The lockers of the three Raider quarterbacks, Rusty Hilger, Marc Wilson and Ray Guy--yeah, Ray Guy--were side by side by side, with kicker Chris Bahr’s next door. Only their numbers, not their names, were taped to the tops of their stalls. And some guys are hard to recognize with their helmets off.
“Are you Ray?” a reporter asked the guy beneath masking tape No. 8.
“Nope,” said Bahr, “but I can handle it. What you want to know?”
“Well, were you the next Raider quarterback after Rusty?”
“Yep,” said Bahr-Guy. “And you know what that means.”
“No. What does that mean?”
“That means you go in and hand off a lot.”
For six or seven minutes of Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots, the Raiders were down to Hilger, a baby-faced rookie who had never taken a snap in the NFL, and Guy, a 35-year-old punter who had never taken an snap without intending to punt it. Wilson had limped to the locker room with a sprained ankle, leaving the Raiders without a quarterback who had ever put his hands under the pants of a professional center.
Wilson eventually came back to the sidelines and volunteered for duty, but he wasn’t needed. Hilger’s first completed pass as a pro--a two-yarder to Todd Christensen--went for a touchdown that helped his team get past the Pats, 35-20. And the Jim Plunkett-less Raiders had made it through the day.
What happens next is hard to say. Will Wilson keep his job? Will his ankle heal? Will Hilger take over? Will TV gossip about Raider interest in Richard Todd or Doug Williams turn out to be reliable? These questions had better be answered before next Sunday’s home game with Kansas City.
Until then, the Raiders make do. Ray Guy is ready. He still attends all the regular quarterback meetings in practice. “Hey, Ray can really throw the ball,” Wilson said. “He can throw it 95, maybe 98 yards.”
Really? Can he really?
“No-o-o-o-o,” Guy said. “Are you kidding? I’d do good just to get it 50.”
Which leaves the Raiders where? All of their quarterbacks had bad moments Sunday. Wilson was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage. Hilger fumbled a snap, nearly threw a game-costing interception and called a formation wrong in the huddle, with Christensen correcting him. Even Guy let a snap slip through his hands for a Patriot touchdown.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Raider defensive men, the contest would have been lost. Three touchdowns were scored by the defense. “If we can beat people something like 21-20, the offense don’t have to do nothing,” linebacker Rod Martin said, speaking good-naturedly on the defense’s behalf.
Lyle Alzado, of all people, scored a touchdown Sunday. So did Sam Seale, a cornerback who is 14 years younger, 6 inches shorter and 85 pounds lighter than Alzado. “We saw him recover that fumble and score that touchdown and we said to ourselves: ‘If the old man can do it, everybody can do it,’ ” Seale said, whereupon he closed the day’s scoring with a 38-yard interception return.
At this point, the loyalists of the Patriots had seen enough. One of them in the stands took a cigarette lighter and set his Patriot cap on fire, ignoring any laws there might be banning cap punishment in the state of Massachusetts. This was his personal protest to a Patriot passing attack that fired 36 passes and completed 13 of them.
And the Raiders thought they had quarterback problems. Wilson, after making his first start of the season, said, “Winning is the greatest thing, regardless of how it was done. But it was bad luck for me, absolutely. Just when I was getting in the groove, the ankle goes. I was thinking, ‘Uh, oh. Here we go again.’ But fortunately, Rusty came in and did a real nice job.”
Guy said “just in case,” he started standing next to the head coach and offensive coordinator. “I doubted Rusty would get hurt. But if push came to shove, I would have gone in there.”
For a while, it appeared Guy could do no worse than the guy who was in there. Hilger tried six passes, missing on all of them. He also “screwed up in the huddle"--his own words--by sending his tight end to the wrong side, a mistake Christensen caught in time.
“A kid like me is going to screw up sometimes,” said the rookie from Oklahoma State. “But one thing about playing quarterback: A lot of people think you can just walk in there and do it. I got news for them. You can’t.”
This is when Christensen passed by Hilger’s locker and said: “Hey, kid. This ain’t Stillwater.”
These aren’t school days any more, he meant. But Christensen was just kidding. He was just pulling the leg of the quarterback--who might or might not be the quarterback the next time the Raiders have the ball.