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In the Long Run, Lofton Catches On to Raiders' Passing Game

December 03, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

It's a long, long time from July to December, especially if there's a strike in the middle, and a change of quarterbacks and offensive lines and standing in the league. If you're new receiver James Lofton, it may take some time to show them you're who you used to be.

On the morning of Nov. 8, halfway through the season, Lofton had 11 catches, a total he used to get in some half-games.

That day, in Minneapolis, he caught a 46-yard bomb from Rusty Hilger, and 128 yards' worth altogether. A week later in San Diego, he caught a 47-yarder for a touchdown from Marc Wilson. Monday night at Seattle, he caught a 46-yarder from Wilson for the touchdown that wiped out the early Seahawk lead. He is up to 23 catches and a 21.9-yard average.

Is this James Lofton, acquired from the Green Bay Packers for two No. 3 picks, now 31, the same one who made the Pro Bowl seven times in his nine seasons?

Close enough.

"The funny thing about coming to a new team, you don't have a track record," Lofton said Wednesday. "No matter what you do in practice, or how impressive you were in training camp, you have to display it in the game.

"You can't just say, 'Well, that's what I have done in the past.' Basically, it's a game of, 'What have you done for me lately?' "

Of course, the Raiders haven't turned out to be exactly who they were supposed to be. All those years of starring for hapless Packer teams, and Lofton gets traded up in the standings . . .

And his new team goes south.

Talk about funny, does this seem like a cruel joke?

"No," Lofton said, calmly as ever.

"I feel I've been around long enough to realize that you go out and play to win. If you don't, you come back with a little more determination next time. I think that's how this team, hopefully, has finally evolved. It's a process you have to work at each week.

"The funny thing, the talent levels on teams aren't really that different. Some just put a little more into it."

Some just go out and land another Heisman Trophy winner, which can give the old process a swift kick in the pants.

"What was funny," Lofton said, "in Green Bay, I always used to look at Marcus Allen and say, 'There is the best football player in the league.' Because Marcus could catch, he could block, he could obviously run. He was a smart player.

"You look at Bo (Jackson), who's a great athlete and a great runner. If he can learn from what Marcus does well, I think they can play together for quite a number of years together."

Of course, that Allen and Jackson coexist so famously is due to Allen's remarkable ability to suck it up so willingly, move to fullback and block so well.

"No, I'm not surprised," Lofton said. "When I watched Marcus play, he didn't look like a selfish player.

"He didn't look for the sidelines. He was always slashing, always throwing his body up field for the extra yard. To see him be willing to block for somebody, or to carry the ball less than somebody doesn't surprise me. When I first got to training camp, Marcus was the player who tried to set the tempo in the amount of work that was done."

And so, the Raiders discovered a way out of their hole, and James Lofton became one of them, Al Davis' latest deep threat.

Has Davis said much to Lofton?

"Which one is he?" Lofton said, laughing.

"Not much at all, just encouraging me on the sidelines, like he does the other players. He hasn't pulled me aside for a heart-to-heart talk on what I'm supposed to mean to the team."

Maybe Davis was busy with another media intrigue. There is also what the Raiders mean to Lofton. Raised in Los Angeles, he is back home and it's not hard to tell the differences:

(1) He's barely famous anymore.

"You just kind of blend in, become just Joe," he said. "I like that. I like what I do but it's not important enough for people to be clamoring all over me, patting me on the back over it."

(2) He can sell his mittens.

"I have to laugh at Dokie (Williams) and the guys," he said. "We're out there for a walk-through this morning, and it's probably about 55 degrees. They're in the long-sleeve T-shirts, the sweat tops. I told them it's about 10 degrees in Green Bay, and they're out there throwing snowballs at each other."

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