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Where to, Raiders? : Bo's Future Is Key to Team's Future

December 29, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Relief reigns finally among the Raiders, where season's end has brought the first thing worth cheering about since . . . since?

Since Rusty Hilger led them--OK, followed them--to those opening victories over the Packers and Lions?

Since Vince Evans' field day against the replacement Chiefs?

Since Bo Jackson turned the Kingdome over?

One thing about their season, anything good was transitory, too.

A replacement line that included Howie Long and Bill Pickel let little Joe Dudek run for 136 yards at Denver when it appeared that the Raiders had a lock on a 5-0 start. Evans threw that game-losing interception to San Diego's Elvis Patterson and their start was 3-2, instead.

Hilger, overmatched from the start, was hooked in the Packer, Seahawk and Viking games before finally surrendering the job. Jackson missed the last two games with a sprained ankle. If he intends to compete for a spot in the Jim Brown-Walter Payton pantheon, he has already missed more games than they did in their combined careers.

But if you want to know what's going to happen to the Raiders, it starts with Bo.

And nobody knows what's going to happen. Probably not even Bo.

When has an organization been caught in such a high-stakes, win-all or lose-all situation? If the Raiders wind up with Jackson, then Al Davis has his coup of the ages, even if he has to throw away a season or two to secure it.

If Jackson turns out to be a baseball player, the Raiders are going to wish they had never heard of him.

And things even being close to equal, Bo seems to prefer baseball. Above all, he seeks to control his own destiny and seems more comfortable in baseball, where players are treated as individual entrepreneurs, rather than football where they sit in meetings, watch films and are regimented from sunrise to sunset. Not to mention, beaten up on Sundays.

If Jackson were to hit .250 this season for the Royals with 25 homers, you might never see him in a Raider uniform again.

Of course, the Raider hope rests on things being not remotely close to equal. In football, Jackson is a franchise player. In baseball, he's a phenom who floundered last season.

The Royals now have a rookie named Gary Thurman penciled in to play left field and say Bo may start the season in Omaha.

A year ago, co-owner Avron Fogelman kept Jackson on the big league team over the objections of the manager and coaches, but Jackson will have to earn a spot on the roster this time. Remember, when Jackson signed with the Raiders, the Royals were in first place and the resulting furor undermined their season. They seem determined not to let a young man who remains only a prospect put them in that position again.

How could the Raiders get caught in this position?

Coach Tom Flores maintains they went into this with their eyes wide open, and they have it together now.

"There's a disruption if we want to make it one," Flores said last week. "But we know what his availability is. We know when he'll be able to help us."

In reality, the situation must have caught them by surprise. If they weren't surprised by how great he was, who could have expected a 6.8-yard rushing average?

And they certainly didn't expect to be so bad when Bo joined them, and to become so dependent upon him overnight.

One moment, they were stumblebums on a seven-game losing streak. Then Jackson joined Marcus Allen in the backfield and the Raiders got 1,001 yards against the Seahawks and Bills. Bo got hurt and the offense went back to its former rate of production--two touchdowns in three games.

Raider players aren't as stoic. Dokie Williams was asked recently whether teammates kid Jackson about his decision.

"Oh yeah, guys kid each other all the time, about every thing," Williams said.

What do they say, "Please don't leave?"

"We don't come out and say it like that," said Williams, laughing. "Not all the time, anyway.

"No, as a unit, we all hope that Bo is around as much as possible. If he decides to play baseball, so be it. We wish Bo the best in whatever he plans to do.

"But like you said, (falsetto) 'Please don't leave, Bo!' "

Said Todd Christensen last week:

"We've gotten to the point now where, at least from the Raider standpoint, it's not cute or funny anymore. You know we laughed--'Please choose this, please choose that, ha ha.'

"Now it loses its levity when you're 5-9.

"As an athlete, I envy his choices. He's one of the few athletes who gets to dictate his destiny. You people (reporters) have been around enough athletes to see how the insecurity is rampant: 'Gee, I had a good year, are they going to take me back?' kind of thing. Somebody is always making your decisions for you.

"Here's a guy at the height of his physical skill who has two sports bidding for him. Here's a guy who can put his fingers in his ears and do this to the Establishment. That's kinda fun."

Since Jackson is so contrary, did Christensen think rationality will play a part in the decision?

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