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NFL PLAYOFFS : Raiders Finally a Force That Creates Fear Again : Pro football: But they say they still aren't receiving the respect they deserve from the rest of the league.

January 11, 1994|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Respect.

That's what the Raiders have long sought from opponents, whether those opponents were on other teams, in the league hierarchy or in various courtrooms.

It was all well and good for the Dallas Cowboys to drape themselves in the flag, seek love and devotion across the nation and become "America's Team."

But that was not for the Raiders, thank you. They draped themselves in black long before the L.A. Kings or Atlanta Falcons ever thought of it, put a pirate on their logo and fashioned an image of terror--terrifying speed, terrifying hits and terrifying results to those who opposed them.

It was an easy sell when the Raiders were truly terrifying the league, running up impressive records and winning Super Bowls.

And the Raiders used their image, their mystique and the respect they had earned to win a few psychological battles before they ever stepped on the field.

But it only works when you are winning. There is nothing terrifying about a loser. Teams that sit home when the playoffs start don't get any respect.

And after winning Super Bowl XVIII at the end of the 1983 season, the Raiders ran into a long dry spell. They had only won two division titles and one postseason game in the ensuing 10 years until Sunday's 42-24 wild-card victory over the Denver Broncos.

But suddenly, the image is back. Suddenly, the Coliseum is filled again and the mystique is casting a dark shadow across the league.

True, it was only one victory. True, the Raiders still have a tough road through frigid Buffalo ahead of them on Saturday and would find a third-round opponent in their path to the Super Bowl should they survive against the Bills.

But even if they don't win another game, the Raiders seem to have won the grudging respect of those who had given up on them.

Point made? Goal at least partially achieved?

Not quite.

The Raiders still feel underappreciated. They still feel the respect isn't there.

Receiver Tim Brown talked about it after Sunday's victory.

"Let people keep saying, 'They can't do it. They can't do it,' " Brown said. "Before you know it, we'll be lined up in Atlanta for the Super Bowl."

Quarterback Jeff Hostetler touched on the same theme while still enjoying the glow of his greatest Raider victory.

"I don't think we get a lot of respect from the media," he said.

His words were echoed Monday by his coach, Art Shell.

"We still don't have respect," he said. "For whatever reason, we haven't gotten the kind of respect that we think we deserve. . . . We're a good team and, as long as we know we're a good team and I feel we're a good team, I'm not concerned."

Shell himself did not always get respect when the team was losing. When the Raiders went 7-9 last season, he was accused of allowing internal dissension to eat away at the club. When the team struggled until the closing weeks of this season, he was accused of not getting enough out of his talent.

Does he feel vindication now that he has returned to the winner's circle with a club that seems to be peaking at the right point?

"Vindication?" he said. "I'm not looking for vindication. I'm just looking for wins. That's not important to me to get vindication or revenge. . . . When you win, all those other things become secondary."

But much as the Raiders used the respect they earned in earlier days as a psychological tool against the opposition, are Shell and his players now using what is perceived as a lack of respect--never specified--as a psychological weapon for their own players? By circling the wagons against the enemy, real or perceived, and bemoaning the lack of respect, are the Raiders being brought closer together?

"There are certain things that turn people on to win," Shell said. "The march toward the Super Bowl. It's (fueled) by either money, or the ring, or the idea of being called a world champion. Whatever it takes to turn you on and get you motivated to play, that's great."

So let the Cowboys be America's Team. Shell is perfectly satisfied with the Raiders being portrayed as the team America loves to hate.

True or not, if it works for some of his players, Shell won't dispute the image.

He's only interested in winning the Super Bowl. The respect will follow.

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