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PRO FOOTBALL : Abbott Gets His Kicks at the Expense of Any Raider Playoff Hopes

November 16, 1987|BOB WOLF | Special to The Times

SAN DIEGO — Vince Abbott insisted that it was nothing special, but 44 other Chargers begged to disagree.

So did the 45 Raiders, and as is often the case, it remained for colorful Howie Long to put things in perspective.

Said the Raider veteran: "That little guy named Abbott nailed our coffin shut tonight."

Actually, Long's remark covered only part of the story at Jack Murphy Stadium Sunday night. In the process of burying what remained of the Raider playoff hopes, Abbott kicked the Chargers closer to a shot at being the home team in the Super Bowl.

You may laugh at mention of the Chargers and the Super Bowl in the same sentence, but with every week, there is greater reason to take them seriously.

Even the basically conservative Abbott said after the Chargers' latest victory: "We keep finding ways to win. To me, we've become a team of destiny."

And one of the biggest reasons Abbott feels this way is that he keeps coming up with game-winning field goals. He has done it three weeks in a row, and he had his finest hour Sunday night with the three field goals that gave the Chargers a 16-14 victory over the Raiders.

Abbott's latest heroics ran the Charger record to 8-1, which at least temporarily is the best in the National Football League. The Chicago Bears can tie them by beating the Denver Broncos tonight. At the same time, the British-born rookie dumped the Raiders to 3-6 and into a state of hopelessness.

Abbott, 28, is as much a Cinderella story as are the Chargers, who a year ago finished last in the AFC West with a 4-12 record. He flunked tryouts with the Bears in 1984, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 and the Raiders in 1986 before beating out Rolf Benirschke, a San Diego institution, for the Chargers' kicking job this year. A man of lesser fortitude may have given up some time ago.

"You have to be in the right place at the right time," Abbott said. "I kicked well in training camp every time, but there was always a veteran or two in front of me.

"In Chicago, I had to go against Bob Thomas. In Tampa Bay, there were Obed Ariri and Donald Igwebuike. With the Raiders, Chris Bahr had been there for years, just like Thomas in Chicago. I had a great camp with the Raiders. I kicked 69 field goals in a row in practice. But in hindsight, they would have been foolish to get rid of Bahr. He has proven himself over a long period of time.

"I was convinced that I could kick in this league, so I kept coming back. Now it's like a storybook, and if we go to the Super Bowl, that will be the ultimate story. And nobody would believe it."

Abbott even experienced frustration before making good in college. At the University of Washington, where he was a walk-on, he ran second to Mike Lansford, now a standout with the Rams. So he transferred to Cal State Fullerton, where he kicked well enough to earn a berth in 1983 with the L.A. Express of the United States Football League.

"I had a 53-yarder against UNLV," he recalled. "That and a 22-yard game-winner against Nevada Reno were my two biggest kicks in college. But nothing compares with what's going on now. I almost feel like I'm living a dream."

Abbott's three field goals on Sunday night were from 38, 47 and 39 yards, and gave him a string of eight before he missed a 53-yarder.

"I kicked poorly before the game," he said. "As a result, I was very apprehensive when we took the field. But after I hit the first one, I was all right. My confidence was back."

Ironically, the difference in the outcome was a 41-yard miss by Bahr, the man Abbott couldn't beat out a year ago.

"I felt for Chris when that happened," Abbott said. "But even the greatest kicker in the world can't hit every time."

One reporter after another asked Abbott if it was a big deal to beat the Raiders.

He kept saying no, but with an important qualification.

"It was just special for us to win the game," he said. "Everybody knows what it means for the Chargers to beat the Raiders."

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