They came, more than 90,000 of 'em, true-black Raider fans all, with a couple of Coliseum Coloradans scattered here and there, to fight the tie-up on the freeway, to pay the $20 parking rip-off across the street from the stadium, and to fight one another in the stands, if necessary--whatever it took, just so long as they were able to see the L.A. Raiders vs. the Elway raiders.
By the time it was over, and the Denver Broncos were 21-10 winners, some of them had gone off the deep end, and others had just plain gone. They were not accustomed to seeing their heroes lose twice to the same team in the same year.
So, when Bronco quarterback John Elway came strolling through the tunnel Sunday, on his way to the locker room, one of the sadder of 90,000 faces and smaller of 90,000 minds took it upon himself to hurl a crumpled hot-dog wrapper in Elway's direction, and another half-wit hand-grenaded a half-filled cup of cola. It splashed nearby.
Elway stopped and looked up. "I saw the guy who threw the paper," he said later. "He didn't say anything when I saw him. I guess he couldn't think of anything to say."
It pretty much summed up the whole afternoon. A Los Angeles throw missed its target, and a Denver player had the last word.
Bronco linebacker Tom Jackson got one in, too. When he reached the tunnel, he looked up and spotted someone whose face he either liked, disliked or recognized. Jackson wagged a finger at him and mouthed the words: "We kicked ass! We kicked ass!"
Yep, throw your arms up. The kick was good.
No need for an instant-replay referee on that one. The kick was high enough and swift enough and caught the Raiders flush on the buns. Nobody cared much that Howie Long missed the game or that Mike Haynes missed the game or that Marcus Allen had a swollen right ankle, even if those three gentlemen did form a pretty holy trinity. Denver got the job done, and nobody cared who played.
"I won't be surprised if we see them again," said Elway, John Denver himself, compassionately. Elway knows that the Raiders have the hard road now if they are to get to the NFL playoffs. He knows that if the Broncos are to see them again, it will not be in front of 90,000 hard-living, fun-loving, quarterback-heckling Californians. It will be in Denver.
Then again, Elway thought the L.A. quarterback might enjoy a Rocky Mountain high. After all, he had just seen Marc Wilson get hit with a whole case of boos. "I feel for him, because I've been there," Elway said. "It's not a lot of fun."
Wilson had three more interceptions than Elway had incompletions. That was mostly because Wilson was out there throwing so many pitches, you half-expected Tom Lasorda to walk out there and bring in Tom Niedenfuer. The guy was 25 of 47 for 367 yards, and was getting his head booed off.
"If you look at the stats, he had a great game," Elway said.
If you look at the scoreboard, he had a crummy game.
Ninety thousand fans knew where to look.
Karl Mecklenburg, a Bronco linebacker who has kicked plenty of what Tom Jackson previously mentioned, came to Wilson's defense. He saw no reason for anyone to have expected Jim Plunkett to come from the bullpen. "Wilson's a much better deep thrower than Plunkett," Mecklenburg said. "Wilson's the quarterback of the future for the Raiders.
"That guy killed us in Denver. He had a better day than anybody who ever played quarterback against us. He's got the talent. He can do it."
The impatient disagree. All they know is that the Broncos are 8-1 and sitting pretty and probably holding reservations at a Pasadena hotel for late January, and the reason for their good fortune, good defense aside, is a good quarterback. The impatient want an Elway for Los Angeles.
They know, as the Broncos do, that a defense can only do so much. Even when Denver got to the Super Bowl once before, it did so with a barely adequate offense, led by Craig Morton. Free safety Steve Foley, who played with that bunch, is thinking of his old teammates when he says: "Those guys would have killed to have this offense."
It is an offense so multi-faceted and confident that Elway can get away with throwing only a dozen passes. A guy doesn't even need to rub Ben-Gay on his shoulder after a day like that.
"I think you come into a game with the Raiders thinking you'll take anything you can get," Elway said. "You never think you're going to have a perfect game against them. They're too good for that. If you come out of here with a win, that's the most you can hope for.
"This year's so much different from the past, though. This is the first time we've really come to L.A. with a real strong feeling that we were going to win. We came in here before and sort of, you know, hoped we would win, and thought we might win, that sort of thing."