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Crossing Picket Line Hasn't Left Clayborn on the Very Outside : Spending Time on the Inside

October 31, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

The National Football League Players Assn. will not be impressed, but Raymond Clayborn has played in more consecutive games than any other active player.

It may mean more in the future, when people have forgotten about the 1987 strike that tore teams apart, but right now all it means is that Raymond Clayborn crossed the picket line.

"Purely financial reasons," the New England Patriots cornerback said by phone from Foxboro, Mass. this week. "I just needed the money. I do have deferred payments and I had to keep the cash flow going into those for my retirement plans."

No hard feelings around the clubhouse?

"Not really. People are back to usual right now, the way it was before the strike. People know I did what I had to do. They respect that, and I respect what they did."

The striking Patriots probably were more upset with Coach Raymond Berry, who on their first day back posted a sign not to use the players' entrance and not to "interrupt my preparations with these (non-union) players. This is my team now."

By remaining inside, Clayborn, a Pro Bowl selection three of the last four years, has played in the Patriots' last 157 games, a club record. He has started 143.

He was one of six Patriot starters who kept playing, along with running back Tony Collins, center Guy Morriss, kicker Tony Franklin and guards Ron Wooten and Sean Farrell.

The half-dozen defectors helped the Patriots post a 2-1 strike record. That's better than the regular team's 1-2 performance, so the strikers can thank the strikebreakers for their share of first place in the AFC East, although they probably won't.

In their 30-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the regular Patriots were only slightly more effective than the Raiders were in losing to Seattle, 35-13.

"I don't think (the strike) had any more effect on us than it had on the other teams," Clayborn said. "We just didn't get it done on the playing field."

As the Patriots' only defensive defector, Clayborn said of the strikeball games: "They put a lot of responsibility on me by letting me single up on certain receivers that they thought were particularly good.

"It wasn't the best games you could play in, but they gradually got better. The first game we played against Cleveland was like a practice or a scrimmage, and the next week (against Buffalo) was similar. But we went down to Houston the third week, and things started to happen like a regular-season game."

Surrounded by impressionable youngsters, Clayborn, 32, remembered how he felt arriving from the University of Texas as the Patriots' first-round draft choice in 1977.

"A lot of 'em just wanted to come in and make some money and play in the NFL," he said. "All the guys that I was around worked real hard."

A few old guys did, too. Receiver coach Harold Jackson, 41, briefly considered coming out of retirement but got only as far as the practice field for a few days.

"I'll tell you what," Clayborn said, laughing. "Harold could be 41 years old but he still has some speed and some moves. He was out there running routes against us. He was sluggish, but with a training camp under his belt he might be able to go out there and be productive."

Clayborn said that playing through the strike was as good for him physically as it was financially.

"I started off slow. I was a little overweight. That strike basically did some good things for me. I lost a little weight and last week I felt really into the flow. I was into my groove, moving quickly."

Clayborn has studied the current edition of the Raiders.

"The only difference I see is what they're trying to do in their long passing situations," he said. "They're bringing in three wide receivers when traditionally they just had two wides. I guess with the surplus of wide receivers they have now, they're getting more of 'em into the game and trying to make bigger plays."

Which brought him to quarterback.

"Well, uh, (Rusty) Hilger didn't have a very good day (against Seattle), and I think Marc Wilson came in and played well initially. . . . (He) drove 'em down and got a couple of scores. Then he started having problems, also. They didn't have particularly good days, but I think Wilson had the better day."

Clayborn remembered Hilger's relief performance in a 35-20 Raider win at Foxboro, Mass., two years ago.

"He seems to be adjusting well," Clayborn said. "He's still young and inexperienced and he does some things poorly, but I think in time he'll be a top-caliber NFL quarterback."

Clayborn said he was not concerned about the possible debut of Bo Jackson.

"Not at all. My primary concern right now is Marcus Allen. He's the one that's going to be starting the ballgame. He's been the threat throughout the years, and I still see him as a legitimate threat, running and catching the ball."

This year, Clayborn achieved one of his other ambitions--earning more money than Mike Haynes.

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