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Making Quarterbacks' Hair Stand on End : Raiders: Long-haired defensive end Scott Davis has come a long way in three years to be one of AFC's top pass rushers.

November 16, 1990|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If being a Raider means getting to let your hair down, then defensive end Scott Davis is making a serious run at Rapunzel.

Make fun of Davis at your own peril. He's 6-feet-7, 270 pounds and makes a living squashing quarterbacks. He has seven sacks, fifth among AFC pass rushers this season.

If there's talent to be tapped, the Raiders don't care if you braid your hair and skip rope with it. Davis, at last, is living up to his first-round potential after two seasons of mixed reviews and some off-the-field scrapes.

Part of becoming a free-spirited Raider is backing up your quirks with production. Braggarts with no talent have no place in Raider lore, not with the memories of "Tooz" and "the Stork" still fresh.

Davis has the tools to step to the forefront. He's enormous, for one. Second, he detests the football laws that govern most teams, which explains flowing locks of shoulder-length blond hair and an original post-quarterback sack dance. Davis has also endured personal problems, too, but that never has tarnished a Raider image.

He takes the most heat about his hair, which is cropped short on top and around the ears but rolls unrestrained down the back of his neck below his shoulders.

"It's more from the crowds," he said. "I can remember Seattle, Houston. They comment about your hair. If you could, you'd jump up in the stands and grab ahold of them."

What about "Goldilocks?"

"Yeah, I even got that one in the last game," he said. "As long as it's in good taste and fun, I don't mind. I think even they made a comment, one of the broadcasters, about Goldilocks, or me having the longest hair in the NFL. It doesn't bother me."

Davis couldn't imagine playing for a conventional team. Vince Lombardi, no doubt, would have stalked him with garden shears. "It's rather ridiculous to have certain limits put on a player," he said. "How you should wear your hair, what you should wear. A football player is a football player because of his ability, not because of what he wears or how he looks. . . . I imagine if I went to another team, and they wanted me to cut my hair, I would cut my hair. I don't think it's worth losing sleep over."

Davis has left the sleepless nights to opposing quarterbacks. The Raiders made a decision earlier this season to quit moving Davis from side to side and have planted him at right end. There, Davis has sprouted into a major force. He had three sacks against Green Bay last week and has already surpassed his personal high of 5 1/2 sacks as a rookie in 1988.

With seven sacks in nine games, Davis has a chance to jump into an elite group of pass rushers.

"I'd like to," he said. "I have a lot of goals for myself, goals I don't talk about until they happen. I'd like nothing better than to keep excelling--more sacks, more tackles."

This is what the Raiders had in mind when they drafted Davis from the University of Illinois with the 25th overall selection. But his first two seasons have been nothing compared to his third.

"He's improved tremendously," Raider Coach Art Shell said. "We always thought he had the potential to be an outstanding football player; now he's coming around. You don't always get results (right away). Sometimes, guys have to mature at this level. Not too many great ones come out of college and step in and be great."

Davis almost never stepped into the pros at all. He was a tight end in high school. When the Illinois coaching staff wanted to switch Davis to defensive end after his freshman season, he balked.

"It's probably the most difficult transition I had to go through as a player," he said. "Coming out of high school, I was young. You don't realize these people have been around a while and know what they see in a player, or know what may be the best direction for him to go. Sometimes you don't realize it. I was fighting it every step of the way. It was really difficult. I just didn't foresee myself as a powerful defensive lineman. I think it's worked out pretty well."

As Davis emerges to become a more prominent player, he hopes to put a trail of trouble behind him. Four times since 1987, Davis has been the subject of battery allegations in his home state. Three of the cases involved women.

The night before the 1988 NFL draft, he was arrested outside a campus bar for allegedly grabbing a 19-year old female student by the hair and shoving her to the ground. He was acquitted.

In 1987, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of battery and fined $150 in a case involving a male art student.

Davis said it has been the criticism of his personal life, not his playing ability, that has affected him most.

"I think a lot of people focused on things they really didn't need to focus on, whether it was the trouble I got into, from that aspect," he said.

"None of that happened, but people are going to make a big thing out of it. You're put in the public eye and you don't appreciate those things, especially when you know they didn't happen. Unfortunately, you're susceptible to a lot of different attacks through the public, but that's in the past. I don't worry too much about that. If they want to dwell on it, that's their problem. I don't need to deal with those people.

"I'm here to play football. I'm not here to talk about or worry about what people want to think about me personally."

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