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Rams Can't Tell the Difference : NFL: Players downplay notion of a cross-town rivalry, say Raiders are just another Sunday opponent.

November 11, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Raider week. In Kansas City, Denver and San Diego, the women and children are packed off to stay with relatives. Pregame hype prompts players to talk excitedly about the anticipated brawl, the unbridled hatred they have for football's renowned cheap-shot artists and the desire to make them eat dirt come Sunday.

The locker room bulletin board is burdened with nasty Raider rhetoric to agitate the hometown athletes. In response, someone questions Al Davis' genius, another cautions teammates not to be suckered into a fight and all agree the Raider rivalry is something special.

But in Orange County, the Raiders are just another football team.

"Rivalry? The Raiders?" said Anthony Newman, Ram defensive captain. "Yeah, you got that skeleton on their helmets and they're bad guys, ugly guys, villains. But come on, they're just another football team--no uglier than us.

"Now when we go up against the 49ers, that's a different story. They are uglier. They are in our division and we want what they have. The Raiders have nothing we want."

There are bragging rights.

"We see those guys all the time when we go out to the clubs," wide receiver Flipper Anderson said. "So just to have bragging rights and be tops with the girls in the city, that's something. But other than that, I don't see it as a rivalry. I think you will see more fights in the stands than on the field."

The battle for L.A. has attracted a sold-out audience at Anaheim Stadium for the first time since 1992. And although the players don't seem whipped into a frenzy, extra stadium security has been hired to referee any disputes between the Hatfields and McCoys.

"I saw the fans in the preseason going at it, but I'm not really into this Raider rivalry thing," Ram defensive end Fred Stokes said. "I watch TV and I still get pumped up watching Dallas because of my days playing in Washington.

"But the Raiders? They say we're going to fight this team, but I don't have anything against them. I'm just a visitor here, and it's just another game we have to win."

Jackie Slater is the true-blue Ram with historical perspective. He played the Raiders while they still hailed from Oakland and has been in uniform for six of the seven games played between the teams, including the four since the Raiders' move to Los Angeles.

Slater has blocked Lyle Alzado, John Matuszak, Ted Hendricks and Howie Long, and although most of his teammates plead ignorance, he not only knows who Otis Sistrunk was, but also played against him.

"The Raiders have traditionally had the reputation of being a bunch of fighting, scrapping, cheap-shotting guys, but you know what? I can't remember having a game with them where we experienced that," Slater said. "When we play the Raiders, all I get is a dose of hard-nosed football. There was nobody trying to gouge your eyes out.

"On the other hand, I have seen games where they are playing other people and you see a lot of things happening that they are known for. I don't know why, but when they play us, they just try to kick our butts straight up."

The Raiders hold a 5-2 series edge, including a 16-6 victory in 1985 in the only regular-season game played in Anaheim Stadium, but the present-day Raiders have the same record--4-5--as their neighbors.

"The Raiders' mystique comes from the old Raiders," Ram linebacker Joe Kelly said. "The Atkinsons, Tatums and Alzados established that attitude, but I don't think they have those kind of players anymore. No one is worried about that mystique anymore. If you go out there and smash them in the mouth, that mystique is over with.

"It's not like the Raiders have been dominating the last few years. They've been just a so-so team. They have some guys who like to portray that image, but I know they're not tough."

Tough-talking Kelly, of course, is a former Raider, a veteran of weekly trash talk who hasn't endorsed "the Raiders are just another team" position in Orange County.

"The Raiders don't respect the Rams," Kelly said. "Look at it, it's not like they're going to Kansas City. They feel like they will have just as many fans as we will have in Anaheim."

That's because they own L.A.

"They own L.A. until Sunday," Kelly said.

For many of the Rams this will be their first regular-season collision with the Raiders. They do not understand Kelly's war, and a so-called commitment to excellence doesn't mean much after watching videotape of dropped passes and missed opportunities.

"If you haven't played them, you can't really hate them," Ram running back Jerome Bettis said. "Fans can get all into a team and its image, but it's different for players because you see areas where they are vulnerable.

"Black jerseys don't make you tough. I mean, I don't really buy into the image thing, because the way I look at it, we're going to go out there and pound those guys."

Spoken like a true Raider opponent.

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