ODIS McKINNEY : A Homesick Raider Catches Fast Ride Back From the Plains of No Return

Times Staff Writer

The pass left the hand of Raider quarterback Marc Wilson in much the same way that a drunk leaves a bar. It wobbled. It tumbled end over end. It looked as though it might be sick at any moment. If a perfectly thrown spiral is known as a bullet, this was a slug.

But Odis McKinney, a veteran Raider, was the first to notice the erratic flight of the football and he went after it. He glanced up field and saw nothing between himself and the end zone 60 yards away. With not another player within 20 feet of him, visions of a touchdown danced in his head.

As 55,000 fans in the Coliseum held their breath in anticipation and as Wilson watched, his disbelieving eyes now enlarged to roughly the size of hockey pucks, the ball hit McKinney's chest like an anvil. It bounced sharply to the ground.

A sure touchdown had become no more than an incomplete pass.

And Wilson smiled.

Marcus Allen grinned.

Lyle Alzado and Rod Martin cheered.

Other Raiders standing on the sideline raised their hands and danced some crazy dances in celebration.

What was going on here? Why would the Raiders be thrilled to death that McKinney, their friend and teammate for six seasons, had botched a touchdown? Had McKinney once set their dogs on fire? Had he once filled their athletic supporters with pine tar?

No.

McKinney had done nothing devious, ever, to the Raiders. He was among the most liked and respected players on the team. And that's why they cheered and laughed and danced when he dropped Wilson's pass--because he was one of the most liked and respected players on the team.

But at the time, on the afternoon of Oct. 6, free safety Odis McKinney was a Kansas City Chief.

"Oh, do I remember that play," McKinney said this week. "I had 60 yards of nothing in front of me and I dropped it. I wanted that ball and the touchdown pretty bad. Real bad. I really felt that one."

McKinney, the former Reseda High star, had been released by the Raiders Aug. 27, four days before their final exhibition game, along with Reggie Kinlaw, another six-year Raider veteran. The cuts had shaken the Raiders from their big necks down to their little toes.

If McKinney and Kinlaw could be shown the door, so could most any of the remaining players, they figured.

The day after the cuts, seven-year NFL veteran Dave Stalls, begging out of a reporter's story on the reaction to the cuts, said, "I just work here. Don't I?"

Four weeks later, the answer was no. He, too, got the ax.

The difference, however, between McKinney and the other players who were released by Los Angeles is that he is now back with the Raiders, riding out the wildest season of his National Football League career.

The roller-coaster ride began serenely enough for the 6-2, 190-pound McKinney. He reported to the Raiders' training camp in his usual top-notch condition and figured his role on the team hadn't changed much since he joined the Raiders in 1980: a little work as a backup in the secondary and a lot of work on the special teams, where he excelled. But as the exhibition season began, McKinney found himself getting less and less playing time, both in practice and in the games. He watched Stacy Toran, a second-year player out of Notre Dame, and Sammy Seale, a second-year player out of Western State in Colorado, get more and more playing time at his positions.

So while his release shocked most of his teammates, McKinney said he was prepared for it. How prepared?

"I literally had begun packing my bags two weeks before I was released," he said. "I knew it was coming. I was that sure I was gone. Stacy was really coming up and Sammy was also figuring into their plans. So I knew I was in trouble. I thought I'd be traded."

The Raiders say they tried to trade McKinney, but ran out of time as the roster-trimming deadline loomed. So, in essence, they put him out on the porch along with the cat and the milk bottles.

"I was prepared for it, but to be honest, I was really hurt," McKinney admits. "This team was like my family to me. I could deal with being cut. I knew I could still play in the NFL a few more years. But I had a hard time leaving these guys. That's what hurt me the most."

McKinney didn't have to sit in his Woodland Hills home and reminisce about the Raiders and living in California for long. Less than 24 hours after being released, he was picked up by the Chiefs. Now, he could sit in his Kansas City apartment and reminisce about the Raiders and living in California.

"I just never fit in with the Chiefs," he said. "Everything was different. The staff was different and the players were different and I just didn't fit in. I was used to being around these guys . . . always wild and loud and having a good time. I was just too loud for the Chiefs. I knew I never could have fit in with them."

He may not have felt comfortable with the Chiefs, but, at least in the early stages of the relationship, the Chiefs felt very comfortable with McKinney. He played sparingly in the first regular-season game, against the New Orleans Saints, but moved up quickly on the depth chart. He played more in the Chiefs' second game, against the Raiders in Kansas City, and by the time the teams met again in the Coliseum three weeks later, he was starting in the Chiefs' secondary.

And the dead-duck pass from Wilson came in the second half of that game.

"You want to know how bad it was playing for the Chiefs?" he asked. "Well, when I dropped that ball, Albert Lewis, one of the Kansas City cornerbacks, starts screaming, 'It's rigged. It's rigged. He dropped it on purpose.' And I'm thinking, 'Oh, great. This is gonna be a lot of fun.' I just couldn't believe anyone, especially one of my own teammates, would think I would drop an interception on purpose."

Perhaps others in the Chiefs' organization thought so, too. Two days after that game, the Chiefs put McKinney on waivers. At age 28, for the second time in a matter of weeks, he was out of a job.

And he couldn't have been happier.

"Just like when the Raiders released me, I knew it was coming again," he said. "We had a few days off after the game and I went to my home. I told a couple of our coaches, 'When you release me, call me in L. A. I'll be waiting.' Sure enough, two days later I got the call.

"I was real happy."

By the fifth week of his exile to the Midwest, McKinney had developed the same feelings for the Chiefs' football team, the metropolitan Kansas City area and the state of Missouri that are normally reserved for those moments when you find a hair in your meat loaf.

"They treat their players like high school players," he said. "It was like being in prison. Guys would be talking in the locker room and a coach would walk by and everyone would shut up. They were afraid to speak."

Sure, Odis, but it's a great place to live, isn't it?

"It's got to be the worst state and worst city in the world . . . at least the worst one I've ever been in," he said. "There was nothing to do there. I mean absolutely nothing to do. One week I went to the movies by myself. Both movies.

"And I was also cold and shivering. I was always freezing. It was so cold. And the guys told me, 'Wait until winter.' And I'd see all those California Cooler commercials--those wine-cooler commercials--on TV and they'd just about bring tears to my eyes. I saw that movie, 'To Live And Die In L. A.,' and I missed L. A. so much."

Luckily, he didn't have to wait for winter in Kansas City.

A week after the Chiefs gave McKinney the cold shoulder, the Raiders brought him back. Strong safety Mike Davis was out with an injury and special teams player Jimmy Smith was also on the injured list.

McKinney also had an offer from Chuck Knox and the Seattle Seahawks, but he said there really wasn't much of a decision to make. He still had a Raider contract that runs through the 1986 season, although it is not a guaranteed contract and McKinney can be released again as quickly as he was the first time.

"I wanted to come home, and the Raiders are my home," he said. "There's no team like this team. There's nothing like playing for the Raiders."

McKinney came back just in time. The week after he returned, free safety Vann McElroy went down with a leg injury. McKinney started against the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons before McElroy reclaimed his job. Now, McKinney, who spends more time in the weight room than most people spend in their living room, is back on the special teams where he again is excelling.

"The suicide squads . . . those are tough," he said. "It's a living, but it sure is a tough way to make a living. But I love it."

He also knows that he has the respect of his teammates, something he knows he did not have in Kansas City.

"He is so vital to this team," said All-Pro cornerback Lester Hayes. "If one of our safeties gets hurt, we know Odis can come in and there will be a minimal drop off in talent. And he's so important to the special teams. I think he's the guy that makes those squads go.

"Odis McKinney is, simply stated, a good football player. Odis' forte is that there is no fear in his heart, no fear of anything."

Except, of course, the fright McKinney feels when he realizes that he may very well have starred in a movie this season: "To Live And Die In K. C."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°