Step aside, Chargers, they're carrying in the Raiders. Oh, those poor Raiders.
At 5 p.m. in front of a national cable television audience and an expected record San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium crowd, the National Football League schedule will serve up a once great-hearted team, silver and blackened.
The Raiders have lost five consecutive games, something they haven't done since 1964, or the last time Al Davis had nothing to do with it.
They have lost by one field goal. They have lost by seven field goals. They haven't fought fair and they have still lost: Witness a first-ever Coliseum loss to the Chargers, an Oct. 18 strikeball game in which the Raiders had 14 regulars and the Chargers had 45 replacements.
The Raiders' three victories? An unashamed trampling through America's broken heartland--Green Bay, Detroit and Kansas City, owners of a combined 6-17-1 record.
Oh, those Raiders, such destitution. At one running back, a left fielder. At one wide receiver, a five-year veteran who still qualifies as a rookie because those five years were spent in another country. On the right side of the offensive line, a guard who hasn't played since 1985, and a tackle who hasn't played until now.
At quarterback--well, they say it's Marc Wilson, but it used to be Rusty Hilger, but really now . . . "I figure Jim Plunkett is lurking around back there somewhere," said Charger Coach Al Saunders.
Oh, fortune, pity those . . .
"Wait, wait a minute, stop," said Charger safety Mike Davis. "You believe that? You really believe that? You think the Raiders are going to come in here and play dead, you're wrong. Dead wrong. The Raiders still think they are going to make the playoffs. The Raiders can be 0-8 and still think they are going to make the playoffs.
"You know what their 3-5 record and all their problems mean? Squat-diddly."
Dismiss him, if you will. But this is the first fall since 1977 that Mike Davis hasn't been a Raider.
"You believe that 3-and-5 stuff?" asked Steve Ortmayer, Charger director of football operations. "Let me tell you, I've got a tremendous amount of respect for the Raiders' ability when their backs are against the wall.
"Many times, I've seen them in a do-or-die situation. And they have done more than they have died."
Dismiss him, if you will. But this is the first fall since 1978 that Steve Ortmayer hasn't been a Raider.
"I am not going to expect anything different from the last time we played them," said Charger Dan Fouts. "It's going to be one hell of a tough game."
Dismiss him, if you will. But he's the quarterback.
The moral is: No matter how bad the Raiders may look, the 7-1 and first-place Chargers are expecting the worst.
It would not be a good time for that, considering that the Chargers are expecting a record crowd of 62,000-plus and are distributing white "Game Ball" handkerchiefs to fans. There also will be a national ESPN audience to serve as witness.
Not to mention the odd 5 p.m. start, important for two reasons.
No. 1: "That means that other NFL players will be done and watching us," said linebacker Jeffrey Jackson. "The coaches have told us this will be the best chance we'll have all year to show our peers, the ones who know, that we are for real."
No. 2: "The late start lends itself to extended tailgate parties," said Charger Coach Al Saunders. "That lends itself to making this a 'happening.' "
No matter what has happened before--and it hasn't been memorable too often for the Chargers, when you consider that they have beaten the Raiders only 19 times in 56 tries--there is a certain importance attached to this Charger team and, in this town, to beating the Raiders.
"It's almost like the San Diego environment vs. the L.A. environment," said Saunders.
Added Ortmayer: "With certain games come credibility. This is one of those games."
Hence, while you are reading this, the Chargers are worried.
Worried about the effects of the Raiders' last-minute quarterback change, from Hilger to Wilson, even though Wilson is playing behind an offensive line that features rookie tackle John Clay and free agent castoff guard Dean Miraldi:
"Wilson will throw interceptions," said Raider safety Martin Bayless. "But Hilger will throw more interceptions."
Worried about whether Kansas City Royal outfielder Bo Jackson will be in the same backfield as plain-old-football-player Marcus Allen, or whether they will pinch-hit for each other:
"It is hard to decide what they will feature," said defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. "I guess it depends on how many balls they will allow in the game."
Worried about wide receivers Mervyn Fernandez (a former Canadian Football League star) and James Lofton (Green Bay exile) and tight end Todd Christensen. No matter how scatterbrained the Raiders' offense has appeared, any of these players could turn around a game, particularly because they will be testing a Charger secondary that is cursed to spend the rest of this fall proving itself.
"Their first play against Minnesota last week, they went 60 yards to Lofton. They didn't end up scoring, but they showed that deep threat right away," Lynn said. "It's reasonable to think they might try that against us. Somewhere in there, they might try to take advantage of what they feel will be a mismatch at the corners."
And the Chargers are worried about the one part of the Raiders' plan that always seems to work, the defense:
"We're going to have to go at them with good, hard, tough aggressive football--because that's the way they will play," Davis said. "They won't back off one bit. They will still try to intimidate. And we can't be intimidated. We can't worry about the mystique. It's too late. The tickets are sold. People are in the seats. We can't call it off now."
Pity the Raiders? Makes you wonder, just who is pitying whom?
No changes were made in the Chargers' 45-player roster for today. The five players on the inactive list remain quarterback Mark Vlasic, defensive end Dee Hardison, linebacker David Brandon, receiver Al Williams, guard Broderick Thompson.