"Going into that season, they wanted "to get rid of me," Hendricks says, an accusation that is vehemently denied by the Raiders. "The vote was 9-2 that I go. But the two were Sumner and Al Davis, and as you know, Al's opinion carries a little weight. 'Uh-uh-uh,' Al said. 'I brought him here. He's my puppy.' "
It was an incredible year for Hendricks, an All-Pro year and his fifth Pro Bowl after a five-year absence. The Raiders won the Super Bowl, and Hendricks had a team-leading nine sacks plus three interceptions, three blocked kicks and a safety. He also had been appointed the Raiders' defensive captain that year.
"The first thing I did as captain was to get them to cut out all that hand-holding crap," he said. "They'd started copying the Broncos. Can you imagine that, on a team like the Raiders? I told them, 'Do what you want, but don't anyone grab my hand.' To me, the idea of captain was what you see on the Raider emblem, the guy with the patch over one eye. Arrr, Matey, walk the plank!"
The uncanny thing about Hendricks that year, and in subsequent years, was his ability to guess what was coming and to position himself exactly right. He has perfected his physical tools to the point where uncommon plays are no rarity—the leaping interception, the ability to take a block and ride it and at the last minute reach over and make the tackle or the sack. "At least once a game," Sumner says, "he'll do something and I won't know how he did it."
"Kansas City game, 1980, we were in a goal-line defense," Hendricks says. "I just had a feeling where they were going to run. So I drifted over to the other side. A couple of our guys looked at me.... 'What are you doing over here?' The Chiefs had some young players; they didn't have a checkoff system. I was standing right in the hole, but they ran the play anyway. Our coaches must have been tearing their hair out."
Free-lancing. The word makes Sumner wince. "He does things by design, he'll tell me," Sumner says. But how about that play against Kansas City? "Pretty good gamble, wasn't it?" he says. "A lot of guys might be able to guess where the play is going, but they wouldn't have the nerve to do anything about it. And 98 percent of the time he's right. What can you say?"
Six games into his 15th NFL season, Hendricks holds two records that should stand for a while: four safeties, 25 blocked kicks. "Blocking kicks is a knack that some people just seem to have," former Raiders Special Teams Coach Joe Scannella says. "He's got the rare ability to hit and slide his body sideways at the same time."
"When a guy reaches 35, you have to think about replacing him," Sumner says, "but you look around and there just aren't any people who can do the job he can. He's got at least two or three more years, maybe even more. Who knows? He's a unique individual."
Last June, Hendricks was asked how long he wants to continue playing. "Well, I'd like to retire in about a month," he said, "but the thing is, I'm having too much fun playing. I know there are things I can't do now that I once could. I can't run with a receiver all the way down the field, so the coaches have a system where I'll pass a receiver off to a safetyman. I can't recover from a game the way I used to. If you got up some Monday mornings feeling like I do, you'd understand that. But it's still fun—the game, my teammates, the fans. That's what it's all about."
And what kind of a legacy would he like to leave?