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Lofton Is Cheered by Packer Fans

September 14, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was like the good old days for James Lofton, but only for a fleeting moment.

When the former Green Bay Packer caught a 21-yard pass from Marc Wilson midway through the third quarter, most of the 54,983 Packer fans at Lambeau Field rose to cheer the veteran wide receiver, as they have done so many times before.

"Yeah, I heard them," Lofton said, smiling, "but it wasn't like I felt I had to rub anything in or prove anything. I had a great time for the nine years that I played here. Those are nine years that I cherish and I'll never forget."

The fans, obviously, feel the same. That Lofton is now a Raider and that he left town only a few months ago under the cloud of a sexual assault trial--even though he was found not guilty--all of that seemed transcended by their appreciation of the level of his art that earned him seven Pro Bowl appearances and brought another measure of fading glory to Green Bay.

After the Raiders buried the Pack, 20-0, Lofton ran up the south end zone ramp to the visitors' dressing room--a 180-degree switch for him--and slapped the outstretched hands to friendly hails of "Hey, James . . . Hey, James."

He tossed a wristband to one fan for a souvenir.

"It was pretty nice, a lot of people cheering," Lofton said.

Although Lofton refused all requests for telephone interviews from Wisconsin reporters during the week, he claimed he hadn't been concerned about getting an ugly reception.

"Really, the only time I got a chance to think about it was after we got here," he said, "because before that you're preparing for the game and into that.

"I thought it would be about like it was. I think the people appreciated me here as a player, and they showed that today."

He caught only two passes, both from Wilson, after starter Rusty Hilger threw the ball about a time zone behind him on a crossing pattern early in the second quarter. But Lofton said he wasn't counting on making a big splash in his former pond.

"Not necessarily," he said. "That's the type of thing you dream about, but, hopefully, I'll have some big performances later in the year. I'll take the fact that we won it today."

On the way into town from the airport Friday night, his new teammates were urging Lofton to "give us a tour," and Lofton felt a little like he was coming home.

"I didn't think about it in that vein before I got here, but once I got back here it was real familiar," he said.

To Packer fans of recent seasons, so was the result. The front office, noting the early season records of 1-7, 1-3 and 0-6 the last three years, adopted the slogan of "Operation Quickstart" for 1987.

Actually, what the team really needs is a jump start, and quarterback Randy Wright may not be the man to provide it. Wright, a sixth-round draft choice from the University of Wisconsin in '84, completed only 8 of 21 passes and threw 3 interceptions before Coach Forrest Gregg yanked him in favor of rookie backup Don Majkowski, a 10th-rounder who shared time at Virginia last season.

"It was a little disappointing not to see Randy Wright do better," Lofton said. "I had heard that he played well during the preseason."

Lofton's familiar No. 80, which may someday hang in the Packer Hall of Fame next door to Lambeau Field, is now worn by Frankie Neal, a rookie third-round choice from Fort Hays State who also caught two passes Sunday. Lofton was asked how it felt to see someone else running around in his old uniform.

"He looked a little overweight," Lofton said, "but he looked OK."

Even though Neal is more stocky than Lofton, he doesn't yet fill the suit the same, and the fans haven't forgotten.

"The fans have a lot of class," Lofton said. "It was a nice, warm reception, and I appreciated it a lot."

Marcus Allen said he was "a little winded" after rushing a career-high 33 times for 136 yards.

"The most I played in the preseason was a half," he said. "We had some trouble throwing in the first half, so we decided we'd run, which was fine with me."

With Hilger's ineffective passing (2 for 7), Allen carried on 5 of the 6 plays for 38 yards on the Raiders' 49-yard touchdown drive late in the half. The Raiders' remodeled offensive line was opening holes consistently for the first time.

"We made some mistakes, but this was the first game," Allen said. "We have two new guys (rookies John Clay and Bruce Wilkerson) in there, so we'll jell sometime soon."

Left guard Charley Hannah, an 11-year pro, said, "I know I got off to a slow start today and some of the other guys said they did, too. Then we got into a little rhythm."

At that point, Hilger, his left shoulder hurting, was still in the game, but the offense was generally more effective when Marc Wilson directed it to two field goals in the second half. Wilson completed 9 of 16 passes, with 2 drops.

"I don't know if (the quarterback change) was a big factor," Hannah said. "I don't watch the quarterbacks play. My back's to them.

"But Rusty's got a lot of talent, and Marc has talent, too. I think (Wilson) has gotten a bad rap. I think we can win with either quarterback."

Offensive tackle Brian Holloway, acquired from the New England Patriots two weeks ago, saw his first action as a Raider on their last series of the game, but he hasn't been anxious to play.

"We're fortunate that there's enough talent to allow me to have time to be even more ready when the call comes," Holloway said.

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