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Exorcising Ghosts of the Wilson Era

Circle September 5 on your calendars, Raider fans. Silver and Black Monday, the day the curtain came down on the Marc Wilson Era, which will live in infamy.

Don’t tell me that era ended in early July when the Raiders let Wilson slip away to Green Bay. Admit it, fans: Lurking in the backs of your minds was a chilling scenario. The Packers cut Wilson and he somehow finds his way back to the Memorial Coliseum, like that cat you dumped three states away and a month later was scratching at your back door at 3 a.m.

Besides, the Marc Wilson Era wasn’t just the checkered legacy of one player, it was a state of mind that outlived and transcended one man’s Raider career. It was an anarchy of the collective team spirit, a crisis of confidence, an epoch of torment for the silver and black soul.

Wilson wasn’t the only dud of the Marc Wilson Era. It was Marc Wilson and the Pipps, several guys who were very different, yet all of whom were in perfect sync in one important way--none of them could quite get the job done.

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Wilson wasn’t a bad guy. I just wouldn’t want my football team to marry him.

He became a symbol of frustration for a long Raider slump that ended Monday when Al Davis got Jay Schroeder from the Washington Redskins. Did you notice that the sun was shining Monday?

This was Al’s finest move since he spotted Marcus Allen buried under a pile of 1982 draft picks. I don’t think there are many champagne drinkers among the Raiders, but I’ll bet that the odd frosty brew was hoisted when the Schroeder trade became official.

From a personal standpoint, the timing was excellent. I’m heading for Seoul next week to cover an Olympics and I dreaded wading into a sea of Koreans ready to challenge anyone from Los Angeles with the big question: “When are the Raiders going to get a quarterback?”

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On the Gretzky Scale of blockbuster trades, this one didn’t topple tall buildings, but it shook the ground in El Segundo.

It is Al Davis’ belief that you don’t need a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Davis has proved the theory and affirmed his football genius by fashioning great teams without great quarterbacks. Once upon a time.

“We don’t ask the quarterback to win the football game,” Raider rookie Coach Mike Shanahan has said, seconding the Al Davis Theory. “What (the quarterback) has to do is his part. We have the skills to take the pressure off the quarterback, where he doesn’t have to make the big play.”

Zzzzzzzz.

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The NFL has entered the age of the button-down quarterback, the handoff robot, the junior executive field leader. That’s fine for other teams, with no aspirations to greatness or to style, but this is the Raiders.

In the past, Raider quarterbacks won football games. They had the skills to take the pressure off the other players, they made the big play. Raider quarterbacks were George Blanda, not Joe Bland.

Raider quarterbacks wore big britches.

Besides, no matter how much you try to de-emphasize the position, the quarterback is not just another guy in the cafeteria line. He is the team’s religious leader, the man other players look to in times of crisis. If the quarterback happens to be a kid worried about surviving the next cut, or a veteran held together by bailing wire and Super Glue, the troops tend to flounder.

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Your Howie Longs, Marcus Allens and Matt Millens will play their brains out no matter who is at quarterback, but even these players had to be frustrated at the chronic lack of consistent competence at the Big Position.

It was time for the Raiders to stop trying to bunt their way aboard. It was time for them to dig in and take a Reggie Jackson hack at the ball. If Schroeder is no Montana-Marino-Kosar, he is a proven talent, young and healthy, a real quarterback with real potential to be real good.

He was the best man available in the league, and there are no great prospects in the next two or three college drafts. Even if the Raiders went 0-16 this season, they wouldn’t get Troy Aikman, since the Chicago Bears own the Raiders’ No. 1 pick in 1989.

The trade averted full-scale panic among the team’s fans. Davis seemed to be spending more time hammering local sports editors to remove certain un-favorite writers from the Raider beat than he was pounding the pavement looking for a quarterback.

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There was concern that Davis was devoting more attention to establishing a Raider Hall of Fame than to finding someone to put in it.

But like a good quarterback, Al can surprise you, he can pull off the big play.

And he did it by bringing in a ready-made Raider. In Washington, Schroeder was angry, his attitude went sour, his citizenship marks dropped. He comes to Los Angeles with everything but a tattoo.

Maybe Schroeder will turn out to be just another blond L.A. bimbo, but right now you can’t knock the deal. It was the right move at the right time. Schroeder will have several weeks to learn the team’s offense before the Raiders’ season officially starts in early October, when Bo Jackson reports and steamrollers the ceremonial first linebacker.

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It remains to be seen whether Schroeder will be the rare quarterback who, as Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman says, “can quicken your pulse.”

But at least the Raiders, on the field and in the front office, now have a pulse.


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