BREAKING THE ICE : Fernandez Comes From Frozen North and Fits In Just Nicely With Raiders
Swervin’ Mervyn, which is what they used to call Mervyn Fernandez in Canada, is ready for prime time. He’s had the Great White North, but now there’s a little matter of conquering the Lower 48.
They play a different kind of football south of the border--try big league--which is not to say that a Canadian League All-Star, its Most Valuable Player in 1985, can’t succeed here at or near the same level. Of course, most of them haven’t, so that’s Swervin’s challenge.
Few of them, however, look more like the real deal than does the new Raider receiver. At 6 feet 3 inches and 205 pounds, he’s as fluid as advertised. He leads the team with 7 catches and a 20.6-yard average in exhibition games. He is expected to unseat Dokie Williams and start on the right side.
Of course, in the first flush of success, USA-style, there has been the occasional lapse in communication. A couple of weeks ago, Fernandez was quoted by USA Today as saying that none of the Raider defensive backs was “really an eye-opener. You know a shut-me-down-totally type of guy.”
Fernandez says he didn’t say that, exactly. “I wasn’t trying to put anybody down,” he said. “My quote was I hadn’t seen anybody who could cover me every play. There are a lot of plays.”
There are a lot of all-star defensive backs in this camp, too. Lester Hayes says that Mervyn failed to perceive that the defensive backs are his friends who have been just trying to keep him healthy for Sundays and thus he was guilty of “a juvenile statement.”
Hayes plays opposite Swervin’ in practice, and how was he on the field?
“It fired him up,” Fernandez said, grinning.
How long did it take the defensive backs to quiet down?
“A couple of weeks,” Fernandez said.
He was also quoted as saying that Roy DeWalt, his quarterback with the British Columbia Lions, was “just as good as anybody we have out here.”
Fernandez acknowledges that one.
“I just made an observation on a player,” Fernandez says. “Roy is a good player. He’s 6-4, 215, throws a country mile. Cleveland drafted him as a running back, so you know he can run. I give credit to anyone who’s a good player.”
Raider quarterbacks, who have more tangible problems--try the Chicago Bears’ linebacking corps--haven’t complained. A couple of long gainers in exhibitions and Fernandez fits in better by the day.
“There were a lot of things on my mind when camp opened,” he said. “Learning the plays. Meshing with the guys.
“There are a lot of people I watched growing up. They’re like legends to me--Lester Hayes, Jim Plunkett, Mike Haynes.”
Fernandez was born in Merced, played one season at San Jose State, left school early and became an instant star in Canada. The Raiders, aware that he’d been in junior college, too, and that he was a year ahead of his San Jose class, grabbed him with a No. 10 pick in 1983. Fernandez had to wait until his Canadian contract expired, then signed last spring.
Until then, he could only watch the American game on television and try to imagine how he would do.
“Watching on TV definitely makes it look more physical, more fast-paced than what it really is on the field, I think,” he said. “They have microphones on the sidelines and you hear the crunching louder than what it really is.
“I don’t know, football is football. I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old. I started playing professionally in Canada when I was 20. There was hitting, crunching, broken bones, people being paralyzed up there, too.
“Of course, I wondered what it would be like. There’s an over-abundance of talent here. I think my talent is comparable to anybody else in the league. I do wonder how well I’ll do. I think I’ve made the adjustment, if there was one. I just wonder how I’ll do through the whole season.”
Well enough, if the exhibition season means anything. Now he has one National Football League camp under his belt, and let them try to stop him.