Davis shows signs of nostalgia for the Oakland days. On his roster this year are Henry (Killer) Lawrence, 36, the oldest offensive tackle in the league, and Jim Plunkett, 39, the oldest player in the league. Both helped Davis win his 1981 and '84 Super Bowl rings. Davis still has 15 starters from the '84 game, 11 of whom are 30 or older. Davis is sentimental that way. Dalby stayed on until he was 35, Cliff Branch until 37. Guard Mickey Marvin is 31 and badly injured, and Charley Hannah is 32 and still playing. A wonderful old group of guys and here's to 'em, but judging by the 64 sacks the line gave up last year—worst in the AFC—they are not so good at keeping large, colorfully dressed men out of the quarterback's nostrils. Even Lawrence was replaced last year by Shelby Jordan, who is four months younger than Killer. Some youth movement.
"So what?" says Long, who is 27. "I don't see that as a fault. I want to know that if I bust my butt all those years, I'll be remembered, too." So it's funny, but the same thing that makes the Raiders Paradise Found for players also occasionally makes the Raiders an 8-8 team. Says Long, "It's called loyalty." Davis finally succumbed this year; he took two linemen with his first and second picks and, against all Raider tradition, he may be starting them before the season is half complete.
Davis's one-man campaign against the league has cost his team dearly. Some believe the rest of the league is conspiring to keep Davis from acquiring a top quarterback. Is it just coincidence that Davis, a man who was always ready with a great quarterback, wouldn't offer enough to get Neil Lomax of St. Louis this off-season? When Davis became interested in Doug Williams, who has thrown only one pass in the NFL in five years, the Redskins wanted a first-round draft choice for him. Raider insiders still say that the league moved to keep Davis from making a 1983 trade with Chicago that would have put the Raiders in a position to get John Elway from Baltimore. "I'm not saying it's true or not," says Elway's agent, Marvin Demoff. "But I don't think it's farfetched."
Davis and his staff also have made some quarterback blunders. For starters, they could have had Dan Marino—but so could 25 other teams. "I think we just got too much information on Marino," says Raider personnel director Ron Wolf. "We kept hearing his arm was dead." They also watched Jay Schroeder work out before he was drafted, and passed on him. Schroeder led the NFC in passing yards last season for the Redskins. They made no attempt to get Jim Everett from Houston, and the Rams signed him.
So here's what Davis is left with. Marc Wilson had a better year than Plunkett in '86 ( Wilson was 5-3 as a starter, Plunkett 3-5), but Davis has no confidence in Wilson and neither do the fans. In a cruel L.A. Herald-Examiner write-in poll in late 1985, Brock defeated Wilson as the worst quarterback in L.A. Whether Davis voted we don't know, but word is he went down at half-time of a game in Dallas and told coach Tom Flores to take Wilson out, that he didn't want to see him the rest of the season. And, indeed, he scarcely did.
Plunkett won the next two games, but then something decidedly un-Raiderish happened. "We're 8-4 and then we blow the season," Davis says. "It's the first time we've cracked in a long while."
Now the Raiders say they will come bounding back with—write this in pencil if you like—Rusty Hilger, which is not a drink you order in a frou-frou bar but a third-year quarterback with whom the Raiders are stuck. The Raiders say they are ready to follow Hilger all the way, but then Davis says something cryptic like, "If Jimmy [ Plunkett] can just give us six games this year, we'll be all right." And Plunkett, who will be 40 before the season is over, is eating it up. "When are you building that new stadium?" he asked Davis one day.
"Maybe by 1990," Davis said.
"Good. Then my quote is, 'I want to play in the new stadium.' "
You have to figure his odds are better than Hilger's.