The agony, the ecstasy--the Raiders.
It gets so mixed up in this zaniest of organizations. That's how it has been for eight seasons in Los Angeles, all soaring highs and plummeting lows.
Two years after their arrival, the Raiders gave Los Angeles its only Super Bowl victory. In the last four seasons before announcing their intention to return to Oakland, they have failed to post a winning record or make the playoffs, the longest such slump in their history.
They list seven 90,000 crowds in the Los Angeles Coliseum. They played to as few as 32,111--five weeks before they won Super Bowl XVIII--and 10,708, for the first "replacement" game during the 1987 strike.
They got into fights, suits and snits--with opponents, the league, the newspapers, and, of course, one another.
A highlight was promotions director Mike Ornstein's punching of executive assistant John Herrera at camp in Oxnard in 1986. In another organization, it would have been hushed up, or heads would have rolled. These are the Raiders and no action was taken, internally. Herrera signed a criminal complaint. Ornstein pleaded no contest.
Ornstein was fired two years later--for sounding out the Rams about employment. Some things Al Davis simply couldn't forgive.
This is how it was, year by unforgettable year.
Disaster hits right away when the ticket-location procedure becomes hopelessly messed up, the skeleton Raider front office overmatched by the task at hand. A former Raider official says it was widely acknowledged that if they hadn't opened seven weeks late, thanks to that year's strike, they would never have been ready.
The team lives in, practices in and commutes from Oakland.
The Raiderettes fly down from Oakland, too. They're all Oakland girls, none from Los Angeles.
The Raiders play their first home game in the L.A. Coliseum Nov. 22. A crowd of 55,060 sees them fall behind the Chargers, 24-0, then rally to win, 28-24.
The Raiders go 8-1, the NFL's best record. Rookie Marcus Allen rushes for 697 yards.
On Dec. 18, they beat the Rams in their return to the Coliseum, 37-31. A crowd of 65,776 makes this the NFL's first million-dollar regular-season gate.
Regular-season attendance averages only 56,798. However, 90,037--with only 651 no-shows--watch the Raiders' AFC semifinal against the New York Jets.
The Raiders seem headed for a Super Bowl matchup with the Redskins in Pasadena but are upset by the Jets, 17-14. Jim Plunkett throws an interception to linebacker Lance Mehl, ending the last threat.
Afterward, Jet Coach Lou Michaels charges that Al Davis, up to his old tricks, called Michaels on a pay phone outside the Jets' dressing room at halftime.
Davis denies it.
After most writers have left, a man calls the same pay phone and says it was he. He's in a bar in Queens.
The Raider players move to Los Angeles but tell anyone who asks that they miss Oakland.
The team goes 12-4.
Average attendance stays in the mid-50s during the season, but for the playoffs, the Raiders get 92,434 and 92,335.
In a Super Bowl highlighted by Jack Squirek's interception, Derrick Jensen's punt block, Ray Guy's leap to catch a high snap, Marcus Allen's 191 yards rushing, and too many more feats to mention, they squash the Redskins, 38-9, the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl until then.
Allen is the game's MVP after a frustrating season, during which he confronted Davis and asked to carry the ball more.
Pete Rozelle is forced to present the Lombardi Trophy to his arch-foe for the second time in four years. The world waits to hear what Davis will say after moving, suing, winning the suit and now the championship of football, too.
Davis, smiling hugely, says, "Just win, baby."
The phrase becomes more popular than "One small step for a man, one large step for mankind."
Davis also says: "Ah believe the greatness of this team lahs in its fu-chuh."
Lots of people agree. The Raiders have a fine old quarterback, Plunkett; a highly regarded young one, Marc Wilson; enough depth for two offensive lines; the greatest cornerback tandem ever in Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes; young Howie Long, old Lyle Alzado, zany Ted Hendricks, Rod Martin, Matt Millen, Cliff Branch.
What could go wrong?
Attendance skyrockets. Four of the eight home games draw better than 80,000. The season average is 70,023, the team record.
They start 7-1.
They face 7-1 Denver in the Coliseum, with John Elway out and Gary Kubiak subbing before 92,496, the largest crowd in Raider history.
The Broncos stun them, 22-19, in overtime. The Raiders blow a chance to kick the winning field goal when fullback Frank Hawkins fumbles inside the Denver 10.
A week later, the Raiders take a fearsome pounding in a 17-6 loss at Chicago. The young Bear defense KOs Wilson, who leaves with a right thumb injury, then breaks David Humm's jaw. Wilson returns while Guy warms up on the sidelines.
Wilson's thumb bothers him for weeks but he pulls out of it with a brilliant game in Miami. The Dolphins come in 12-1 and the Raiders upset them in a wild 45-34 shoot-out. Dan Marino passed for 470 yards. Haynes returns an interception 97 yards for a touchdown. Everyone thinks the Raiders are back.
But the season ends in a desultory 13-7 loss to the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers in the Coliseum. The field is a swamp, USC and Notre Dame having ground what remained of the turf under in a storm the day before. The Raiders try drying it with a helicopter. Wilson looks so bad, Tom Flores pulls him for Plunkett, who has been out with a groin injury for much of the season.
The Raiders finish 11-5. With the last game, they've lost their chance to play at home in the wild-card game and must go to Seattle.
Is Flores worried?
He starts Plunkett.
The Raiders get beaten, 13-7. The Seahawks rush for 205 yards, led by a plodder named Dan Dornik who gets 126.
Raider defenders point fingers all over the locker room.
"We had no offense, so we got beat," says Alzado. "It's as simple as that."
Attendance climbs higher still, to an average of 70,360, another record.
The Raiders start 1-3.
Game 4, against the 49ers, is a home game televised in Los Angeles, with 92,487 tickets distributed before the 72-hour deadline.
The 49ers murder them, 34-10.
Defensive end Jeff Stover drives Plunkett to the ground, dislocating his right shoulder and ending his season. Plunkett is put on the golf cart for the ride to the dressing room. Equipment man Run Run Jones puts it in reverse by mistake, giving Plunkett another jolt.
Wilson plays shakily--his first pass the next week at New England is intercepted. The team rallies behind its stellar defense and Allen, en route to a league-high 1,759 yards rushing, plus 67 pass receptions for another 555 yards. Raider insiders still say it's the greatest season a back ever had, since his line was mediocre.
They finish 11-1. They'll be at home through the playoffs and figure they're headed for a Super Bowl matchup against the Bears in New Orleans.
In their playoff opener against the Patriots, the Raiders lead, 17-7--and fall, 27-20. Wilson throws three interceptions and misses half a dozen open receivers. The Patriots score the winning touchdown when Sammy Seale fumbles into the end zone on a kickoff return.
Millen swats Patriot General Manager Pat Sullivan on the head with his helmet in a row on the way to the dressing room.
No one knows it, but the Raiders have just bade adieu to the playoffs for the '80s.
For the second consecutive year, the draft washes out. The year before, it started Jessie Hester-Tim Moffett-Stefon Adams. This time, it's Bob Buczkowski-Brad Cochran.
Attendance remains high: 70,010.
Marc Wilson remains the starting quarterback, Flores having urged Davis to quash a trade to the Eagles.
Wilson plays brilliantly in a season-opening 40-38 loss at Denver.
A week later, he gets beaten up in a 10-6 loss at Washington.
The Raiders make it 0-3 the next week, losing at home to the Giants. Allen suffers a sprained ankle and his record string of 100-yard rushing games is broken at 11.
Allen will rarely be sound again. He has had one 100-yard game since.
The Raiders, though, rally to 8-4.
Wilson struggles until he's pulled at halftime at Dallas. There are reports Davis sent a note to the dressing room, ordering it. Plunkett comes off the bench and throws two touchdown passes to Dokie Williams to win the game.
The eighth victory is recorded at San Diego. Allen wins it with a 29-yard touchdown run in overtime, dragging several Chargers across the goal line.
The playoffs appear a lock. The Raiders will play three of their final four at home, including games with the lowly Eagles and Indianapolis Colts.
The Eagles stun them, 33-27 in overtime. With the winning field goal in sight, Allen fumbles at the Eagle 12 and a defensive back runs it back into the end zone.
The Raiders go to Seattle for what is now a big game. The night before, a couple of team officials ask Hawkins, the most indomitable of players, if the team is ready.
Hawkins shrugs and says they have no chance up here. Give that man a cigar. They lose, 37-0.
They drop their next two, at home to the Kansas City Chiefs and Colts, finish 8-8, and miss the playoffs.
Excitable Rusty Hilger takes over at quarterback and plays erratically in victories over the doormat Packers and Lions.
The strike ensues. The Raiders field a powerful strike team, with Vince Evans and vets Howie Long and Bill Pickel, but are upset by Denver's no-names. A week later, Evans throws a game-losing interception to San Diego's Elvis Patterson. When the strikers return, the team is 3-2 instead of the 5-0 it expected, and everyone in angry at everyone else.
It shows. The Raiders lose seven in a row.
An official is heard in the press box at Minnesota, saying, "Mr. Davis wants a new quarterback." Exit Hilger, hello Marc Wilson.
Bo Jackson helps end the streak with his 221-yard game at, of all places, Seattle.
Jackson leads a 34-21 wipeout of improved Buffalo a week later.
Suddenly bursting with momentum, the Raiders wonder if they can finish a respectable 8-7?
Nope. Jackson goes back to Kansas City where his baseball fans feel betrayed and boo him. He sprains an ankle, runs off to the dressing room to be treated but returns for only a few plays. The Raiders lose. Jackson doesn't play at all in season-ending home losses to the Browns and Bears.
The Raiders finish 5-10, their worst record in the Davis era.
Attendance plummets to 53,727.
Tom Flores resigns as coach, not under pressure, he says.
Davis goes outside the organization for the first time for a coach: Denver assistant Mike Shanahan.
Wilson, whose contract is up, is waived after refusing to attend minicamp.
Davis wheels and deals. He gets Willie Gault and Jim Lachey, trades Lachey for quarterback Jay Schroeder.
Schroeder struggles. The Raiders stumble to 7-8, but need only beat Seattle in the finale at the Coliseum to make the playoffs.
They lose, 43-37.
Attendance comes back only to 57,480.
Unsettling reports precede the season: Davis is talking to Oakland and Sacramento; Davis is unhappy with Shanahan.
The Raiders go 0-4 in exhibitions.
After they beat the lowly Chargers in their opener at home, a taut Shanahan says they'd had their "backs to the wall."
At 1-3, Davis, who has never fired a coach, cans Shanahan after 20 games and appoints Art Shell.
The players rejoice at a return to the Raider Way. With Bo Jackson running wild, they start 4-1 under Shell, losing only when Jeff Jaeger misses a couple of medium-range field goals at Philadelphia.
With two games left, they're 8-6. One more victory will put them in the playoffs.
They lose at Seattle and in the Meadowlands to the Giants.
Attendance drops to 51,000.
Davis finally announces his choice: Oakland, but probably not until 1992.