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Al Davis's LOS ANGELES RAIDERS are a dynasty, or the closest thing to one right now. They have won three Super Bowls in the last eight years. They're the defending champions. Davis says that the fun is just starting, that guys who sat on the bench last year are better than those who played. But veteran dynasty watchers say the Raiders are ripe for a fall.
What happened to the great dynasties of the '60s and '70s, to the Packers and Steelers? Essentially the same thing: They got old. Loyal veterans were not replaced in time. Coaches got sentimental. Superstars faded, and no new ones came along.
Last year the Raiders were the oldest team in football. This season 15 players who are 30 or over should make the roster. That's a lot over a 16-game season. Ah yes, Davis says, but look at the young guys waiting to step in—Don Mosebar at guard, with Pro Bowl written all over him; Curt Marsh at the other guard, returning from a back injury; Marc Wilson at quarterback, should Jim Plunkett falter; Bill Pickel and Greg Townsend on the defensive line; Dokie Williams at a wide-out. Teams generally don't get that old on Davis. Players are gently coaxed into retirement, as Ted Hendricks was this year. And now there's a healthy mix of young and old.
O.K., but there are more insidious things at work. Greed, envy. Super Bowls should mean supersalaries, right? What is it that Cowboy G.M. Tex Schramm once said, "Every time you win a championship it costs you money"? Davis tries to shortstop that one by regularly upgrading his people. But now there are grumbles. Tight end Todd Christensen held out. He wanted to be paid what the No. 1 receiver in football should be paid. Davis reminded Christensen that they'd redone his contract last year, and then he signed up his old warhorse, Dave Casper. "Looks like his old self," Davis said, ignoring the fact that two other NFL clubs had given up on Casper.
Defensive end Howie Long left camp for a day. He didn't feel that a $175,000 salary was in keeping with his All-Pro status. We redid you last year, Davis said. Don't worry, we'll get around to it. But when, Long wonders, when?
Other veterans are also seeking renegotiation, and muttering. "The summer of discontent," Davis calls it. "Happens every year. We'll get it worked out."
If it is truly worked out, if youngsters are quietly inserted into the lineup to form that healthy, dynasty-perpetuating mixture, if the old hunger is still there, then there will be no stopping the Raiders, because they have a lot of talent. They showed they could win the Super Bowl with corners (All-Pros Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes) who could play bump-and-run, with a 260-pound linebacker (Matt Millen) who could nullify a guard by himself, and with a quick and agile noseguard (Reggie Kinlaw) who could cut off the blocking angles. They peaked at exactly the right time—the postseason. If 1984 is a natural progression, look out, world!
The SEATTLE SEAHAWKS crept into the playoffs for the first time in their history last year on the paper-thin margin of 13 Raider turnovers in the two games against them and a missed extra point by K.C.'s Nick Lowery. In a world hungry for Cinderellas, they went to the ball twice in the postseason and came away starry-eyed. Then the Raiders shattered their glass slippers with a nasty 30-14 win that wasn't as close as the score.
We are left to wonder which is the true Seahawk team. Is it the nifty, crisp-blocking gang of gung-ho overachievers, led by an inspirational quarterback from Milton College named Dave Krieg, that punched enough holes for rookie Curt Warner to top the AFC in rushing? Or is it a group that played over its head—a team with a defense whose ranking of 27th in the NFL was no fluke, with an offensive line whose lack of size was painfully exposed by the bullying Raiders and a quarterback who came unhinged under L.A.'s relentless pressure?
Coach Chuck Knox must be worried about those things, too. He tried to get Warren Moon, but lost to Houston. He brought in a couple of 280-pound-plus tackles, Bob Cryder from New England and Bryan Millard from the Jersey Generals of the USFL, because 258-pound holdover Steve August isn't big enough. In the first round he drafted Terry Taylor to play left cornerback (the bomb was the Seahawks' undoing last year; 22 passes of 40 yards or more were completed against them), and in the second round he took Daryl Turner, a gifted long-ball receiver, to help build Krieg's confidence. Both were excellent picks.