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Paul Zimmerman
September 05, 1984
On the field and off, Al Davis and his L.A. Raiders keep rolling over the NFL establishment in their own inimitable way
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September 05, 1984

Al To World: Get Out Of Our Way

On the field and off, Al Davis and his L.A. Raiders keep rolling over the NFL establishment in their own inimitable way

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There is applause, some cheers. A few players and coaches smile. They didn't need all the hassle. They'd be happier back in Oakland. The Raiders moved from Oakland to L.A. in 1982 after winning a lengthy legal battle against the NFL. There are players and coaches, including coach Tom Flores, who haven't yet moved their families to L.A. They're not happy about the suitcase life. It's a distraction.

But the problems haven't shown up on the field. In strike-torn 1982, their first year in L.A., the Raiders went 8-1, tying the Redskins for the NFL's best record. In '84 they won their third Super Bowl. After L.A. beat Washington 38-9, the most crushing Super Bowl triumph ever, Davis said: "Wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet. We'll be even better next year." The Raiders are relentless—also slightly paranoid.

To longtime Raider watchers, LoCasale's speech was a classic. Us against them, boys. Tighten up. In the old days the Raiders' distrust of outsiders was so great, their fear of secrets leaking so consuming, that they wouldn't even announce their roster cuts. The team's beat writers went crazy; they had to call the league office to find what the Raiders were doing on cutdown days. Raider press releases wouldn't even have a depth chart for the upcoming game. And if you wanted to know about an injury, well, forget it. The typical Raider release would tell you about statistical milestones, where players went to high school, kindergarten—everything except what you wanted to know. The players seldom knew what was going on, either.

But paranoia works both ways. The outside world has always been paranoid about the Raiders, too.

A New York bartender somehow got through on the phone to Jet coach Walt Michaels at halftime of the '82 Raiders-Jets playoff game in L.A., and after the game Michaels said, "There's an s.o.b. who tried to disrupt our team at halftime and his name is Al Davis." Security at the Jets' Long Island camp had been frantically tight the week before that game.

The Al Davis-Harland Svare story is an AFL classic. The rumor was that the visiting team's locker in the Oakland Alameda Coliseum room was bugged. One year when Svare was coaching the Chargers in a game against the Raiders in Oakland, he stared up at a locker-room light fixture, shook his fist and said, "Damn you, Al Davis, damn you. I know you're up there." Svare's line became a book title.

Oh yes, everyone's paranoid about the Raiders—players, coaches, especially the league. Last year Slusher and the Raiders finessed a trade with New England for Haynes through the league office after the trading deadline had expired. The deal got L.A. an All-Pro cornerback and firmed up the team's pass defense. Slusher remembers what happened when Haynes's contract was finally signed, in the L.A. County Courthouse. "One of the league lawyers said, 'What if Al refuses to give New England his first-round pick?' " Slusher says. "But that wasn't the height of the paranoia. That came when my 15-year-old son, John, went downstairs to Xerox the contract. Two NFL guys went with him. They didn't want to let it out of their sight."

Distrusted and distrustful, hated in some quarters, admired in others, the Raiders draw together, thumb their noses at the world and carry on. You see, their thing is winning, the big W. "Commitment to excellence," they call it. It's there on the back of their press guide, the new motto, after "pro football's dynamic organization" and "pride and poise." It was on all the billboards the Raiders rented around Tampa before the last Super Bowl. Win, dammit, win! With their 21-year-winning-percentage supremacy in the NFL, the Raiders are now taking on all professional sports. "We stand at .715," their highlights film proclaims. Best of the also-rans over the same span are the Montreal Canadiens (.666), the Boston Celtics (.652) and the Baltimore Orioles (.585). Europe comes next. Hey, look up Real Madrid's record in soccer.

What are their secrets, their little tricks? How have they done it?

Well, not with formations, not with gimmickry or an ultracerebral approach. "I used to love to play Oakland," says Andy Russell, the Steelers' former All-Pro linebacker. "They'd say, 'Here's what we're gonna do. You think you can stop it, go ahead.' It makes it easier."

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