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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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"One team gave me a pinch test, to test my fat content," Long says. "The guy said, 'You're a little chubby there, son.' I ran two 40s in Oakland in rookie camp. You know how many I've run since? Zippo. I can do 80 push-ups in a minute and dunk a basketball any way you want, but I can only do two pull-ups. These teams that make you do dips, bench presses and aerobics, that drop you into a sensory-deprivation tank to test your body think Al would go for that?

"Earl Leggett, the Raiders' defensive-line coach, came down to Villanova to look at me," Long continues. "He ran me in one 20. He asked me to get in a stance, take a step upheld, plant and come inside. Then he left. I said, 'That's it. There's one team I can forget about,' and I went back to my room and turned on Leave It to Beaver."

Long was a crucial pick for the Raiders. Part of the concept of Raider Football involves drafting or trading for players to fill certain roles, and the Raiders' style demands a big, reckless left defensive end. They want a guy who can cave in a side, come down the line and occupy two blockers, freeing the linebackers to make the tackle. It's vital for their defense. Ike Lassiter filled the role in the 1960s. John Matuszak was effective for a while but when he started to show some mileage, the Raiders got Long.

The second responsibility, traditionally, of the left defensive end is that he must be able to move inside and play tackle or middle guard if necessary. Long, who was a middle guard one year in college, moves all over the line in nickel situations, usually lining up over the center.

Davis has always liked to move people around on defense. His first rover, a player who can play either on the line or up in a linebacker stance, was Dan Birdwell, whose versatility gave the Raiders a 3-4 look in 1964, eight years before Miami's famed 53 defense. Hendricks played as a rover for a while. Now the Raiders have gone more to a move concept, with Long the prime mover.

The Raiders have often gotten a particular player to stop a specific threat on another team. In 1967 they drafted left guard Gene Upshaw to control the Chiefs' 6'7", 275-pound Buck Buchanan. Bubba Smith had a big game against the Raiders in the '70 playoffs, so the next year Davis traded for 275-pound right tackle Bob Brown, the Boomer, in an attempt to nullify Bubba. Later, he traded for Bubba himself.

"The Raiders are consistently the most effective team in the NFL in filling needs, which is crucial to upgrading a team," Giddings says. "They went into the last season with what I saw as seven needs. They filled six of them, a remarkable percentage."

In 1970, Miami receiver Paul Warfield was terrorizing the NFL on slant-in passes, the Quick I. So the next year the Raiders drafted Jack Tatum on the first round, and Tatum applied Davis's concept of a killer free safety.

"An obstructionist, Jack's the greatest obstructionist there has ever been," Davis says. "He put the fear of God in 'em by his location in the middle of the field. Myrel Moore, a Denver assistant, told me that once they were putting in a play against us where Rick Upchurch had to go inside, into the post, and he said, 'Uh-uh, I'm not going in there.' So they took it out." The Raider who now fills that spot is Vann McElroy, a rough jarring tackier who made the 1984 Pro Bowl.

The killer free safety allows the cornerbacks to funnel things toward the middle, to play the outside-conscious, bump-and-run coverage that has always been part of the Raiders' style. It's a basketball approach to pass defense. Davis said he got the idea from watching John Wooden's zone press at UCLA, also from seeing a talented young Denver cornerback named Willie Brown, who played bump-and-run instinctively. The Raiders traded for Brown in 1967 and then went to the bump-and-run almost exclusively. "Everyone was getting hurt by timed patterns," Davis says. "The bump-and-run took them away. I just said, 'The hell with it. We'll play up on 'em and give the free safety a clean read.' "

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