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Fernandez Gets a Second Chance With Raiders, and Doesn’t Drop It

Times Staff Writer

Time may not wait for ordinary men, but it zooms by at warp speed for those expected to strike terror in opponents’ hearts, which is how the Raiders refer to wide receivers.

Take Mervyn Fernandez.

Actually, someone else almost got a chance to.

In the summer of 1987, Fernandez was a coup, a former most valuable player in the Canadian Football League who’d been stolen with a No. 10 draft pick.

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By the fall, he had dropped a few passes, the Raiders had a few quarterbacks and the league had a strike.

By winter, he had suffered a shoulder injury.

By season’s end, he had caught 14 passes.

By the start of the ’88 season, the Raiders had spent present and future No. 1 picks to add Tim Brown and Willie Gault to a cadre that started with James Lofton, Dokie Williams, Jessie Hester and Swervin’ Mervyn.

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Someone’s days were numbered. Only the names on the airline tickets remained to be filled in.

Williams went to San Francisco and Hester to Atlanta, but Fernandez is still in town and digging in. Coming off the bench and used mainly as a third and fourth receiver, he has caught 14 passes, third high on the club, for an average of 23.5 yards, best on the club.

What was it like?

The waiting was the h-a-r-d-e-s-t part.

“It was really hard,” Fernandez said. “I knew that I never really proved myself. There was a feeling in my soul like, what is next year going to be like?

“I didn’t really do very well. I dropped some balls. I really don’t drop very many balls. I just played like a rookie, really, and I’m not a rookie.

“It was hard for me to go through that whole off-season. It just left an empty spot in my stomach.”

He may have been a sixth-year pro, but he was a National Football League rookie. If he had ability, he was also joining a new team, a new offense in the throes of a long struggle, bearing a big contract and high expectations, indeed.

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How to handle it?

“I felt the pressure . . . and I tried to be real cool about it,” he said, smiling.

“I think the main thing that hurt me, I was trying to prove too much. Trying to run before I caught the ball, make big plays. This year, I just settled in and took what came. Whatever happens, happens. Just play football and let the chips lie where they may.

“When I came back into camp, I felt like I was really doing well. Last year, I came in and I couldn’t get off the ball. I couldn’t get off the jam (the opposing cornerback trying to jam him at the line). This year, everything was really smooth for me. I was coming off the ball a lot better, and as time went on, it’s just getting better and better for me.”

One reason he was coming off the ball better, there were 10 fewer pounds of him. He’d played at 205 in Canada and dropped to 195 as the season went on. He thought he would do the same thing here. This year, he came in at 195, which made him that much quicker.

After that, everything started flowing.

“I’ve caught everything they’ve thrown to me, up to date,” he said. “Maybe one drop. Last year at this time, it was like five drops. That was tough on me because I’d never dropped balls and I didn’t really handle it well.

“From a personal level, it makes me feel good. I always knew I could do it, it was just a matter of time, and I thought I would be able to do it this year. And then I did have some doubts when they brought Timmy and Willie in. I didn’t know what my future or destiny would be.”

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Whatever his destiny seems to be, it’s an improvement on its appearance a year ago. Brown has a sore knee, Gault keeps getting a shoulder bruised and Fernandez could be close to a start. One way or another, Mervyn swerves again.

Coach Mike Shanahan made it official Wednesday that Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen will start Sunday.

Meanwhile, the best guess for the return of the No. 1 secondary is in three games, or Nov. 6 at San Diego. Shanahan said Stacey Toran is “very doubtful” for the game against the Saints at New Orleans Sunday, but hopes he’ll be back for the Kansas City Chiefs game the week after. He said Terry McDaniel is 2 to 3 weeks away. Ron Fellows, who took over for rookie Dennis Price and played well at Kansas City, remains at the left cornerback, with Russell Carter at strong safety.

Tim Brown is listed as probable despite a sore knee, while defensive end Howie Long remains doubtful with a calf injury.


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