RIPE FOR THE TAKING : WILSON, BAD APPLE ON DEFENSE, FITS RAIDER IMAGE OF ESPRIT DE CORPS
Faced with a dwindling supply of home-grown menaces, Al Davis found himself a real Raider languishing on a Midwestern unprotected list during the off-season.
It was the ex-Chicago Bear terror, Otis Wilson, who was everything your would-be pillager could ask for: agile, mobile, hostile, verbal.
Everything except one thing--fully bipedal.
Wilson was available because he had undergone knee surgery.
Signed for $550,000 a season and ticketed for a starting linebacker spot, he opens camp as a backup.
He started camp out of pads, although he says it’s part of the master plan.
“The knee feels pretty good,” Wilson said. “Taking it slow. I’m not rushing it.
“Right now, everything’s on course, as planned. Feels good. No complications. Just getting ready to work. Getting ready for a good year.”
Where was this guy before that 1988 Monday night exhibition in Dallas when he went down? He could have taught the Raiders a thing or two about Raider Ball. Like the time when the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Louis Lipps went in motion opposite him, crossed over the line and Wilson rocked him with an elbow to the helmet that led off the highlight shows for a week and got Wilson fined by Pete Rozelle.
When Davis, having watched his defense dip toward mediocrity, spotted Wilson’s name on the Group B free-agent list, it was love at first sight. Davis has a history of pulling linebackers off junk heaps. Remember Rod Martin, drafted in the 12th round and twice waived? Twice-traded Ted Hendricks?
They talked. Wilson signed for $1.1 million over two seasons.
“Well, it was real simple,” Wilson said. “He (Davis) was saying he wanted to get back to the old Raider regime. That’s bloodying peoples’ noses, being aggressive, hitting. That’s the kind of player I am, or at least try to be.
“You know, a hard-working player like myself only knows one level. That’s to knock you on your butt and walk away.”
The Raiders know all about it. In 1984, when they were defending Super Bowl champions, they played the Bears in Soldier Field. The date was Nov. 4. The Raiders were 7-2 and considered themselves a dynasty.
In a single afternoon, you could watch two franchises’ destinies passing.
The Bears won, 17-6, but numbers don’t even hint at their domination. They knocked Marc Wilson out of the game early. Then they broke David Humm’s jaw and tore up one of his knees, ending his career. Ray Guy was warming up on the sideline when Wilson came running back from the dressing room.
After that, everyone knew there was a new master of disaster in town. A season later, the Bears won the Super Bowl, with Wilson leading the defense in barking. (This produced one of the great Super Bowl questions, when a writer asked him: “Was that an arf or a woof ?”)
Two seasons after that, the Raiders fell out of the playoffs and haven’t returned since.
Were the Bears psyched to play the Raiders?
“Any time you play a championship organization like (the Raiders), you have to be ready, or they’re gonna whup you up,” Wilson said. “We were just coming into our prime. We wanted to be noted as a hard-hitting team, and they definitely had the reputation of coming in and beating up people. And we weren’t going to be beaten up in our own back yard.
“So we invited them to the party and sent ‘em home upset.
“Everything happened in that game. One time I hit Marcus (Allen) in the back. I mean, not intentionally. It was an interception. He turned and I hit him. Matt Millen was telling me he wanted to beat me up for that. I wasn’t worried. We’d have beaten him up.”
They’re all Raiders together now, marking others for destruction. But Wilson intends to bring himself along slowly.
Until then, he can handle second-string.
“My entire concern is to get as healthy as I possibly can,” Wilson said. “Whatever I can do to help this club win and get to a championship, then that’s what I’ll do, whether it’s being No. 3 or playing two or three plays, as long as I play those two or three plays to the best of my ability.
“I mean, I have nothing to prove to anyone at this point. I’m going into my 10th season. I know I can play football. They know I can play well.
“I always see myself as a starter. That’s all I’ve been all my life. I can’t see anything else but being a starter. But you have to understand I’m coming off a reconstruction of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). And that takes time. You can’t just jump right back into it and get back to the level you are.”
Wilson still lives in Chicago and when he declares he always will, he betrays the hurt of being left unprotected.
On top of everything else, his time seemed to be ending there. He was a Buddy Ryan guy and Mike Ditka is said to have noticed when Wilson went to see Ryan the night before the Philadelphia Eagles-Bears playoff game.
Wilson says Ditka used to call him and Wilbur Marshall “the big-mouth bookends.” When Wilson signed with the Raiders, Ditka hinted broadly that his health problems limited his prospects.
“I’ve never been one of his favorites and he’s never been one of mine,” Wilson said of Ditka.
“I mean, I have no disrespect for the man. I don’t wish anything would happen to him. He made his decision and he did me a favor. End of story.”
End of one story. Start of another one just like the other one, the Raiders are hoping.