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This tells you two things about the Chiefs—there's a new wave of optimism on a club that has been the division patsy for more than a decade, and the schedule is murderous. First three games? How about the first five? There's the opener at New Orleans—the Saints are always cranked up for their first home game—then the Raiders four days later, Miami on the road, Seattle and then the Raiders on the road. K.C. has the toughest schedule in the league. Ten games are against '84 playoff teams, and the Chiefs meet both Super Bowl clubs away. John Mackovic, their young coach, says he likes it that way (what else is he going to say?). If you're gonna play like the best, then you've got to beat the best.
The Chiefs closed out the '84 season by beating the Broncos, Seahawks and Chargers. "We were going nowhere, but those three games became vital to us," veteran guard Tom Condon says. "They were our playoffs."
The new wave of enthusiasm has carried over to the front office. All the rookies were signed, including No. 1 pick Ethan Horton, the best running back in the draft. He came to terms two days after owner Lamar Hunt paid a visit to camp, noted his absence and upped the ante. This spirit of free spending also produced big new contracts for five veteran stars—and this is a club that's traditionally had negotiating problems. The team as a whole reported in such good shape that Mackovic cut the full-pads workouts to one a day, gearing everything to having fresh legs for those first five games.
The LOS ANGELES RAIDERS were out-toughed by the Broncos, Steelers, Seahawks and Bears last year. Who can forget the sight of the walls collapsing against Seattle in the playoffs, and Jim Plunkett running for his life, desperately heaving passes into double and triple coverage? The quarterback situation was, and still is, in turmoil, and the running game died when the offensive line started springing some Titanic-sized leaks.
In a normal year there would be an influx of superstars to take up the slack, an aging veteran who suddenly sprouts wings, a rookie sleeper who blossoms, but they seem to have missed roll call this time. Top draft pick Jessie Hester probably will replace 37-year-old Cliff Branch, whose pass receiving fell off to practically zero late last season, but Jessie wasn't wowing anybody in camp. Guard Curt Marsh broke his arm. Once he was considered the offensive-line star of the future, along with Don Mosebar, who's now playing backup center.
Marcus Allen will carry the offense. Howie Long and Rod Martin and a great secondary will carry the defense, maybe even far enough to get the Raiders into the playoffs.
San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos has had a full year to size up the situation, and what he has found isn't good. Last year, as the new kid on the block, he bit his tongue. This summer he said the following:
"I came in at midseason and had the management of the previous owner. His thinking was different from mine. I will not tolerate negligence. People had become too lax around here."
The message is clear. Don Coryell had better win or he's gone. As for general manager Johnny Sanders, he looks to be on the way out. Spanos was pushing his own guy, Ron Nay, formerly an area scout, now the chief scout. On the eve of camp, Nay cut nine veterans, one-fifth of the team, without input from either Coryell or Sanders. He ran the draft, which will produce at least three starters—Jim Lachey at left tackle, Wayne Davis at a corner and Jeffrey Dale at safety.
The USFL has provided running back Tim Spencer; Lee Williams, a defensive line starter; James Lockette, who had 13 sacks for the Generals last season; and Trumaine Johnson, who might replace split end Charlie Joiner if Trumaine gets his routes straightened out. If they acquire Gary Anderson, one of the USFL's flashiest runners, and cornerback Mossy Cade, the rustling would be complete and the Chargers will have gathered the greatest collection of USFL talent of any NFL team. The Chargers even brought back Shane Nelson, the fulcrum of the old Buffalo Bermuda Triangle defense, and set him down at the strongside inside linebacker position, moving Billy Ray Smith to the weak side. Nelson hasn't played in almost three years, but he says his knee is well now.