Thus ended strikeball, Raider-style, a memory the silver and black have reason to rue evermore and not just because of a little thing like artistic compromise. They assumed they were going to be 5-0 and cruising, or 4-1 and out ahead anyway, but now they know better.
They lost a 17-10 lead in the closing minutes Sunday, saw Chris Bahr miss a 37-yard field goal that would have put them ahead with 1:56 left, then watched in horror as Vince Evans had a pass intercepted by Elvis (Toast) Patterson, who returned it 75 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left, giving the Chargers a 23-17 victory before a crowd of 23,541 in the Coliseum.
After consecutive losses to a 10-point underdog, which was playing with four regulars, and a 7-point underdog, which was playing with none, the star-studded Raiders are 3-2, with the hard part of the real schedule just starting--Seattle, at New England, at Minnesota, at San Diego, Denver, and at Seattle.
"It was a tough game to lose," said a shaken-looking Tom Flores. "I thought we were going to be strong enough to win this game but. . . .
"It's disappointing. I felt we could come out of this game being 4-1. . . . It's just very disappointing. I'm sure the players are disappointed, as I am, as you are."
For players on the bubble as so many Raiders like Evans are, it was a disappointment, all right. Call it 10 on a scale of 10.
"A nightmare," Evans said. "You see those in the highlight films but you never think it's going to happen to you.
"The cornerback was 1-on-1 with Merv(yn Fernandez). We had run a couple routes like that one before. He was probably squatting on that play (anticipating it).
"I did see him. Actually, I was looking more at where Merv was going to be, but I thought he (Patterson) was pretty tight on him. I thought it might be close but I thought I could get it in there."
The question is, have the Raiders been tipping their sideline patterns? Last week at Denver, Evans' first pass was an out on which a cornerback named K.C. Clark stepped up, fearlessly it seemed, intercepted and ran the ball back down the field to the Raider 11. On one other out pattern Sunday, Patterson stepped up on an out pattern, guessing correctly that it was coming, but that time he only broke the play up.
"He was about 6-7 yards off (the line of scrimmage) when I lined up," Fernandez said. "When I made my cut, he was still off four yards. I don't know how he got there. I was down on one knee to get the ball. He just went by me."
Patterson, who got the nickname Toast in his recently terminated Giant career because he was burned so often, said he'd read Evans' arm, that when the Raider quarterback dropped down sidearm, he knew a sideline pass was coming. Whether that was the case or not, Patterson stepped up, caught the ball in stride and zoomed up the sideline with Steve Strachan in distant, futile pursuit.
Patterson started waving the ball in celebration at the Raider 20. At the goal line, he took a right turn and headed north, to eat up the clock. With :18 left, 17 seconds after the play had begun, he stepped gingerly into the end zone.
You could ask why the loaded Raider roster let it get that far. However, they couldn't run the ball, and Evans was 11 for 31 throwing it, so they were reduced to trying to generate an offense on big plays.
They made only two, a 49-yard bomb from Evans to Fernandez, an out-and-up on which Patterson guessed wrong, setting up a 72-yard drive; and a 32-yarder from Evans to Carl Aikens, who took it away from a San Diego defender in the end zone with :01 left in the first half.
Nevertheless, the Raiders led until the Chargers replaced ex-Bruin Rick Neuheisel and his short game with the stronger Mike Kelley, a former United States Football League and Canadian Football League transient, who put together a 71-yard drive with two big plays, torching the burning Hills: a 57-yarder to Al Williams behind right cornerback Rod Hill; a 7-yarder in the end zone to Williams behind the left corner, Greg Hill. The game was about to be tied.
There was 8:07 left. The Raiders marched into Charger territory twice but one became Bahr's miss and the other became Evans' interception.
"I'm very grateful for the opportunity," Evans said late Sunday afternoon, graciously answering all questions from all comers.
"I didn't really play as well as I would have liked but I played hard," he said. "If this is it, I'm thankful I came this far.
"I played my heart out. I can still walk with my head high, knowing I did my best."
Strikeball is history.
The Raiders won't mind.
Raider Notes Howie Long, on the return of his striking teammates: "I'm sure there are going to be some hard feelings, but like I said before, I think $84,000 was enough to donate to a lost cause. No. 2, when you have to choose between your friends and your family, you've got to go with your family. . . . I just look at this as a nightmare. We can rebound from this. The regular guys are going to be chomping at the bit to get back. These guys worked hard but they fell short. It's unfortunate but that's just the way things are." . . . There were 34,807 tickets distributed with 11,266 no-shows. . . . Ethan Horton had another lackluster day. The first halfback chosen in the 1985 draft and passed over by half the NFL since, he got another chance here but didn't do much. With the regulars plus Bo Jackson coming back, a career change looks imminent.