- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Oakland Raiders have more of all those things dearest to a coach's heart than any other AFC team—the Kansas City Chiefs excepted. Since Oakland and KC play in the same division, this can be counted a misfortune for both but great fun for the fans. It will be less fun for San Diego and Denver, the division's other members.
Oakland is an established club that has felt little need to change, KC an established club—and winner of the division in 1971—that had to change just a little. The difference may be vital. Defensive End Jerry Mays left a year ago and Safety Johnny Robinson this season, and with their loss KC's defense may have surrendered some strength.
Still, the Chiefs' defense is sturdy, and their Len Dawson-led offense may be even more respectable than in years gone by. At 37, Quarterback Dawson has survived creaky knees and a sore arm, and behind him he has Mike Livingston, the husky five-year veteran who has taken up the slack nicely in the past and can be expected to do so again.
The offensive line is mostly vintage 1961—old, strong and cagey. There are powerful running backs in versatile Ed Podolak, who throws the option pass well, and Wendell Hayes and Nebraska rookie Jeff Kinney, a first-round draft choice who can spell either. Wide Receivers Elmo Wright and Otis Taylor and potential superstar Morris Stroud, a 6'10" tight end, give Dawson very good targets.
For all their marvelous talent, the Chiefs probably rate a shade behind the Raiders, who have two young, very capable quarterbacks in Daryle Lamonica and Kenny Stabler. Called "The Snake" because of his running style and build. Stabler has finally matured. Neither quarterback is exactly throwing into a vacuum. There are the exceptional running backs, Pete Banaszak and Marv Hubbard, who last year gained 1,430 yards between them, and Wide Receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who led the NFL with 61 receptions for 929 yards and nine touchdowns. With Raymond Chester at tight end, the Raiders could have the top passing game in pro football. Chester has been named to the Pro Bowl in both his seasons and has never been shut out in a league game.
Even if Biletnikoff and Chester do not play up to their old form, the Raiders have more than adequate consolation in two fine rookie receivers—their No. 1 draft choice from Villanova, Mike Siani, and their No. 4 from Colorado, Cliff Branch. Siani is 6'2", 195 and he had an impressive college career, scoring 33 touchdowns and gaining 2,776 yards receiving. Branch is smaller (5'11", 170) but faster (9.2 one hundred). He catches the ball almost as well and set an NCAA record with eight kick returns for touchdowns. He also runs back kicks for the Raiders and it looks like the switch to the pros won't crimp his style a bit.
The offensive line is strong on rushing plays and pass blocking; the defensive line—Tom Keating, Art Thoms, Carleton Oats and, after midseason, Ben Davidson—is equally effective.
At linebacker, the Raiders are no longer long in the tooth, and the defensive backs may be strong enough to take some of the load off the youngsters, which could be a significant help.
And, of course, if everything else fails, the Raiders can call on George Blanda, who at 45 can fire from his hip or shoulder or foot to win games. Blanda hit 15 out of 22 field goals last year from various ranges and he still seems to have eternal spring in his legs, as though winter will never come.
If there is to be a serious challenge to the rule of the Raiders and the Chiefs, it will come from San Diego, which has nested uncomfortably in third place in the AFC West for six years. The Chargers, to put it mildly, are not the same. Harland (Swede) Svare is slimmer, more alert, wiser and more agile as head coach of the Chargers than he was when he held the same position with the Los Angeles Rams. He credits experience and a severe vegetarian diet for what he hopes will be a more successful tenure at San Diego. If nothing else, the vegetables seem to have whetted his appetite for meat on the hoof—he surpassed the performance of alltime All-Pro swapper George Allen in revising his club for a new season. In the headiest of his trading years, Allen worked out 19 transactions for 33 players. Svare, younger and not as sold on old men as Allen, made 20, and he lost only one No. 2 future draft in the process.