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Rod Martin Revels in His Role as One of the Old Raiders

October 16, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Old Raiders never die, they just store up their memories and retire to see if they can live down their reputations.

Five years later, if the Highway Patrol pulls one over on the 405 and has his license number punched up, does the central computer come back with: "Former member of criminal element"?

Who can forget that old element?

"I still keep up with them," said Rod Martin, Raider elder statesman and outside linebacker. "A lot of them have changed their lives.

"I just heard George Atkinson is a minister now. That's a big turnaround. If he'd been that much of a criminal element, I don't think his life could change that much.

"Jack Tatum was down here last weekend. We're still real good friends. He came by my house. We sat around and talked about the old times. He has a baby on the way. His lady's expecting, so we had a lot to talk about."

He has known them all, has Rod Martin: "Kick 'Em in the Head" Ted Hendricks, Lyle Alzado, the Tooz and now the smiling assassin, Greg Townsend, suspended for this week's game at Miami for disabling several Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago.

As expected, it's a cause celebre among the Raiders, but they're not without cooler-headed and more detached allies. NBC's Merlin Olsen, after reviewing the film presented at Townsend's appeal, agreed that Townsend had not started the fight but had only tripped over Brad Budde, who swung first.

Olsen said Townsend also had his own face mask pulled, first by Todd Blackledge and then by Mark Adickes, before engaging Dave Lutz and Adickes.

Nobody said it would be easy, or dull. The Raiders have had higher highs, lower lows and lots of both.

Could Martin imagine himself in anything but silver and black?

"No, because I had that experience," he says. "I got traded from the Raiders to San Francisco, the week they were going to play each other (their exhibition meeting in 1977)."

A coincidence?

"I didn't think it was," he said, laughing. "Especially after the game started and I didn't play. If anyone could have stopped their offense (the Raiders won, 33-0), I could. I'd been playing against them all summer."

Did the 49ers debrief him on the Raider playbook?

"Oh yeah, " he said, laughing. "They tried their best to pick my brain. I told 'em a few things but I kept others inside, thinking I was going to play. I figured I'd show them the rest.

"The atmosphere was just totally different. It was just like day and night over there. They didn't worry about winning games. They were thinking about after the season and this was the beginning of the year. They wanted to get healthy and look forward to the off-season.

"They were regimented. They wouldn't let you sit on your helmet. They wouldn't let you communicate too much with the other team. They treated you more like you're still in high school or college, instead of like men. They want you to suppress what you say, to say what the organization wants you to say."

The Raiders drafted him from USC that spring, with the throwaway 12th-round pick they decided on after John Madden had called his former assistant, John Robinson, and asked for a late recommendation.

The Raiders re-signed him after the 49ers finished with him, and then came stardom: the three interceptions in the 1981 Super Bowl, AFC Defensive Player of the Year in '83, the Pro Bowl in '83 and '84.

After that came Jerry Robinson, who this season assumed Martin's old spot alongside the other linebacker, Jeff Barnes, in the Raider 4-2-5 "Pirate" pass defense. Robinson, 29, is a natural outside linebacker, and there has even been speculation that he's a natural weak-side outside linebacker, which is Martin's spot.

Anyway, Martin was said to be grading somewhat subpar early this season. Guess what comes next.

Martin now laughingly refers to himself and Jim Plunkett as the old men, even though at 32, he's the younger of the old men by almost seven years.

"When you're losing, they're pointing fingers at everybody, trying to find excuses," Martin said. "I figured I was playing pretty good this year. That's my opinion.

"We have a chart up on the board for the linebackers. When you're in the 90s, you're doing pretty good."

What happens when you're in the 80s?

"Then you got to worry a little," Martin said. "Some guys do get in the 80s, but as long as you're improving, you're all right.

"I really don't feel like I've lost anything. With the extra talent we have here now, if anything, it's helped me out. I used to do everything (Martin used to play on all Raider defenses) and now I don't.

"But now that I don't do it all, it seems like they're saying I'm missing something. Those big plays, those great big plays that are not happening anymore? Your chances are less because you're not on the field as much.

"It's definitely an incentive, without a doubt, but I won't let that bother me. I still think I can play for somebody in this league."

Martin is not without other assets, or as a local sports anchorman said recently, "I wish I had his voice."

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