- 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 Los Angeles Raiders' 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins was a memory, and equipment men were hustling the last few Raiders out of their Tampa Stadium locker room toward the buses that would carry them to their celebration of the biggest Super Bowl crushing in history, but in a far corner, right next to the bins of dirty towels, one guy had taken up residence.
Al Davis wouldn't leave. He didn't want to let go of the moment, of the scene. Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, was dressed in a white V-neck sweater and a black leather pullover, and when he talked, he leaned very close to his listener. His words carried the weight of a great secret revealed to modern man. "We could have scored 50 today," he said, "but we shut it down in the third quarter. This is the greatest team we've ever had, one of the greatest in history, hell, one of the greatest of all time in any professional sport. Next year, God, wait till next year, the depth we have on this team...."
Someone asked Davis a technical football question, and he stared at the guy for a moment. "Look," he said, "we play a two-back offense; we play man-to-man, bump-and-run, pass defense. Our quarterbacks call their own plays—we don't have coordinators. Some of the other teams—well, all the technical stuff they use is getting so technical I don't think they understand it themselves."
Technical football. A slap at Redskin coach Joe Gibbs and the Air Coryell show in San Diego, a pointed dig at football of the '80s, with its one-back offenses and motion and multiple sets and everything. O.K., let's not be too hard on Gibbs, just because his Skins were shut down Sunday. The guy won last year's Super Bowl with his approach, and one blowout couldn't erase the magnificence of this season, with its 16-3 record. Besides, the whole Raider operation wouldn't have worked against the Redskins if 245-pound Reggie Kinlaw, a small, swift middle guard in an era of pachyderms, hadn't played inspired football and patrolled the middle like a minesweeper; nor would it have worked if L.A. hadn't had a pair of All-Pros, Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes, playing corner-back. And the Raiders do have a coordinator, although his title is linebacker coach. He's Charlie Sumner, a wiry, leathery old Virginian who coordinated a defense Sunday that had everything the Redskins tried blueprinted and neatly stacked in piles. He made a brilliant call and spot-substitution to produce Los Angeles' biggest play of the game, reserve linebacker Jack Squirek's interception and five-yard return for the TD that closed out the first half at 21-3. Sumner also helped design the defense that set Kinlaw a yard off the line and had him chasing down John Riggins' tackle-to-tackle thrusts. He had his two big inside linebackers, 255-pound Matt Millen and 235-pound Bob Nelson, play up tight on the Hog guards and stuff those big fellas before they could get their hooves churning, and he had the two ends, Lyle Alzado and Howie Long, close down hard and destroy Joe Theismann's passing pocket. The corners were put in bump-and-run and told to shut off the short stuff. The Raider rush and the swirling winds in Tampa Stadium would take care of anything deep. Oh yes, Sumner is a coordinator, all right.
"Yeah, I guess you could call him that," Davis admitted. "He does some of that."
Of course, that's just playbook stuff, and it doesn't mean a thing unless you have the people to make it work. And for this you must give credit to Davis, who orchestrates the Raiders' strategy and trades and drafts players who can run his kind of show, football of the '60s. And he hired the right guy to coach those players—Tom Flores, who had been a Raider quarterback back when Davis was still coaching and who has been around long enough to have a feel for running the L.A. operation just right.
What beat the Redskins Sunday was old-fashioned football. L.A. didn't show much motion on offense, very little jumping around, and the Raiders' basic sets and formations didn't dazzle you or strain the imagination. They had no sideline signal system, no semaphore wigwags that look like the Coast Guard trying to rescue a foundering tanker, and best of all, they used bump-and-run on defense, good old man-to-man, in an era of multiple zones and combinations. You remember man-to-man. That's the defense that winning quarterbacks talk about when they've just thrown for 400 yards. "Well, we caught 'em in a man-to-man," they say, like they're telling you they caught them in their underwear. For the Raiders it was I-got-him-and-you-got-him football, and Davis had found the guys to make it go—Hayes, a linebacker and safetyman at Texas A&M, and Haynes, who came from New England after the trading deadline had slipped by (Haynes's legal action against the league resolved that little problem).
Hayes and Haynes were brilliant Sunday. The Redskins' wideouts, Charlie Brown and Art Monk, didn't catch any of the seven passes thrown to them in the first half, when the game was still a game. Close your eyes and you could see Willie Brown and Kent McCloughan playing the corners for the Raiders in that same bump-and-run style, the old Oakland style devised to combat the wild passing orgies of the early AFL.
"Smurfs," Hayes said afterward in the locker room, grinning widely, using the nickname for some of Washington's receiving corps. "Smurfs, ha ha."
"Charlie Brown said he was open all day long and Theismann just didn't have the time to get him the ball," a reporter said, and Hayes threw back his head and howled.