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ANALYSIS : Raiders' Rebuilding Year Shakes Foundation : Losing Brings a Silent Rage, but They May Be on Right Track for Future

November 26, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Over at the Raiders' El Segundo facility, one-time fun house of the National Football League, the gloom is so thick, a halfback has to be careful he doesn't drive his Ferrari Testarossa into a safety's BMW 735i.

Where Ted Hendricks once changed costumes, and Lyle Alzado bared his teeth, and Howie Long raised brashness to an art form, and Lester Hayes forecast Coach Davis' moods, today there is only a ringing silence.

Hendricks and Alzado are gone. Hayes is as good as gone. Long is doggedly diplomatic.

So much for the good times. How about the bad?

Once, if these guys lost two games in a row, visitors took their lives in their hands, asked questions and checked for flying furniture. The current losing streak is seven games, longest in Al Davis' tenure as coach or managing general partner, but there is little overt anger shown. Management has made it known that it wants no more public lashing out at the quarterbacks, or the offense, so everyone just shrugs and echoes Coach Tom Flores' oft-quoted line: "I don't know. I just don't know."

They haven't begun to accept losing, have they?

"I don't think so," Mike Haynes said. "I hope not.

"I think the guys are just devastated. We just can't really believe the situation we've found ourselves in. There's no question we're better than our record."

Who ain't? Their record is only 3-7.

The amazing thing is that, unless everyone everywhere has lost the ability to discern talent, there is a good football team in there somewhere. It is in transition, however, from the glory days of 1980-83 to whatever lies ahead and so far the ride has been a little bumpy.

After last season's 8-8 record, Davis added Bo Jackson, James Lofton, Mervyn Fernandez, Lionel Washington and half a ton of rookie blockers. Davis' sunny demeanor in training camp suggested that he thought he had the project well in hand, but the whole thing has blown up in his face. Last season's embarrassment is going to look good compared to this season's 6-9, 5-10 or 4-11.

And the future is far from guaranteed.

Davis is no fool, and there is firepower sitting on top of firepower, but . . .

Who's the quarterback going to be?

And even more important than that . . .


How great is this guy?

Just warming up after a season away from the game, behind a brand new offensive line that can't make anything else work, he's averaging 6.2 yards a carry. Jim Brown, the man many regard as the best back in the history of the game, averaged 5.2. Marcus Allen, one of the game's best backs, looks ordinary next to Bo.

Davis, remember, got Jackson with a seventh-round draft pick. So what do we have here? The coup of the ages, or a cruel hoax, Al's folly?

Everything depends on which sport Jackson chooses. It has been generally assumed, here and in Kansas City, where he sat on the Royals' bench for the last half of the baseball season, that Bo was eventually football-bound.

Upon arriving here, Jackson said he didn't know. Then he effectively stopped talking. He has declined all interview requests by local reporters and has talked only after two of his four games. This week, he turned down requests from CBS, the Sporting News and Sport magazine.

A month ago, however, the week after he'd made his debut, he told the Kansas City Star's Bob Nightengale, who covers the Royals:

"There's going to be a time when I'm going to give up a sport. I know that. I never meant to be a dual athlete the rest of my life. If I did that, by the time I was 35, I'd feel like a 50-year-old man.

"So, I'll tell you now and I want this to sink in: Baseball is what I'll make a career out of, not football.

"Football is the sport I'll give up first. The only question is when will I give this up? I don't know right now. I'm just taking this one day at a time."

The betting around the Raiders is that football will still prevail. Jackson seems a safe bet to return to the Royals next season, but if he struggles again, the Raiders could inherit all.

But it's a high-stakes game they're playing.

If they win, they may have the game's finest runner.

If they lose, they've spent a year or two of valuable transition time on a road to nowhere. "If he goes back to Kansas City?" mused Long. "I'm going to buy a ticket in the 14th row and take my sniper rifle and assassinate him."


If there are three quick answers to what went wrong this season, they are as follows:

--Problems with the offensive line.

--Problems at cornerback.

--The continuing search for a quarterback.

Despite much gnashing of teeth, both among the players and the underlings in the front office in recent years, the Raiders have never really gone out and tried to find a quarterback.

The last one Davis really went after hard was John Elway, and that was four years ago.

In recent years, there were conversations about dumping Marc Wilson to the Philadelphia Eagles and acquiring Doug Williams from the Washington Redskins, or Neil Lomax from the St. Louis Cardinals, but they died.

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