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New Faces Order of (Opening) Day for the Raiders : Pro football: They'll be led by Hostetler and Robinson against Minnesota Vikings.

September 05, 1993|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new Raider season starts today in a new Coliseum with a new offense, a new quarterback, a new tailback, a new offense, a new attitude and a new outlook.

But the same nagging questions remain.

Can the Raiders put points on the scoreboard?

Can they put the controversy of the past season behind them?

Can they regain the respect and mystique that once allowed them to cut a wide swath through the AFC West?

Can Jeff Hostetler, Greg Robinson and Rocket Ismail, when he is activated, provide the spark so obviously missing a year ago?

Can the Raiders' track team of receivers run away with a couple of victories?

Can the Raiders fill the leadership gap left by the departure of Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott?

Can the Raiders fill the Coliseum seats?

The answers will start coming today beginning at 1 p.m. against the Minnesota Vikings.

But Coach Art Shell is quick to caution reading too many answers into the first 60 minutes of play.

"It's a long season," he said. ". . . You can't make a decision about your football team on one game. You can't do that whether you win or lose. You can win the first one and lose all the rest of them. You can lose the first one and win all the rest of them.

"I think, our team thinks and this organization thinks that we're capable of winning our division. But you've got to go out and play. The talent is here. Now the talent has to step forward. Everybody writes us off. We're not writing ourselves off."

A year ago, the Raiders narrowly lost to the Broncos in their opener at Denver, a victory no more than a step away, the step quarterback John Elway took to avoid what could have been a victory-clinching sack for the Raiders. Instead, Elway's clutch move kept alive what turned out to be a winning drive for the Broncos.

The Raiders not only lost that game, but the next one as well, switched quarterbacks, lost two more games and never recovered, finishing out of the playoffs at 7-9.

Now, Hostetler is at quarterback; Robinson, an eighth-round draft choice, is at tailback in place of injured Nick Bell; Rocket Ismail will join the fleet corps of receivers in the near future; Joe Kelly is trying to bolster the linebacking unit, a major weakness last season, and Derrick Hoskins and top draft choice Patrick Bates are trying to keep the strong safety spot strong despite the off-season exit of Lott as a free agent.

The Raiders won't be the only team on the field with a new look. The Vikings have a new quarterback, too, and an Ismail of their own.

Much-traveled, much-maligned Jim McMahon is Minnesota's quarterback. Say what you want about McMahon, you could never call him unobtrusive. Whether winning a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears or losing in San Diego, McMahon has drawn controversy the way he has drawn opposing linemen.

On balance, he won far more often than he lost in stints with the Bears, Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles.

McMahon is 3-1 as a starter against the Raiders and, overall, his .702 winning percentage as a starting quarterback is second only to the .719 mark of Joe Montana among active NFL quarterbacks. McMahon has won five of six opening-day starts.

"I think what Jim McMahon wants to be known for now is how he plays the game of football, and not so much his character and things outside the football field," Viking Coach Dennis Green said.

And how does McMahon feel about all the coverage he has received over the years?

"That's pretty much all you guys ever talk about," McMahon told reporters. "You don't really talk about what happens on the field.

"When I've played, I've won. That's the bottom line."

While all the attention in Los Angeles focused on his brother, Viking rookie Qadry Ismail enjoyed an impressive exhibition season. Last week, he had kickoff returns of 55 and 42 yards. And he led the team during the exhibition season with 14 catches for 151 yards.

There will be two other keys for the Vikings today. Running back Barry Word, obtained from the Kansas City Chiefs in a trade on Monday, is ineligible for the first game because he reported late to training camp with the Chiefs. That means veteran Roger Craig, a former Raider, will start in the Minnesota backfield.

The Vikings will start a rookie, Everett Lindsay, at left tackle, a crucial position against the Raiders' strong defensive line.

Raider Notes

Today's game will be the first matchup of black head coaches in league history. "It's the Vikings versus the Raiders," Minnesota Coach Dennis Green said. "But at the same time, I think there a lot of people who like the idea that two young guys have been given the opportunity and two organizations have hired the best available man for the job and that race is not an issue. In that regard, I think it's very positive." . . . Because of the changes caused by the new seating configuration, the Raiders will have employees in bright pink shirts to assist fans.

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