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PRO FOOTBALL '95 : In Oakland, They've Gone From Matuszak to Muzak : Raiders: Even with ticket snafus, here are 10 reasons why they will be back in the playoffs.

August 31, 1995|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You call for Raider ticket information, you are put on hold and they play classical music. Image, baby, whatever the people with money want to hear.

No more penalties, no more stilted X's and O's. No more biker gangs unless they have personal seat licenses. The Raiders are back in Oakland, but they are going San Francisco on offense. No more fourth-quarter collapses on defense, no more special team blunders, no more affordable tickets.

"Tickets are $40, $50 and $60 each with personal seat licenses going from $250 to $4,000 at the regular level," a Raider ticket saleswoman said. "But listen, that's a great deal because you also get the first opportunity to buy playoff tickets. And, as you well know, the Raiders are going to the playoffs this year."

The Raiders have gone to the playoffs only three times in the last nine seasons, but here are 10 reasons why they have spruced up their act:

1. No more leather helmets: They say Al Davis is going to step aside, allow Mike White & the Art Shell Backstabbers to install a modern offense, one that works, and get away from that cobwebbed vertical game. Ha, ha, ha. Al Davis is going to step aside, all right, until the first losing streak, no, the first loss, no, the first interception. But wait--what if he really does let Mike White do his Bill Walsh imitation?

2. 88-24-3: The Raiders never had a losing season in the Oakland Coliseum. Davis has reportedly told friends the home-field advantage will be worth four to six points. The Raiders are four-point picks to beat the San Diego Chargers at home Sunday.

3. Commitment to change: In the past five years, five runners have led the Raiders in rushing: Harvey Williams, Greg Robinson, Eric Dickerson, Roger Craig and Bo Jackson. Williams figures to be the first since Marcus Allen to repeat, and the first since Allen in 1985 to top the 1,000-yard mark. Williams is now only 92 career rushing touchdowns behind Allen.

4. The Hoss is boss: Jeff Hostetler says he didn't have arm problems last year, so why couldn't he hit the ocean if given a spot on the Santa Monica Pier? He passed for 3,334 yards--second-highest single season total in Raider history--and once the other receivers on the team, besides Tim Brown, introduce themselves, the yards will really pile up.

5. Cakewalk: The Chargers face the toughest schedule in the NFL this year (opponents have a combined .579 winning percentage). The Kansas City Chiefs (.546) face the next toughest, and the Raiders (.492) have an even easier path to the playoffs than the Denver Broncos (.496). Last chance for a cold-weather game is in New Jersey against the New York Giants on Nov. 12.

6. Rocket takes on fuel: Why could Brown, a former Notre Dame receiver, grasp the Raider offense, and Rocket Ismail, a former Notre Dame receiver, could not? The off-season has been dedicated to tutoring Ismail. The departure of Alexander Wright provides blastoff opportunity.

7. Marinovich-ed: Now that enigmatic Scott Davis has gone the way of Todd Marinovich and disappeared into the sunset, the Raiders can settle down and count on quarterback muggers such as Pat Swilling and Anthony Smith. Swilling has 86 1/2 sacks in the last nine seasons and should add to that total if Chester McGlockton continues to occupy opponents' attention. The pass rush is essential because the secondary has the ability to make every opposition quarterback look like Dan Marino or John Elway.

8. Nice guys, really: The 156 penalties last season established an NFL record--one White intends to not challenge this season. Imagine sitting down John Matuszak, Lyle Alzado and Matt Millen and urging the lads to work hard for that good sportsmanship award. Nasty, dirty, penalty play is all right when winning, but the Raiders have been less than intimidating in the last four seasons with a 35-29 mark. The Raiders averaged 9.8 penalties a game last season, seven a game during this exhibition season.

9. Pigs or Hogs? Raider opponents think the team is going to run the ball better for one reason: Joe Bugel. The former Cardinal coach, who assembled the Hogs in Washington on their way to the Super Bowl, will have to make do without center Don Mosebar. But Bugel still has Gerald Perry, Steve Wisniewski and Kevin Gogan, and that's more than he had to work with when he first began to train the Hogs.

10. You could look it up: The Raiders have the advantage of opening at home against the Chargers, the defending AFC West Division champions, and since 1965, the Raiders have had the opportunity to open the season at home 10 times. In each case, they won. It's never too early to make those Super Bowl hotel reservations in Phoenix.

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