"Check the history of this organization," Davis says. "We don't fire coaches here."
Some of the Raiders' difficulties are easy to pinpoint. They were 2-1 when they lost Fullback Mark van Eeghen with a bad hamstring pull, and it was only then that they realized what a vital part of their offense he was. Even more serious was the loss for the year of Wide Receiver Bobby Chandler who had a ruptured spleen in the opener. Chandler was their possession receiver, their Freddy Biletnikoff type, the guy who'd make the tough catch over the middle to keep the drive alive. Morris Bradshaw has been a poor imitation.
There are a couple of more sides to the bleak Raider picture. Earlier in the season The New York Times reported that Stabler had allegedly associated with a known gambler while he was quarter-backing the Raiders. Last Sunday the Times reported that a convicted bookmaker and police informant named Gene Tropiano had alleged in 1972 and again recently that the Raiders' trainer, George Anderson, had placed bets on Raider games with a San Francisco-area bookmaker for four teammates, two team officials and himself in the early '70s and had passed inside information about injuries to that same bookmaker. The morning of the Tampa Bay game, Davis said he had confronted Anderson with these charges last week: "I said to him, 'I hear you bet on football.' He said, 'Al, I swear I never did.' If it's true, the guilty people should be apprehended. It's wrong and it's illegal. But the guy says it's not true. The league has had this for nine years. I'm not going to let this faze me. My mind isn't on that right now."
Another dark side of the picture is what some Oakland people feel is an ongoing battle between the team and the league office and the latter's arm on the field, the officials. This fight, they whisper, is related to the current Oakland lawsuit against the NFL to get a green light to move to L.A.
The suggestion is that some very strange things are happening to the Raiders. In the 9-7 loss to Denver, the Broncos got their touchdown on a pass play in which the receiver, Rick Upchurch, stepped out of bounds. The films show it. Denver's field goal was set up by a penalty on a punt that was marked off against the Raiders when it had actually been called against the Broncos. The league has admitted the error, privately.
In reviewing Oakland's 36-10 Monday-night victory over the Vikings, the league decided that Raider Safety Odis McKinney had delivered a blow to the area of Steve Dils's head that was so severe in its intent that only a $750 fine would set the matter straight. Closeup footage from NFL films, plus replays of the TV tape, reveal that when McKinney blitzed he had a clear shot at Dils, and could have taken Dils's knee out if he'd wanted to, but instead he ran right through him, making contact at the upper-chest level. Dils bounced right up after the hit, and the referee, Gene Barth, standing five yards away, threw no flag. In the same game the Vikings' Ahmad Rashad rolled up the leg of Oakland Safety Mike Davis, breaking it and tearing ligaments in his ankle—a play far removed from the action—without any kind of reprimand from the league office. Two weeks later, on a punt play against Detroit, the Lions' Ken Fantetti set up McKinney with a block, and Bill Gay finished him off with a forearm and helmet to the head that depressed his cheekbone. The Raiders sent films of that play to the league office. "Accidental hit" was the ruling that came back.
"Yeah, it makes you wonder," McKinney says. "You get fined for a clean hit, and then they bounce you around like a Ping-Pong ball and nothing's said about it. I don't want to say it takes anything away from your aggressiveness and your outlook on the game when that stuff happens, but you never know."
"I won't even mention it," Davis says. "I've got enough trouble scoring points without worrying about the league office. That'll come later."
Meanwhile, the Raiders have a new look—and a new quarterback. And this could have its points.