PRO FOOTBALL / Week 1 : Raiders Should Get Jump Start in Green Bay : Dismal in Exhibitions, Packers May Pack It In Early; Gregg May Pack Bags
If the Raiders’ exhibition season was something less than a success, it’s OK. They get to take it over.
Instead of starting with the Denver Broncos, the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, as they did a year ago, this year it’s the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions and the Houston Oilers.
You think the Raiders have problems? Welcome to permanent hard times, where there is a different concept of the word problem .
A problem here is not when you’re 8-8, and fighting your Coliseum Commission, and someone else motors up with $10 million in front money, and you have to start a kid quarterback, and everybody’s worried.
A problem here is when you’re 4-12, and expected to get worse, and the community feels betrayed, and the fans are booing your home-grown kid quarterback, and all you have behind him is a rookie No. 10 draft choice who couldn’t even win the starting job as a college senior, and your club is so disorganized, it can’t even make it through warmups.
The last is literally true. Before the Packers’ second exhibition game, against the Redskins, Coach Forrest Gregg pulled his players off the field before they hurt themselves.
“Honest to God,” Gregg said in words distributed to the nation in the Packers’ own publicity release, “we got out there to warm up and we were so bad, I took them off the field, fearing that someone would see us and embarrass us.
“We ordinarily take three pass plays and run the ball a couple of times. Well, the first time we went out there and snapped the ball early. The next time we went out there, somebody wasn’t in the right formation, and they couldn’t get him in the right formation. I said, ‘Hold it, wait, let’s don’t do this.’ I took ‘em off the field.
“Absolutely, it’s the most frustrated I’ve ever been.”
He couldn’t have felt a lot better when the Redskins beat them, 33-0.
Gregg’s first two Packer teams went 8-8, followed by a purge of veterans and last season’s 4-12, followed by another purge and what looks to the local press like 2-14 coming.
“The only reason I’d say that many wins is they play Tampa Bay twice,” a Wisconsin reporter said.
Randy Wright, generally considered the most modestly talented No. 1 quarterback in pro football, held out halfway through camp in a spat over $50,000. Since the Packers turned a $3-million profit last year, you’d figure they could find the bucks to get their field general into camp, but that’s not the way the team and most of the fans looked at it. A poll in Madison, where Wright played college ball for Wisconsin, showed 60% of the respondents favoring the Packers. When Wright signed and made his first Lambeau Field appearance, he was booed.
In the last exhibition, Gregg started rookie Don Majkowski, a 10th-round draft choice from Virginia, where he shared the quarterback job as a senior. Wright worked the second half and looked good, right up until the time he drilled Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker rookie Mike Junkin in the belly with an interception that Junkin returned 21 yards for the winning touchdown in overtime.
Gregg, who’d been saying he had “no idea” who was going to open as the No. 1 quarterback, then named Wright to start against the Raiders.
Oh, and there are rumors that Gregg’s idea of a way out of this mess is to become the next SMU coach. His alma mater reportedly has already contacted him.
All in all, they’re just what the doctor ordered for the Raiders.
What they want to know is, what are these guys doing for the next 15 weeks?
Sign of the times: The Raiders are a mere four-point favorite over a Packer team that went 0-4 in exhibitions.
Finally we begin to get answers to the long-posed questions:
--Can the Raiders make it easy for Rusty Hilger?
--How will Hilger respond?
--Will they try to pound away with Marcus Allen as they did two seasons ago?
--Is the new offensive line good enough to pound away with Allen?
Of course, if the Raider challenge for the next three weeks looks unimposing, the games count in the standings, and any slip will be ominous if not fatal. The playing roster knows it, too.
There’s a new humility among the silver and black. It may not last long but it’s interesting to see if only for a moment.
“We weren’t in the playoffs,” Bill Pickel says. “Last year we weren’t 11-5, we weren’t 12-4. We had a terrible record. We’re going into the start of the season playing against teams that had records the same as ours, or finished in the same place, out of the playoffs. We’ve got nothing to walk around shouting about.”
And lest they be forgotten, ask not for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for these Old Raiders, gone from the opening-day roster: Jim Plunkett, Lester Hayes, Henry Lawrence, Mickey Marvin, Curt Marsh, Mike Davis, Shelby Jordan.
Raider rushing offense against Packer defense: Last season, the Raider average dropped to 3.8 a carry. The Packers gave up an average of 131 rushing yards a game last season, eighth worst in the league but their per-carry average of 3.9 was ninth best. Maybe their offense just left them on the field too long. . . Packer Coach Forrest Gregg won’t use Kenneth Davis and No. 1 pick Brent Fullwood in the same backfield (“Everybody asks that question. The only problem is, somebody’s got to block.”). Davis had a fine exhibition season, while Fullwood was said to be slow picking up the offense. . . Randy Wright, asked about the mood in Green Bay: “Oh, pretty much like you’d imagine it.” Could he elaborate? “No, you’ve got an imagination, you can figure out what it’s like.” . . . Friday, the Packers placed defensive end Ezra Johnson on the injured reserve list and signed defensive lineman Ross Browner, 33, a free agent released earlier in the week by the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson said he sprained his knee during practice Thursday. He will miss at least the first four games of the regular season.