Coach Walt Michaels' New York Jets had just beaten the detested Los Angeles Raiders, 17-14, last Saturday to advance to the AFC finals—against Miami, it turned out the next day—and now it was 10 minutes after the game and all the writers were jostling for position in the hallway outside the Jets' L.A. Coliseum locker room, because on the way inside Michaels had promised, "I'm gonna have something special to say about this damn Raider organization," and nobody wanted to miss it.
And now Walt reappeared. His eyes were blazing and he bit off his words like a man cracking walnuts and the guys in back strained to hear him, because this was the good stuff, the vintage stuff, the fiber and substance of the Jet-Raider rivalry that had illuminated the pages of the AFL's history. This was good old-fashioned hatred.
"I just want to say," Michaels barked, "that whatever member of the Raider organization called me on the phone at halftime and said my owner wanted to talk to me is a sick s.o.b. It's a sick, rotten way to try to disrupt our team. His initials are A.D. and I don't care if he knows it or not."
A.D.? Let's see... Adrian Dantley? Andy Devine? No, wait a minute. Al Davis, that's it. The Raiders' owner. The boss. Pete Rozelle's dark cloud. What a stunt, what a gimmick. Getting the opposing team's coach on the phone at half-time by claiming to be the owner. No one ever thought of that one before.
Michaels is a man who remembers. All those trips to Oakland to play Al's Raiders when Michaels was Jet Coach Weeb Ewbank's defensive assistant. The big picture in the Raiders' office of Ben Davidson knocking Joe Namath's helmet off; Al planting his guy, Maury Schleicher, on the Jets' team bus one time; Al coming into the Jets' hotel to yak with Namath on the eve of a game; the great fear that the locker room was bugged; the tarps that were mysteriously unrolled on the field in 1968 where the Jets were to practice; the Heidi Game; Namath's broken cheekbone; the $2,000 fine the Jets were hit with when Michaels stormed the officials' room after a loss at the Oakland Coliseum and tried to knock down the door with his fists.
Oh, yes, Walt remembers. He remembers that Al Davis fired him as a Raider assistant 19 years ago; he remembers all those bloody, brutal Jet-Raider donnybrooks, struggles like the one that had just taken place before 90,037 fans in the Coliseum, a game no less intense than the battles of yesteryear. There had been 10 turnovers this time. Two pairs of offsetting personal foul penalties had been called before the first 15 minutes had elapsed. Raider Defensive End Lyle Alzado had ripped off the helmet of Jet Tackle Chris Ward and flung it at him. The dullest play in football, the game-ending quarterback falldown, this one by the Jets' Richard Todd, was marked by a flurry of fists.
But this time the rap Walt Michaels put on Al Davis was a bum one. They turned back the clock on Saturday and a cuckoo jumped out, and it wasn't Al. It was a guy who later identified himself as Larry Hammond, a part owner and bartender at a Woodside tavern called the Winfield Inn, Woodside being a Queens community 10 minutes from Shea Stadium, the home of the Jets. He said that at halftime he had placed the call to 213-747-7111, the security office next to the visiting team's dressing room. Dr. Bruce Fitzpatrick, an earth sciences professor at El Camino College who oversees locker-room security, had answered it.
"The guy said he was Leon Hess, the Jets' owner, and he had to talk to Walt Michaels," Fitzpatrick said. "He sounded quite normal. When Joe Namath was here you'd get a lot of crazies calling, but Carroll Rosenbloom [then the owner of the L.A. Rams] used to call down a lot at halftime, too, so how was I to know? Anyway, Walt just happened to be in the hall at the time, so I gave him the call. I feel like a fool now."
The conversation lasted about 30 seconds. "I told Coach Michaels to tell his team to fight harder in the second half, to go out and kick hell out of the Raiders," said Hammond in a later call to the press. Hammond admitted he'd used Leon Hess's name to get through, but then had said the call was from "Mayor Koch's office." He said he had laid a couple of bets on the game, taking the Jets to beat the spread, which had the Raiders favored by 3� (he won), taking the over against the over-under number of 48 (he lost). He said he had told Michaels to make [Defensive End] Mark Gastineau stop doing his sack dance because he looked like a real jerk.
"The coach kept saying, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' " Hammond said, adding that he called back to talk to the press because, "I heard that Al Davis was getting blamed for it and I didn't want it laid on Al."