GREEN BAY, Wis. — One of the grand old traditions of the theater is an opening on the road. If your destiny is a pratfall, W.C. Fields would say, take it in Hoboken.
At no time on opening day Sunday, in pro football's smallest city, did the Raiders look like a good football team, and as theater this wasn't much of a game.
But their star, Marcus Allen, has regained his health, and so the Raiders won, 20-0, earning a second-quarter touchdown on five aggressive Allen runs and adding 13 points eventually on an interception and two field goals.
Allen is the Raider offense. After an off year with an ankle injury, he's back.
Otherwise, this was a matchup of punchless teams. As the Raiders limped away to a 7-0 lead in the first half, their new quarterback, Rusty Hilger, averaged one completion in each of the first two quarters. His replacement, their old quarterback, Marc Wilson, averaged three points in each of the last two quarters.
Thus, in a manner of speaking, Hilger outscored Wilson, 7-6.
The two Packer quarterbacks were worse, which explains the zip in the 20-zip.
Maybe this was a better performance than it seemed on a day when the Rams were upset, when the San Francisco 49ers were upset, when Cleveland and Dallas were upset, and when no other West Coast team won.
Raider owner Al Davis, in any case, is never unhappy with a win. "We have some good offensive weapons," he said, naming Allen and receivers James Lofton and Mervyn Fernandez. "If we'll calm down and play football, we'll be all right."
Well, possibly. But when your coaches keep calling ground plays on passing downs--as the Raider coaches did six times Sunday on third and 3, third and 20, third and 5, third and 3, third and 16, and third and 8--somebody has some doubts about the quarterbacks.
This was professional football in name only.
In one respect it was, of course, just like old times. Allen, who had a 136-yard afternoon, carried the ball on 33 running plays. Six other Raider runners and two passers handled it on a total of 38 plays.
"Sure, I was a little tired," Allen said afterward. "The most I played in the (exhibition) season was a half."
As usual, the Raiders were still sending him into the line in the fourth quarter when it was clear that the Packers couldn't score, let alone win, with people named Randy Wright and Don Majkowski at quarterback.
Allen had already won it late in the second quarter, only a few minutes before halftime. At that point, with the fight still scoreless, the Raiders took possession at the Packer 49-yard line after an unprofessional 36-yard Green Bay punt.
On first down the Raider line opened a hole that Allen exploited for 14 yards. On the next play the Packers closed him down inside, but he escaped outside for 17 yards.
Altogether, on the only touchdown drive of the game, Allen was the ballcarrier 5 of 6 times, gaining 38 of the 49 yards and eventually diving over on third and goal.
"It wasn't a yard, it was only a few inches," he said. "On a play like that, I get it any way I can."
He usually dives for it, having become one of the NFL's masters of a play that needs close timing plus a long leap and the ability to shift one's weight like Julius Erving in midair.
It also needs two sound ankles, which Allen didn't have last year. "Let's forget last year," he said.
He will if you will.
Why are the Raiders on this kind of spot? Why are they going with an inexperienced quarterback, Hilger, and a veteran they've tried to trade, Wilson?
One answer is that they're in this bind for the same reason that the Packers are in trouble with their man, Randy Wright.
That is, there aren't many qualified quarterbacks. There are 10 or 12 at most in a 28-team league--in the view of the best-informed NFL coaches and scouts.
And although Al Davis has proved to be a shrewd judge of talent at football's many other positions, neither he nor perhaps any other scout can accurately evaluate young quarterbacks.
There are simply too many variables. There's just no way to judge them.
This has been substantiated by the record of all the years of pro football.
It is sometimes said that at present, this is a league with no more than three great quarterbacks--Dan Marino of Miami, John Elway of Denver and Bernie Kosar of Cleveland. And in all three instances, luck played the largest role in their migration from college teams to these particular pro teams.
Marino, for example, is in Miami because he was passed over in the draft by all the others in pro ball. Would the Raiders have passed Marino to Miami if, at the time, they'd known what they know now? Would Dallas? Would the Chicago Bears?
For the last several years, their fans have advised the Raiders to go out and get a quarterback. And it's true that they've thought about it. Ever since Kenny Stabler lost his fastball, they've thought about it. But where should they go? No one tells them that. No one knows.