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Raiders Give Ball to Wilson : Hilger Going to the Bench for San Diego Game

November 12, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

So much for Al Davis' kid from left field. Rusty Hilger, the No. 6 draft choice who got a tryout as the Raiders' No. 1 quarterback, has been sent back out to pasture.

Coach Tom Flores announced Wednesday that Marc Wilson would take over, although only after Flores had welcomed the media to the press breakfast, noted the beautiful weather, vowed to battle back, conceded that chances of making the playoffs are "remote," complained mildly about a call at Minnesota and updated the injury status of Jerry Robinson, Vance Mueller, Todd Christensen and Charley Hannah.

Three minutes into his remarks, Flores said:

"The quarterback situation: I'm making a change. Marc Wilson will start this week (at San Diego). . . . Nothing against Rusty because I still feel he's talented, but there's a lot of pressure on him. Sometimes, with that pressure, you try to push yourself a little."

Hilger, effusive as ever, took the news in character.

"That's been my whole thought all along, that I'd learn from my mistakes," he said. "If you fall off a horse, you get right back on.

"We're in position now where we've got a horse with a couple of broken legs. We've got to revitalize the horse some way."

Actually, the horse seems to be perking up already.

Part of the pressure on Hilger has come from his teammates. When Hilger came to the sideline to explain a malfunction at Minnesota, a source says that a Raider player yelled at him, "Shut up and play!"

With as much diplomacy as could be summoned, the playing roster made it clear that the switch was welcome.

When Matt Millen, following Flores at the breakfast, was told of the move, he said, "Excuse me for a second."

Then Millen pulled a cloth napkin over his head and, with his face covered, starting laughing wildly.

OK, but how did he feel?

"OK," Millen said. "I'm going to be diplomatic, OK?"

Pausing to gather his dignity, he said: "You'd have to feel more comfortable going in, knowing Marc has been there before. But we're going to have to approach it the same way defensively--ah, there's an angle. Yeah, defensively! I can't think about Marc Wilson or Rusty Hilger. I gotta think about Dan Fouts."

Brightening, he added: "There's your quote. I feel better about that.

"I don't know. Do you stay with a guy? You don't want to say anything bad about Rusty because he's out there trying as hard as everybody else. He's doing the best he can. Hey, he's got limited experience, and you're putting him in a tough situation. I mean, that's a given.

"Marc's been there before. Mentally, you can say, OK it's a new starting point.

"It's a funny thing that you do it now, when sometimes you think it should have been done earlier, but that wasn't your decision to make."

Wilson also took the news in character, which is to say he was pleased and low-key. Wilson, of course, has been the No. 1 quarterback three times without sticking. He was last demoted at halftime of last season's game at Dallas, after which there was a movement in the Raider front office to pay him his guaranteed $1 million and waive him.

Signing him to another contract was never even speculated upon--until now?

Had he been wondering if he'd ever play for the Raiders again?

"I've wondered about that the last couple of years," Wilson said, smiling. "It's no secret. Things are always being brought up. I've wondered about that for some time."

Does he see this as a chance to put a new stamp on his Raider years?

"I'm not thinking about all that at all," he said. "I'm just getting prepared for the game Sunday and that's as far as I'm going."

Hilger held his own little press conference a few minutes later.

"I'm kind of surprised but then it didn't come as a surprise," he said. "I mean, we got to win some football games. If this is the answer, well, I'm not surprised. I'm not real sure this is the answer.

"I'm hoping we win, to start with. . . . (But) I don't think a loss is going to reflect a bad performance on Marc Wilson's part. We've lost a few games where it has nothing to do with the way the quarterback played.

"The thing I've got to do now is to prepare each and every day. I'm not sitting back now saying I lost the job. I really feel like I didn't lose the job. I still feel like I've got to perform.

"Obviously, I haven't played like a seasoned veteran--which I expected to do. I really did. They said, 'It's not always going to be easy.'

"Well, it wasn't."

Raider Notes

Coach Tom Flores, asked if he had any plans for Vince Evans, said: "Not at this time." And Jim Plunkett? "Jim is getting more work in the practice sessions, but right now my plans are to go with Marc Wilson and Rusty Hilger and see if we can win this game." The Raider plan had been to bring Plunkett out of the bullpen late in November, but if the season is effectively over by then, they may decide not to. . . . Lester Hayes had said he hoped to resume practicing Wednesday, but he didn't. Flores said he knew nothing about it. It appears that that chapter in Raider history is over.

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