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HE HAD THE WINNING HANDS
Steve Wulf
February 02, 1981
Rod Martin had a portentous week before the Super Bowl. Oakland's right outside linebacker was the dominant force in his crazy-eights games with fellow linebackers Ted Hendricks and Jeff Barnes, "Twice I won three games in a row," said Martin. "We call that the Triple Crown—in honor of John Matuszak's favorite drink."
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February 02, 1981

He Had The Winning Hands

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Rod Martin had a portentous week before the Super Bowl. Oakland's right outside linebacker was the dominant force in his crazy-eights games with fellow linebackers Ted Hendricks and Jeff Barnes, "Twice I won three games in a row," said Martin. "We call that the Triple Crown—in honor of John Matuszak's favorite drink."

As if that weren't enough of an omen, Martin's older sister, Caroline, informed him just before the game that two people had each told her they had a feeling her brother would intercept a pass in Sunday's game. "There must have been a third person she forgot to tell me about," Rod said.

Martin set a Super Bowl record by intercepting three Ron Jaworski passes in the Raiders' 27-10 victory. His three thefts not only exceeded his four-year career total of two, but they also made him the third-leading receiver for the Eagles, right behind Wilbert Montgomery and Harold Carmichael. The first interception was the most important. It came on the third play of the game—a pass intended for Tight End John Spagnola. Martin picked off the ball on the Eagle 47 and returned it to the 30, setting up the first Raider touchdown. His second interception, in the third quarter, killed Philadelphia's last hope. His final steal was icing.

Martin had more than portents working for him Sunday. For one thing, he had some of Cornerback Lester Hayes' stickum on his hands. "All I did was shake hands with him before the game," said Martin. For another, he took in a few movies last week. While some of Martin's more celebrated teammates were out celebrating on Bourbon Street, he was in his hotel room watching Eagle films. "Just me and my projector," he said.

What Martin saw was that when the Eagles lined up two tight ends and then sent Wide Receiver Carmichael down the left side, the pass went most often to the tight end on Martin's side. That's what happened on the third play of the game. "I saw that Carmichael was going straight down the field. Spagnola hooked right behind me, and I just dropped back and played the ball. It was kind of wobbly—more like a duck than an Eagle."

Martin's second interception also came on a pass intended for Spagnola. This time, the tight end was in front of Martin, but Martin read the play and beat Spagnola to the ball at the Raider 30, returning it two yards before stepping out of bounds. Had the Eagles successfully completed that drive, the score would have been 21-10 and the outcome might have been different.

With only minutes to go in the game, Jaworski threw a pass into the Raiders' prevent defense—and who should be there but Martin. He returned it 25 yards to the Eagle 38. As he left the field, he waved to Caroline, three other sisters and his mother.

In many ways Martin is the perfect Raider, a wild cardplayer on a wild-card team. He was drafted by Oakland out of USC, where he had only two interceptions, on the 12th round in 1977. But because of his relative lack of size—6'2" and 210 pounds—and because the Raiders were loaded with linebackers, he was traded to the 49ers in the '77 preseason. San Francisco released him two weeks later, just as it would release a quarterback named Jim Plunkett 12 months later. Martin soon received feelers from Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Miami, but he decided to wait for Oakland to summon him back. "I happen to look good in silver and black," he says. To pass the time, he worked out near his home, on the beach in Santa Monica. The Raiders, strapped by injuries, finally called near the end of the '77 season.

Another round of injuries increased Martin's playing time in 1978. He started nine games as an inside linebacker, even though he was considered too small even to play a less punishing outside spot. Last year he moved to the outside and led the Raider linebackers in tackles.

"He just kept working and working," says Oakland Coach Tom Flores. Adds Hendricks, Oakland's other outside linebacker, "Rod tackles better than I do, and he's better in man-for-man coverage. But teams tend to pick on his side. The reason we were so successful this year was that he protected that side." As for Martin himself, he's particularly proud of his ability to catch the ball, a talent that lay dormant until last Sunday. "I cherish my hands," he says.

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