The Oakland Raiders broke their three-game fast and scored last Sunday. Yes they did. They scored 18 points, which was enough to beat Tampa Bay by two; and they did it with a brand-new quarterback, Marc Wilson, and an offensive line that blocked as well as it is humanly possible to block, and a defense that was inspired in spots. And are things right in Pride and Poise Country now? No, they are not.
Forty minutes after the game, Al Davis, the owner, was slouched against a wall outside the Raiders' dressing room, cursing softly to himself and lobbing ice cubes into a laundry bag.
"How'd you like your new quarterback?" he was asked.
"I didn't get to see the real Marc Wilson," he said. Pause. Plink went an ice cube. Plink. "I don't know what I saw but it wasn't him. They didn't let the kid throw the ball. How many long passes did he throw, one?"
One exactly, an overthrow of Wide Receiver Cliff Branch in the end zone. The rest of the time it was little flips and dinks behind a line that gave Wilson an hour to throw the ball, a line that brutalized the Bucs when the Raiders ran.
Wilson said he had been "nervous...I never lost my nervousness...I didn't want to make a mistake." Davis shook his head, plinked a few more ice cubes and said, "They didn't let the kid open up. They called the first downs for him and the third downs. What could he do?"
This isn't Raider football. This kind of dink approach supposedly was what got Ken Stabler a ticket to Houston. It drives Davis crazy. Oh, the Raiders won the game all right. They won it because Ted Hendricks blocked Bill Capece's 31-yard field-goal try after a high snap with eight seconds left, and because of the brilliance of their offensive line, and their defense, which held Tampa Bay to zero first downs in the first half. But things are out of sync. The Raiders screwed up the clock at the end of the first half when they had a first-and-goal on the Tampa Bay three and had to settle for a field goal. They let the clock run and la-dedahed out of the huddle. "Yeah, I know, that was terrible," Davis said. "What the hell can I do? I'm the owner. I can't climb down on the field."
And if Wilson is Oakland's quarterback for real, if he doesn't just represent a holding operation until Jim Plunkett gets himself back together again, then the Raiders have a long way to go.
Wilson was pressing Sunday, and his ball was doing tricks as he tried to guide it to his target, but he's a good-looking young athlete. He stands 6'6", and when he drops back in the pocket during practice with long, graceful strides, Davis peers at him and smiles. "See that kid?" he will say. "He's going to be in the Pro Bowl someday."
There are two types of players Davis likes best, the ones he drafted in the first round and the ones he salvaged when the world had given up on them, e.g. Jim Plunkett, and last week it was time to replace one from column B with one from column A. The Raiders had just been shut out 27-0 in Kansas City. They had sunk to 2-4 in the AFC West, three games behind Denver. It was their third straight shutout, which sent people scurrying to the record books to learn that the last time this happened was during World War II, when the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers suffered two shutouts at the end of the year and then led off 1943 with four more. The Raiders' high-powered offense (the deep pass, the punishing ground game) had coughed, sputtered and finally died. They were a joke.