In the Raiders' locker room the players were passing around a yellow mimeographed sheet that a fan had sent in. It read: LONESOME? LIKE TO MEET NEW PEOPLE? LIKE A CHANGE? LIKE EXCITEMENT? LIKE A NEW JOB? JUST SCREW UP ONE MORE TIME.
The changes and excitement were furnished by the organization itself. The first wave came against Kansas City. Eleven-year veteran Ray Chester, who had caught just four passes in the last three games, was replaced at tight end by young Derrick Ramsey. Left Guard Gene Upshaw, who had started every game in his 14-plus-year career—207 straight—was replaced by Curt Marsh, a blond, 275-pound rookie. Upshaw spent the entire K.C. game on the bench.
On the Wednesday after K.C. the next wave was announced. Monte Jackson would replace Dwayne O'Steen at the right cornerback spot. O'Steen had been overrun by the Chiefs' ground game. Jackson had been a two-year Pro Bowler with the Rams and had come to the Raiders in 1978 for a first-, second-and third-round draft choice, the famous Lawrence Welk trade—uh one, and uh two, and uh three—that had never quite worked out.
Steve Sylvester, a balding, soft-spoken utility man, would replace Dave Dalby at center. Opponents had been hurting the Raiders with stunts and deep loops over the middle of the line.
And finally the big one, Wilson for Plunkett, last year's Cinderella, the NFL's favorite bedtime story for 1980.
"You know, I played on the Jets during Namath's last four years," Safety Burgess Owens said, "and we used to ask ourselves, 'When is it going to happen? When are they finally going to replace him?' We'd wait for it, week by week, but it never happened. On this team, things happen quickly. I can't say the players here were surprised. This is a very professional team."
"The roller coaster never stops, does it?" Plunkett said one day last week, smiling that sad smile of his. "It goes up, it goes down. The suffering that goes along with it, yeah, I guess that's the hard part. I can understand their thinking. Things weren't working right and I started pressing. I'd get rid of the ball too soon, so the line wouldn't have to hold their blocks for too long, or so I felt. My thumb isn't right and I guess that has affected my throwing a little. My timing just wasn't right."
"Jimmy didn't look right in camp, either," Davis says. "Neither did Upshaw. The idea of the changes was in the back of my mind then, but I felt we owed it to our Super Bowl people to give them a few games. I told [Coach] Tom Flores in camp, though, that the offense didn't look like it should. We weren't scoring much, even in the exhibition season.
"It's Tom's team and Tom's offense, and ultimately he must take the blame if it can't score. Yeah, I know, the players are at fault, and we've gotten some injuries, but no bleepin' points in three games? A coach has got to get some of the blame for that."
Does this mean Flores is in some kind of trouble?