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Jim Murray

He's One Link Raiders Have to Past Glory

November 24, 1987|Jim Murray

The thing to do in sports or show biz when you're dispensing a clunker is to distract the audience. Redirect their minds away from present goofs to past glories.

Hollywood does this all the time. You got Clark Gable in a turkey? Plaster the country with tear-sheets proclaiming: "See that 'Gone With the Wind' guy in his latest triumph!"

The Dodgers are down? Not to worry. Vin Scully will fill in the low spots with discussions of the time Sandy Koufax struck out Willie Mays with the bases loaded or Jackie Robinson stole second, third and home.

At the football game the other day, the Raiders were on their way to their seventh consecutive loss. The natives were restless. And when Raider natives get restless, it's time to circle the wagons.

Suddenly, up on the electronic screen, it wasn't 1987 at all. The Raiders weren't losing their seventh in a row, they were winning their second Super Bowl. It was 1981, and there on screen was a Raider from seasons past, No. 53, setting a Super Bowl record for one-game interceptions.

What made this extraordinary was, No. 53 wasn't just a portrait on the wall, a line in a record book. No. 53 was right down there on the field, still doing the things he did in Raider seasons past, jamming up running plays, knocking down passes, sacking quarterbacks. That Super Bowl XV guy was back in an all-new production, and the Raiders had him. It was as if a statue had come to life.

Rod Martin, old 53, right outside linebacker, is as much a part of the Raider glory years as Jim Plunkett, Snake Stabler, the Mad Bomber Daryle Lamonica, Gene Upshaw, the Tooz, the Mad Stork Ted Hendricks, Lyle Alzado, Big Ben Davidson, Lester (the Judge) Hayes or Cliff (Where Did He Go?) Branch.

When you talk of all-time great passing combinations, you end up with Arnie Herber to Don Hutson, Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann, John Unitas to Lenny Moore, Bart Starr to Max McGee.

But you have to throw Ron Jaworski to Rod Martin in there.

It was Jan. 25, 1981, the Superdome in New Orleans. Super Bowl XV was only three plays old when Jaworski, the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback, decided to test the left zone where the opposing Raiders had an undersized, under-tested--so Philadelphia thought--and unsung linebacker. Martin.

The Eagles lined up with two tight ends. Jaworski wanted to deliver the ball to one of them, John Spagnola, over Martin.

Spagnola never got the pass. Martin did. And raced down to the Eagles' 30-yard line.

From there, the Raiders quickly scored on a pass from Plunkett to Branch. And that, to all intents and purposes, was the old ballgame. The Raiders never looked back.

In the middle of the third quarter, Jaworski decided to try Spagnola again. But again, the receiver was Martin, whose interception set up a Raider field goal.

Martin pulled down his last, record-setting, interception with three minutes to go in that game.

Rod Martin is as steady as October rain. He has intercepted 14 regular-season passes as a Raider but he is not a specialist who comes out when a run is in prospect. Martin is an all-purpose linebacker.

In Super Bowl XVIII, the last one the AFC has won, everyone remembers the Raider offensive flashes in the 38-9 rout of Washington. But Rod Martin recovered a fumble, had a quarterback sack in that game and turned in 21 tackles in the playoffs and Super Bowl that season.

There are a lot of things wrong with the Raiders of this benighted season of '87, but right outside linebacker isn't one of them. Rod Martin has been dispensing impeccable games from that defensive spot for so long--12 years--that it seems hard to believe they didn't want him there in the first place.

"I was too small," Martin says. "I was a little over 200, and the opinion was, 'People will run over you.' "

He was so overlooked, he was chosen by the Raiders only because his coach at USC, John Robinson, insisted he was a quality player. He was a 12th-round draft pick. That means, drafting where the Raiders did, that he was considered 317th nationally in ability.

The Raiders even demoted him from that when they shipped him across the bay to San Francisco, where the 49ers cut him altogether.

In November of that year, 1977, linebacker injuries prompted the Raiders to recall him.

Given the chance to play, Roderick D. Martin not only worked his way into the lineup, he worked his way into the highlight film of all-time Raider performances.

Rod would like to add a couple of reels to it with another Super Bowl of heroic proportions.

Even if the Raiders make it, though, Rod Martin probably won't. Since Jaworski, no quarterback would throw anywhere near Martin in a Super Bowl. Or any other bowl.

If he's going to catch any passes, they want it to be up there on the screen, taking attention away from the fact that the new Raiders aren't catching any passes from anybody these days.

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