The Snake and Dave Show—Kenny Stabler and his favorite target, Tight End Dave Casper—returned Sunday to Oakland, where they had starred on so many playoff teams, where they were legends. They were back in the Columbia Blue and White of the Houston Oilers. That old Raider safety, Jack Tatum, was with them, and don't forget that Mike Reinfeldt, the Oiler safetyman, was once a Raider, too. Oh, what drama.
Forget it. All the Oilers were over-matched as Oakland won 27-7 in the AFC wild-card game and advanced to Round No. 2 this weekend at Cleveland. The Oilers were overmatched by a lean, gray-haired, weather-beaten assistant coach named Charlie Sumner, who installed a particularly nasty set of blitzes, and by two young defensive backs, Lester Hayes and Mike Davis, who executed them. Stabler was sacked seven times, Hayes and Davis nailing him twice each. Hayes is the left cornerback, Davis the strong safety. All their blitzes came from the left side, and each time they came in clean. Ted Hendricks, the 6'7" linebacker, got Stabler once, on a left-side blitz. Willie Jones, the left-end sack specialist, got Stabler once, too, and Dave Browning, the right end, also got him once.
That's six sacks from the left, and they were hardly accidents. Sumner and his boss, Oakland Coach Tom Flores, had watched Stabler close up for all those years, and they were ready. "We've got to load up on him from our left side," Flores said the day before the game. "When Kenny drifts, he drifts to his right. He feels it gives him a better look down-field. We've got to make him uncomfortable out there."
So, on Monday, Sumner sat down with his pencils and charts and started loading up. His plan began with John Matuszak, the 6'8", 280-pound defensive left end. Go in hard, John, and try to occupy two men; that shouldn't be difficult because Matuszak faces two men most of the time anyway. Then we'll come with Hendricks outside. Hendricks is the best blitzing linebacker in the business, a chap who has a knack for worming his way over and around blockers. Once Hendricks was a great linebacker, then for a few years he was just another good one, but this season he has had a renaissance, a return to greatness. Why?
"Because they're letting me freelance more," he says. "They're turning me loose."
So far so good. But for the Snake we need something special. Hell, the Snake is special. Who knew it better than Flores, a Raider assistant for seven Stabler years and the coach for one? "I've seen him carve up so many teams, just work them over," Flores says. "On Thursday before the 1977 Super Bowl, our offensive day, we went through a whole practice and the ball only touched the ground once, and that was on a drop. John Madden was standing next to me, and he said, 'Who do you think, Tom?' and I said, 'Throw a blanket over him and get him out of here. This is scary.' "
Oh yes, Flores saw the Snake do it to so many other people. He knew that if he didn't want to be another scalp on the belt, he'd better come up with something nifty. That's where Sumner came in. Fifty years old, 18 years an assistant in the NFL, Sumner is one of those guys who never gets mentioned when the usual roster of head-coaching candidates is circulated. But he does very nice things with his defensive units, and this was his ultimate challenge—a Houston offense with Earl Campbell, a bone crusher, perhaps the finest pure fullback who ever lived, to run the ball, backed up by the Snake, a little weaker in the arm department, perhaps, but more familiar with the Oakland defensive people than any quarterback alive, throwing to Casper, the Hall of Fame tight end of the '70s.
"I consider myself a conservative type coach," Sumner says. "Blitzing isn't my style. But I saw something this time."
So Sumner topped off his creation with a wide, left-side blitz featuring Hayes, who broke into big-time ball as a 195-pound linebacker at Texas A&M, and Davis, a wicked hitter but a high-class athlete, as well—a 14.2 high hurdler for East Los Angeles Junior College. "On Wednesday in our meeting, Coach Sumner first unveiled the thing," Davis said. "My eyes lit up. So did Lester's. He said, 'Thank you.' "
Al Davis, Oakland's managing partner, said after the game, "Oh, sure, we've used Lester on blitzes this year." But Hayes shook his head and quietly contradicted his boss. "This was the first time," he said. "I didn't do it against other teams because they have some kind of adjustment to it. They slide block, they zone block, they pick it up. Houston doesn't. The Oilers' offensive scheme is out of the '40s. Brute strength. I kick your butt, you kick mine. Vince Lombardi football, Taylor and Hornung running the power."