Professional football may or may not be ready for the backfield of. . . Napoleon McCallum and Todd Peat??? Who would be? No matter how unprepared anyone was for the low-scoring Los Angeles Raiders to pop for 75 points in two games, or for the mile-high Denver Broncos to hyperventilate and gag again here at sea level, absolutely nothing could have braced the football world for a playoff-bound backfield of Lt. McCallum and Mr. Peat, the sailor and the destroyer.
These were the secret weapons of the Raiders as they prevailed once more over the three-strikes-and-you're-out Broncos, who with minutes remaining in Sunday's game at the Coliseum were so clearly beaten that at quarterback they sent for Tommy Maddox, the surrender equivalent of Appomattox. The final score was 42-24, and it instantly turned the Raiders into America's team, because someone has to spare us from another Super Bowl involving the Buffalo Bills.
McCallum, saying "I finally made it to the promised land," had a 26-yard run for a touchdown, the longest run from scrimmage of the entire Raider season and his own longest since leaving the Naval Academy. He also scored twice more, following the search-and-destroy blocking of the 305-pound Peat, an offensive guard who lined up in an I-formation and cleared a hole like no one since the heyday of Refrigerator Perry.
"So \o7 that's\f7 how a fullback feels," Peat said later.
At a game that began so ominously for the Raiders, with quarterback Jeff Hostetler being sacked on his first play from scrimmage and defensive tackle Chester McGlockton breaking a bone in his leg on \o7 his\f7 first play from scrimmage, a crowd of 65,314 was wildly entertained by an old-style Raider-Bronco game that had everything but Fred Biletnikoff and Rick Upchurch, with one bombs-away pass after another.
Thirteen catches by Shannon Sharpe of Denver might have dominated the game statistically, but you will see few better catches this season than an over-the-shoulder grab by James Jett of the Raiders during which he spun around and around until ultimately he resembled Willie Mays running under a baseball hit by Vic Wertz.
And to think this great game nearly failed to sell out. Why were all the available tickets not bought? That will remain a mystery for the ages, although a Denver offensive lineman, Gary Zimmerman, made a joke beforehand that if the Raiders had offered a free ticket to every one of their fans who turned in a handgun, there wouldn't have been an empty seat in the house.
There were fireworks, all right. Emotional ones.
Triggering some of them was a low--and we do mean low--block thrown by Bronco right guard Brian Habib at the legs of McGlockton, who heard a crack and had to be wheeled off the field by electric cart. McGlockton's linemate and close friend, Howie Long, was particularly put out, saying: "There's no place in the NFL for a block like that. None."
More emotional commotion followed after Hostetler, who probably never dreamed that he would end up handing off 28 times to McCallum and Tyrone Montgomery while throwing only 19 passes, scrambled out of bounds on one play only to be undercut by Le-Lo Lang. Out of reflex, Hostetler went after the tackler, risking eviction, whereupon offensive lineman Steve Wisniewski offered his support by clocking Lang with his forearm.
That's how wild a game it was, with an NFL playoff-record 27 penalties.
But it was the peace-loving McCallum, the good lieutenant, who ended up the conquering hero. No running back on this squad had ripped off a run longer than 16 yards all season, but when McCallum's 26-yard bolt midway through the third quarter took him into the end zone standing up, he celebrated with a spike that sent the ball bouncing like Silly Putty, several feet above his head.
"Definitely one of the best days I've ever had," McCallum said. "I can't wait to go home and celebrate with my wife."
Inactivity had been McCallum's burden for so long, whether it be because his employers already had a Marcus Allen or a Bo Jackson or because he was laid up by appendicitis. After such a splendid career at the academy, it had to hurt McCallum that his pro career never took off. The joy in his voice was palpable when he said: "I love playing football. I love playing with these guys."
As far as teammates were concerned, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
"I love Nap," Long said. "Here's a guy, well, let's just say I have no idea if I could have persevered through everything he has in his career. I remember when he stood night watch for the Navy, midnight to 8. Then he'd drive his car north, with no sleep, to practice with us. He's the kind of guy you'd want to marry your daughter. He's like a Navy highlight film.
"Let me tell you something about Napoleon McCallum," Long added, laughing. "He has no moves, he's slow and I have no idea how he does it. But he's one hell of a football player."
And speaking of no moves. . . .
Three hundred-plus pounds of Peat went plopping on top of the Denver Bronco season, the biggest surprise of the playoffs thus far. Peat, whose nickname from his teammates is "Heavy," did everything but carry the ball and said afterward: "Maybe we'll get around to that later. Today I was happy to do whatever I could to help us win the game. I haven't done anything like this since high school or college, and obviously it was a lot of fun. That was some collision out there! I don't know if Denver was expecting that."