And so as the longest Raider exhibition season drones into its sixth week--wait a minute, you mean these aren't exhibitions? No matter what they look like? They count in the standings?
That was the home opener Sunday? Well, that puts a different slant on it. That makes the silver and black 2-0 after wearing down the Detroit Lions, 27-7, before 50,300 in the Coliseum. Maybe after cashing in a pair of early season pushovers, they're ready for the next step, like an impressive performance.
Put Sunday down as an improvement, starting with the quarterback position. With the Coliseum fans rumbling notice that they were ready to pounce, Rusty Hilger had a decent game, his first as a starter--20 for 39, 234 yards. As a prominent Senator might say, I thought up a little verse that's apropos:
C'est la vie, said the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.
How did the Raider faithful greet their former darling?
A few of them started booing when he was introduced before the game.
How did he feel?
"That's going to happen here and we all know it," Hilger said. "These people drink a lot."
Everyone might be talking about a real victory, but Hilger's numbers were artificially lowered by four bona fide drops, a problem that has plagued the Raiders throughout this new period of trial and error. Every day, it seems as if some receiver with a million-dollar contract drops something and Sunday was Mervyn Fernandez' turn. He dropped two early, making him the leader over James Lofton and Todd Christensen, who had one each.
Of course, to coin a phrase, when you put the ball into the air, three things can happen and two of them are bad.
"I don't know much about Rusty Hilger and I don't know much about quarterbacks," Howie Long said. "But he's got to have had 10 balls dropped. I'm not naming any names. I don't know what makes quarterbacks tick, but one thing is catching the ball."
Of course, there was a limit to how much of a test the Lions could provide, seeing as how the Raiders took their running game and threw it back at them from the get-go. The Lions totaled 47 yards rushing all day, and that left a little too much up to their own young quarterback, Chuck Long.
However, there is more than one Raider kink to be worked out. Take punter, where Ray Guy, who had four kicks blocked in his career, is gone, and Stan Talley is slow.
The Lions just missed Talley's first kick, which went six yards. They blocked the second one and recovered at the Raider 12, setting up their only scoring drive of the day, Chuck Long's two-yard toss to fullback Scott Williams ending it.
That put the Lions ahead, 7-6, early in the second period, furnishing some suspense and something of a test for Hilger, who was completing a lot of passes to little effect.
Well, it was a little test, anyway. The Lions led at the half, then fumbled the second-half kickoff, handing the Raiders the ball at their 22. Shortly thereafter, with a third and goal at the 14, Hilger hit Dokie Williams going up the left sideline with a high lob that Williams came down with in the end zone and the Raiders had the lead for good.
They put it away late with two 80-yard drives, both of the methodic variety. In the first, the Raiders got 59 yards on the ground, including a 20-yard run by Marcus Allen, a 35-yarder by Vance Mueller, and a 1-yard dive for the score by Allen.
In the second, Hilger completed passes of 30 yards to Jessie Hester and 11 to Christensen but the other 39 yards came on eight runs. Mueller scored from the one.
"This was good for the team and for Rusty," Howie Long said. "As you know, this isn't a town where they have the highest regard for quarterbacks, especially quarterbacks who are having a little bit of a problem.
"It's nice for a change, to start with Green Bay and Detroit, rather than opening up at Denver, the Giants, at Washington . . .
"We're 2-0. Some positive things are happening. I think some of the AFC teams are beating up on each other. I get the impression Kansas City is losing (the Chiefs were and did) and Denver was tied. You guys are the media. Don't you know anything?"
Of course, the media knew. To interject another personal thought, anyone who doesn't know the lessons of history is doomed to repeat its mistakes.
And what of the Lions? Well, they're off to a tough start, but there are also labor difficulties on the horizon, so a little personal advice:
Don't mourn, organize.