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Seahawks Were in Control When Raiders Had Ball

There once was a fighter named Young Griffo. He was the last of the carnival booth fighters. He’d stand in one place and dare you to hit him. You’d take your best shot and he wouldn’t move off a dime and you couldn’t lay a glove on him.

He was the same way in the ring. He’d let you wear yourself out. He could beat you without hardly starting a punch. He would counter-punch you to death.

Willie Pep and some guerrilla armies are the same way.

And so are the Seattle Seahawks.

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These are the Young Griffos of football. The urban terrorists of the gridiron.

They just stand there and say “OK, now hit me as hard as you can.” And, by the time you swing, they not only disappear, they’re behind you. And you may be flat on your back. They take from you. You supply the power. You bring the rope. They hang you with it.

Their game plan is simple: they let you have the football. Then, they get ready to spike it in the end zone. Your end zone.

Listen, the Seattle Seahawks are supposed to be what is known as a ball-control team. This is a football philosophy where the plot is to get the ball and just keep it all afternoon. Do everything but bury it like a dog with a bone.

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They even have a name for this kind of offensive behavior. It’s called “Ground Chuck” in honor of its creator, Seahawk Coach Chuck Knox.

Know how many minutes Ground Chuck had the ball in the second quarter of a football game here Sunday? About 2 minutes 40 seconds. The rest of the time the Los Angeles Raiders had the ball.

That was just the trouble.

Know how many points the Seattle Seahawks scored in those two-plus minutes? Twenty-three. Know how many the Raiders scored in their nearly 13? None. Zip.

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As Churchill said, never have so many owed so much to so few.

Years ago, before a Rose Bowl game, a master of ceremonies advised a Big Ten coach, Duffy Daugherty, to take a good look at the football before he played a Red Sanders’ ball-control team because “once the game starts, you’re not going to see it much.” Said Duffy sweetly: “We’re not going to need it much.”

Neither did the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. Strictly speaking, they didn’t exactly have the football on their spectacular scoring drives. The Raiders had it. The way a guy going through Central Park might have his wrist watch. Not long. The Seahawks just mugged them.

It’s kind of like rounding a corner on your way to your house and seeing a guy making off with a safe or a TV set, and you suddenly say, “Hey! that’s my TV set that guy’s carrying!”

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The score was 3-0, Seattle, at the start of the second quarter Sunday when a terrible thing happened to the L. A. Raiders: they got the ball.

They opened the period on a punt. It went 34 yards to a returner named Kenny Easley. Easley is a guy who makes his living like a river-boat gambler. Off the other guys’ possessions.

This time he got the punt on his 48 and ran it back to the Raiders’ 27. The Raiders netted nine yards on the punt. On the next play, Seattle scored a touchdown. Elapsed time: 19 seconds.

Two plays later, the Raiders had the ball again. Bingo! Interception. The Seahawks took the ball again. They scored a field goal. Elapsed time: 40 seconds.

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The Raiders then kept the ball from 13:54 on the clock to 9:09 by which time they were inside the Seahawks’ 40. Field-goal range. They tried the field goal. It was blocked by one Seahawk player with his face and scooped up by another who ran it 56 yards for a touchdown. Elapsed time: whatever wide receiver Bones Walker runs the 50 in--not much.

The Raiders took the ball again and hoarded it much of the quarter. The Seahawks held it from 3:27 in the period to 1:49.

Then, the Raiders got it again. B-i-i-i-g mistake. They should have said, “No you don’t. Here, you take it.”

Instead, they plunked down the field again to the Seattle 40. Their quarterback, Marc Wilson, faded to pass. The Griffos had him again. Terry Taylor, the guy who blocked the field goal with his face, got this one in his hands. He sped 75 yards to a touchdown. Elapsed time? Oh, 10 seconds. Taylor was a sprinter and long-jumper in college (Southern Illinois).

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You had a mental picture of Coach Knox lining up his team before the blackboard before the game and drawing a picture on it. “Now, gentlemen, this is a football. Whatever you do, don’t touch it! Let those other guys have it!”

It was about a dozen years ago in Minneapolis. Coach Knox had a division champion in the Rams in Metropolitan Stadium playing the Minnesota Vikings for the right to the Super Bowl. Knox’s team had the ball on the Vikings’ one-yard line. Or less. It was fourth down, goal to go. So, they lined up for a field goal.

It was blocked. A player named Bobby Bryant scooped it up and ran 99 yards or so to a touchdown. Bye bye Bowl.

Coach Knox knew precisely how Raider Coach Tom Flores felt Sunday. Only time will tell whether this one meant the Super Bowl, too.

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But the Raiders should have treated the football Sunday as if it were ticking or glowing. They should have paid somebody to hide it from them like a potential suicide begging someone to hide all the knives and razors and firearms. Their wounds Sunday were all self-inflicted. They kept stepping on their own mines, falling on their own swords.

In the locker room later, Byron Walker, a pleasant, handsome young man out of the South Carolina military school, The Citadel, tried to explain the pivotal play. A wide receiver with a half-dozen other touchdowns to his credit, he plays on three special teams for Coach Knox and one of them is the field-goal defense. “We just try to get a seven-man rush. We leave a few men back in case of a fake. In this case, Terry took the ball on the chin. It bounced right up in my arms.”

He treated it as just another reception. He had the decency not to try an end-zone dance.

It was not Ground Chuck that destroyed the Raiders, it was Air Chance. When you get beat by four interceptions, a punt and your own field goal, it’s time to lobby for the surgeon general--or at least the NFL commissioner--to put a label on the football: “Warning! This product has been found hazardous to your team’s health. May cause touchdowns in the wrong hands. Consult physician before taking.”

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For the Raiders it should come in a hard-to-open bottle.


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