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Raiders Taking It Seriously : What's So Funny About 38-36 Loss? Christensen Asks

September 11, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

This having become a week when a sense of humor is all-important, the Raiders produced tight end Todd Christensen at Wednesday's media breakfast.

"Any questions for Todd Christensen?" asked the presiding team official.

"Has it come to that?" a reporter asked. "We have to ask questions?"

Three days after the 38-36 heartbreak of Denver, the atmosphere was still thick in El Segundo. Normally amiable linebackers walked around with stony expressions. This is another part of Raider tradition. One reason they win is that they have an institutionalized attitude that losing is intolerable, even if it does makes them living hell in the tunnels.

The outside world isn't helping any. What comedy has ensued so far has been no relief.

Wasn't it enough that the United Airlines gate agent in Denver on Monday's Flight 263 for Los Angeles signed off with: "And remember, that score was Broncos 38, Raiders 36."

It must not have been enough, because that same day the President of the United States told a Denver audience that he'd passed the Raider charter on the way in. "It was the first time I've ever seen an airplane cry," he said.

Is there a Raider alive with that big a sense of humor? Who gets the next shot, Bob Hope?

"That's for the sake of political expediency," Christensen said. "I'll tell you a story.

"When I was in BYU in 1976, we opened the season with Kansas State and we lost. One of the members of the Council of Twelve, the Mormon hierarchy, happened to be speaking in Eugene (Ore., Christensen's home).

"He got up in the meeting and said, 'Well, what do you know, the Cougars got stomped on again.' And everybody laughed, they thought that was real funny. My dad got very irritated, got up and left. It was political expediency, get the cheap laugh.

"The next year, they asked this guy to come into our locker room and give the invocation. So--and this was very unlike me, I like to avoid confrontations if for no other reason than that I'm not into that whole machismo thing--here I was, this lowly 20-year-old and I got into his face and said, 'I heard what you said last year. Stick around because this is gonna be different.'

"And, of course, the head coach is like, 'What are you doing? This is one of our church leaders!'

"But anyway, this was the guy who said Marcus Allen could be some kind of nuclear weapon against the Russians (President Reagan called Coach Tom Flores after the Raider Super Bowl victory in 1984 and joked about using Allen as a secret weapon).

"Let's just put it this way: Milton Berle is not rolling over in his sleep.

"What do they say? In politics, you ride high in the straddle."

In the NFL, they ride every which way. Losses are inevitable, but the normal process of grieving has to be cut short before a loss turns into a losing streak.

"We were down," Flores said of the game's aftermath. "The coaches are probably worse (than the players) because we don't have any physical release.

"Ours is all emotional. Your insides are churning. You're physically drained after a game like that, whether you win or lose. If you lose, you're physically drained with pain."

After the game, Christensen compared the experience to a movie preview. "Not for anybody over 35 or without a sense of humor," he said.

This, however, was one of those brave things one tells the press, as opposed to the real experience.

"I come home and say to Kathy (his wife), 'Let me be angry. Let me be depressed,' " Christensen said Wednesday. "It's almost obligatory. If I lose that sense of depression, I lose my emotional involvement in the game and I don't want to lose that. That's my edge.

"But you also have to cut that off. If it's Friday and I'm still thinking about last Sunday, it'll affect my performance.

"People are always talking about analogies from sport to life, and this is one: there is no justice. There is no fairness. You can't say we outgained Denver (431-290 yards) and out-first-downed them (22-20, or without penalties, 21-13), so we won the game. . . . We've played other games where we got kicked all over and ended up on the long side of the score.

"You're talking about an organization that isn't exactly used to losing. You've read the propaganda about their .700 winning percentage. The organization doesn't want to get used to it. The organization wants losing to be a novelty."

But life goes on, and the Raiders are going to the nation's capital to play the Redskins. The Raiders have been invited to tour the White House Saturday. Honestly.

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