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In July, just before training camp opened, Los Angeles Raider quarterback Jay Schroeder went in to see Al Davis with one of the most unusual proposals that Davis had heard in his 28 years as boss of the Raiders. Schroeder was coming off the last year of a three-year contract that he had signed while still with the Washington Redskins, and he was set to make $1 million this season, his option year. In two seasons with L.A., his career had taken some wild swings. There were remarkable highs, when the yardage seemed to fly from his arm in chunks—he seemed made for the push-it-deep game that Davis so dearly loves—but there were lows too. Schroeder had seen his share of three- and four-interception games, had heard the boos at the Los Angeles Coliseum, had read all the stories about how the Skins had gotten rid of him because he was a malcontent. What's more, he had ended the 1989 season on the bench.
"I'm not a million-dollar quarterback," he told Davis in July. "I'm not worth that kind of money. Take something back. Take $200,000."
"We'll cut it in half," Davis told him. "You keep a hundred, I'll keep a hundred." And that's how Schroeder the Raider became a $900,000 quarterback.
"It wasn't any big deal," said Schroeder after the Raiders had beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-3 in L.A. on Sunday to become one of five teams with a 3-0 record. "When I came in, I felt I wasn't in any position to demand anything. I wanted to play. I felt that if I treated him fairly, then when the time came, I'd be treated fairly too. This team has a reputation for taking care of the people who perform well for it."
This team, however, hasn't always treated its fans very well. So, for the first home game since the Raiders announced on Sept. 11 that they would be remaining in Los Angeles—instead of returning to Oakland—no one was sure what the fans' response would be. The game against the Steelers drew 50,667 in the 92,488-seat Coliseum, compared with 54,206 for the season opener against the Denver Broncos. The Raiders had Greater Los Angeles to themselves in Week 1—the Rams were on the road—but on Sunday the Rams were also at home, against the Philadelphia Eagles.
A Raider official said last Friday that since the announcement, season-ticket sales had increased by 1,500-2,000 to almost 25,000. Still, that's not much. "We ask all the people who come to the games to sit in every other seat," Raider noseguard Bob Golic says. "Then they're all given cardboard cutouts of people, and they just set them up in the empty seats."
But there's a chance some of those seats might fill up soon, because these Raiders are a together outfit right now. And if you're looking for a reason that the turmoil that surrounded them in 1988 and '89 has finally eased, look no further than the man who wears the coach's hat, Art Shell, who took over before the fifth game last year. "He made football fun again," says defensive end Howie Long. "He's the reason I still have a career."
Shell, 6'5", weight unknown. The Big Brahma they called him when he joined the Raiders in 1968 and started a 15-year career that would land him in the Hall of Fame. Greatest Raider offensive tackle ever, maybe the greatest ever of any team. Everyone has stories about Shell.
"Nobody ever hit me harder," says former Bronco, Browns and Raider defensive end Lyle Alzado.
"First time I ever lined up against him, he head-butted me and split my check-bone," says Long.