MINNEAPOLIS — We have seen the Raider future and Rusty Hilger isn't it.
Insert Marc Wilson for Hilger, as Tom Flores did Sunday--on a direct order relayed by phone from Al Davis in the press box--and Bo Jackson alongside Marcus Allen, and the Raiders look like a team again, even an exciting one.
However, Davis waited a little too long to reach out and hook somebody. By the time Wilson arrived, Hilger had thrown three interceptions and the Minnesota Vikings led, 14-3. After a lot of fireworks, the Vikings prevailed, 31-20, and the Raiders had lost their fifth straight, the most since 1964 when Davis was a second-year head coach.
Being Raiders, they weren't willing to comment on possible changes, even if events seem to be moving faster than they are.
Hilger has now been yanked in three of his five pro starts.
Jackson may not have learned all the plays yet, but he's a monster on the handful he knows. After almost two years away from football, and four weeks with the club, he has 111 yards in 18 carries, a 6.2 average.
But how do you plan for the future, when:
--Jackson isn't committed to staying. Can you change your offense to accommodate two tailbacks if you're not assured of retaining both?
--Wilson has only a half-season left on his $1 million-a-year contract and the Raiders hadn't exactly been keen on re-signing him. For two years, important front office people have been urging he be paid off and sent home. Can he now become their quarterback of the future? And if it's not him, who? Thirty-nine-year-old Jim Plunkett? Thirty-two-year-old Vince Evans? Sixty-year-old Gypsy Boots?
"I don't want to get into the quarterback situation right now," Flores said. "I don't think it's fair to any of our quarterbacks."
Did that sound like he just wants to inform them first?
At any rate, Hilger seems resigned to bad news. When relieved, after his third interception had led to the second Viking touchdown, he grabbed the clipboard--the backup's duty--before Minnesota could kick off.
"I don't have any fears (about being demoted)," Hilger said later. "I'm not afraid of anything. If that decision is made, that's going to be their best judgment. I'd never second-guess anything they did.
"My only thing is, I need to learn from my mistakes. The more I see, I got a feeling the better I'll be. Obviously, being as young as I am, I haven't seen everything and it's going to be tough. And today was a tough day."
Curiously, Hilger embarked upon his best outing Sunday. He came out of the chute with a 49-yard bomb to James Lofton on the very first Raider play, and completed his first five passes. He got rid of the ball quickly, and picked up secondary receivers.
But when bad times came, he turned back into a confused-looking kid. He was 7 for 10 when he threw back-to-back interceptions. After that, he went back to pass 13 times: 9 incompletions, 2 completions, 2 sacks.
He threw two passes in the second half. His first was a routine out pattern to Mervyn Fernandez, which he threw on one bounce. On his second, he threw into coverage he didn't see and was intercepted by Carl Lee, who returned it 36 yards to the Raider one.
At that point, a Raider official in the press box was heard calling down to the field, informing the coaching staff that Mr. Davis wanted a new quarterback.
"We just thought we needed a change," said Flores later.
They got a change, but similar results.
Wilson's second pass floated over Marcus Allen to safety John Harris and became the fourth Viking interception. Moments later, Wade Wilson hit Hassan Jones on a 58-yard scoring play, over Mike Haynes who tipped the ball off Jones' chest, but Jones latched on to it and ran into the end zone, making it 21-3.
After that, the Raiders ventured out upon a rally. Wilson threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to James Lofton. He threw a 27-yarder to Dokie Williams.
And then there was the Bo Drive.
This is how it went, really: Jackson sweeps left for 9 yards. Jackson sweeps left for 13. Jackson sweeps left again for 21. They give him one play off and run Steve Smith for three yards. Bo tries to sweep left again and the massed Viking defense gets him for a two-yard loss.
Finally, Fernandez drops a pass in the end zone, and Chris Bahr kicks a field goal. But that isn't what anyone is going to remember.
"I'll tell you what," said Howie Long, "that kid, No. 34? Just give that guy the ball.
"I don't know if you noticed when the Vikings were in the huddle, their heads were hanging on that drive. He can literally wear a defense out. A back like that can just break your back. I'm excited about the prospect of playing with him."
You think those sweeps looked similar?
"It was the same play," said Wilson. "We just changed the formation to make it seem a little different. We just kept running the same play. If a play works, stick with it.
"Describe him? He has great speed. He has great power. I turn around and hand the ball to him and he's already going real fast. It's kind of an awesome feeling."