Last Friday night against the Patriots, Marcus Allen dashed off his latest bit of free-form work, an off-tackle dive on fourth-and-one that he turned into a 16-yard touchdown run down the left sideline. When Allen came back to the bench, a deferential rookie ducked under a cluster of high fives to give the veteran star a pat on the shoulder pads. That was the most action Ensign Napoleon McCallum saw during the game.
Allen and McCallum may have looked worlds apart just then, but in fact they were getting closer by the moment to playing together in the Raider backfield. Last week the Navy ruled that the 23-year-old McCallum, the NCAA career record holder in all-purpose yardage (7,172), can play in NFL games. Although the Navy has previously let some active-duty personnel hold outside jobs, it has never allowed an Annapolis graduate to pursue a professional sports career while completing his five-year service obligation.
"I wasn't expecting anything," said McCallum. "I was just glad for anything that would give me a chance to play pro football." Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman Jr. ruled that McCallum can play for the Raiders only on a "not-to-interfere basis" with his military duties. McCallum is currently an assistant food services officer aboard the USS Peleliu at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.
The Peleliu could go to sea on training runs as early as December, which would make it difficult for him to practice. McCallum hopes he can arrange for his watch duty to fall on Tuesday, the Raiders' day off. But he will still miss all of the team's morning meetings. "There are still some details we have to get worked out," says Raider coach Tom Flores.
The last detail—and one that is still far from a certainty—is whether McCallum will even make the team. The Raiders' hierarchy has been struggling to decide what to do with him ever since the Navy unexpectedly dropped him in their lap.
The scheduling conflicts are the reason Flores is currently looking at McCallum as a kickoff and punt returner and will only gradually move him to running back. The trouble is, there's already a crowd behind Allen in the backfield, and if the Raiders keep McCallum, they will probably have to cut seven-year veteran Kenny King and open the season with a pair of rookies—fourth-round pick Vance Mueller has also looked good—as Allen's caddies. The Raiders had never expected to have McCallum this year, and wouldn't have had him if the Navy hadn't made its carefully calculated public relations move.
Still, Raider owner Al Davis wore a Cheshire-cat grin last week. Although McCallum was considered the second-best running back in the draft behind Bo Jackson of Auburn, the Raiders were still able to pick him in the fourth round because other teams were scared off by his military commitment. And even if the Raiders don't open the season with him, he will be available on the "military reserve" list.
Last month McCallum signed a four-year contract with the Raiders that included a $700,000 signing bonus. Before being stationed on the Peleliu, McCallum took a 30-day leave to attend training camp. In a 32-0 loss to the 49ers on Aug. 10, he returned punts and carried the ball twice from scrimmage for 15 yards. Some critics contend McCallum runs too slow and too high and lacks the bulk to make it as an NFL back. The same criticisms were once leveled at Allen, who says, "Napoleon doesn't have great speed, but he has competitive speed. Which means that in a game situation, he gets faster."
Right now, though, even McCallum would agree that he's moving fast enough.