coaches' wishes and bringing Marc Wilson back.

Camp might have gone better. The Nos. 1 and 3 draft choices were lost with back injuries. The weather in Oxnard was so cool, Coach Tom Flores thought of coming home early.

Flores spent two weeks saying he wasn't sure about Napoleon McCallum's status. He may still be awaiting clarification, but McCallum has pulled off an unheard-of combination: He's an officer, a gentleman and a Raider.

In the front office, Raider fought Raider. Neither Davis nor the Oxnard Police acted on it. In this organization, they don't sweat the small stuff and what's wrong with a little hostility?

Lyle Alzado, a man who knew something about hostility, retired, leaving Davis pining for the lost leadership Alzado represented. You think it's easy to find someone else who can make those faces?

Center Dave Dalby, Double D, commissioner of the training camp off-hour tournaments and one of the last links to the Santa Rosa days when Raiders were Raiders, was waived. Several young players were approached about the need to assume the mantle of such giants.

"This year is a transition year," Davis said a couple of days ago at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "We never have the luxury of a rebuilding year. Never. Sometimes we talk about it. We wish we could just say, 'Well, you know. . .'

"When I say transition, we've got a lot of young people. But we got those great players and those great players have to lead us. They have to carry us."

Is it getting dim in here? Maybe only in Pete Rozelle's dreams.

Embattled, poverty-stricken, confused, youthful, squabbling among themselves or not, these are still the Raiders, possessors of Howie Long and one of the great NFL defenses; of Marcus Allen, who is a great start for an offense.

This still looks like a playoff team unless things go very wrong, which isn't impossible. If so, they can be depended on to take someone down with them, a team or two, an NFL official or two, perhaps one or two of each other.

You may beat the Raiders, or catch them in transit, but nobody gets away untouched. There is always that tunnel between the playing field and the locker room.

MARC WILSON, MARC WILSON The saga continues.

When Jim Plunkett went down, the 1985 season was rededicated to salvaging what could be salvaged while finding out if Wilson could play.

The salvage operation proceeded nicely, yielding an 11-2 finish after the 1-2 start. What the Raiders found out about Wilson was harder to say.

He spent the season with a sore right knee and a separated left shoulder, both of which required surgery. Raider brass readily forgave his early struggles in the hope he would improve as the season went on. In later games, they hoped to throw deep more often and run Allen less.

The more they opened the offense up, the worse Wilson did. When he completed only 11 of 27 passes in the playoff upset by the New England Patriots and missed several open receivers, Davis raged privately.

Davis tried to trade Wilson to the Philadelphia Eagles. Davis addressed the Associated Press Sports Editors in Phoenix, ruminating on Wilson's ability to handle pressure.

The coaching staff and Flores are said to have reeled Wilson back in. They wanted to know who was going to be the quarterback if Wilson was dispatched for a draft choice. Jim Plunkett may still be infinitely competitive but at 38, could he last a whole season? He was knocked out of the last two.

Rusty Hilger was promising but inexperienced. Had he completed 99 of every 100 passes in the exhibition season, he might have stayed in the picture. As it turned out, he was almost carried off bodily by the San Francisco 49ers in the opener and was returned to the movie-title category: "Back to the Future."

In Oxnard, the position was officially termed competitive, which was another attention-getter.

"At speaking appearances?" Flores said early in camp. "I get asked about it when I'm shopping. I thought one little old lady was going to hit me with her loaf of bread when I wouldn't answer her question."

The competition wound down soon thereafter. Even before the first exhibition, Flores was saying that Wilson had opened a lead. The players thought it had been Wilson all the time. It is possible that the competition was not so much real, but the last manifestation of the front-office split.

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