AFC Wild-Card Game : Seattle Needs Steam as Houston Dreams

Times Staff Writer

It's a dream come true in Houston, where the Oilers were having the usual season--marathon holdouts, a proposed franchise move, the annual Jackie Sherrill rumor, the general manager being accused of making a rude gesture at a wedding party that partied too late at a team hotel--except for one thing:

They made the playoffs.

In the American Football Conference wild-card game today (Channel 4, 1 p.m., PST), the Oilers open under fortuitous conditions--an Astrodome sellout and the Seattle Seahawks served up on a platter.

The Seahawks, masters of the too-late rally and the postseason plummet, come into this one with their defense awry and their ground game, a.k.a. Curt Warner, gone. Warner has an ankle injury. Do you think Dave Krieg can take up the slack?

The Seahawks have hit a little plateau. Since Chuck Knox took a 9-7 team to the AFC championship game in his first season in Seattle in 1983, the Seahawks have won one playoff game (17-10 over the Raiders in 1984).

This season, they added two promising rookie linebackers and got to 7-3, with a chance to play all their postseason games in the Kingdome, when trouble hit in the form of Bo Jackson and the Raiders, who tapped them for a total of 221 yards rushing and 507 overall. It was the start of something big; in their final five games, the Seahawks allowed astounding averages of 199 rushing yards and 428 total yards a game.

The organization was down on the defensive front and even privately critical of longtime mainstay, safety Kenny Easley. But as usual, it was one of the rookies, Brian Bosworth, who provided the piece de resistance.

Boz told the Washington Post he was unhappy with the way the coaching staff used him (he should play the strong side, All-Pro Fredd Young's position) and with the Pacific Northwest in general (too quiet). When this was badly received, he phoned in another complaint to a local radio station about the local press (too active, not enough space).

"My biggest problem is the press up here giving me all the hassle," Bosworth said.

"This is supposed to be a major metropolitan city, isn't it? The sports pages, two pages! I was laughing. It was hilarious."

What did they want for $11 million? At least, he didn't call them Commies, which is what he called the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. last year for making him miss the Orange Bowl when he failed his drug test.

Adoring Seattle fans, who had once gobbled up Boz memorabilia, put out a line of T-shirts with a picture of the "New Middle Whinebacker."

Pictured on them is a baby with a Boz haircut, throwing a tantrum.

Now Boz toils in silence, with no further comment. Warner watches, fullback John L. Williams moves to halfback and Tony Burse becomes the new fullback.

The Oilers, with their three No. 1 picks in the offensive line, and their fleet receivers, and their Warren Moon-Mike Rozier-and-now-Alonzo Highsmith-too backfield, have been regarded as a sleeping giant for years.

Or a comatose one. When this season's 6-4 start was followed by 40-7 and 51-27 losses to the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, they began turning up the heat, not only under Coach Jerry Glanville but also General Manager Ladd Herzeg.

Herzeg was already in trouble, after a string of coach firings, losing seasons and non-signings, not to mention his trip this season to Buffalo, where he was accused of assaulting the bridegroom's brother at a wedding reception in the team's hotel. The case is ongoing.

Also, someone in the Houston party is alleged to have made the aforementioned gesture at the wedding party. Accurately or not, this also was first pinned on Herzeg, though he denies it. ESPN's Pete Axthelm paid tribute to the furor by showing a picture of the moon.

With the Oilers 6-6, the rumor resurfaced that Sherrill, the Texas A&M; coach, was about to be brought in as the Oilers' general manager/coach. Sherrill has reportedly said that is the only deal he would take. Owner Bud Adams was seen with Sherrill several times, and made his private helicopter available to him once.

Then the Oilers won their last three games and made the playoffs, sentencing Sherrill back to College Station and shocking the faithful.

Glanville said he stayed awake last Sunday night because he didn't want to wake up and find he had dreamed it all. There were 10,000 tickets unsold at the start of the week and the line at the box office stretched for blocks. Glanville explained that people hadn't sent their money in before because they didn't think the Oilers would make the playoffs in the first place, and sure didn't think they would ever be the host of a game.

AFC Wild-Card Notes

The game matches the NFL's 23rd best defense--Seattle--against its 24th--Houston (non-strike games). The Oilers were 10th in points scored, the Seahawks seventh, but that was with Curt Warner, the centerpiece of Chuck Knox's "Ground Chuck" attack. . . . Houston's Mike Rozier played 11 games, ran for 957 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Houston's twin-smurf wide receivers, Drew Hill and Ernest Givins, rank No. 2 and 4, respectively, in the AFC in receiving yardage. Hill, the former Ram, averaged 20.2 yards a catch and missed his third straight 1,000-yard season by 11 yards. Givins averaged 17.6 yards a catch.

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