As has been the case so often in Raider victories over the years, it all came down to how well Howie Long used his head Sunday at the Coliseum. Indeed, the veteran defensive end, who has made a career out of brainy plays, gave new meaning to the Raiders' skull and bones symbol.
To the uninformed in the crowd of 85,102, Long wasn't doing much on the second-and-10 play that Jim Everett and the Rams ran from their own 30 with just over three minutes remaining and the score tied, 17-17.
It appeared Rams' right guard Duval Love and right tackle Jackie Slater pretty much had Long blocked out, well back from the pocket and Everett. As Slater said, "They had some sort of stunt on, I think, and Duval and I just had Howie back away from everything. I don't think he even got his hand up."
Hand up, indeed. That's what other defensive linemen would do in that situation.
In this situation, Long's helmeted head was in the path of Everett's pass and deflected it downfield to teammate Ronnie Lott, who only had to look up to see the eventual 20-17 Raider victory floating his way.
Some would say that Long and the Raiders had been lucky. Bob Golic, who plays defensive tackle next to Long, knew better.
"The thing that nobody seems to understand," Golic said, trying and failing to appear serious, "is that that was a planned job by Howie. Howie knew that, were the ball to come off the wrong side of his helmet, it wouldn't deflect properly to Ronnie, so he had it hit him exactly right on the side of the helmet so it would go the right way."
Then Golic paused for effect, looked around and said, "Gee, you guys seem like you are having a hard time believing that."
Behind Golic at his locker, Long was rolling his eyes a lot and answering one questioner after another with phrases such as: "Yeah, it hit my head. That's why I'm a smart player."
The Raiders, normally about as wild and crazy as a chess tournament, were fairly loosey-goosey after this victory. Even quarterback Jay Schroeder, not quite ready for prime time at the Improv, had a fun tale to tell.
On the drive that got the Raiders to 17-17, he had hit running back Nick Bell in his hands with a pass that was a wide-open touchdown play. Bell, who had dribbled that one off his chest, came back two plays later with a one-yard scoring run.
"When he came back to the huddle," Schroeder said, "I told him, 'You owe us one, buddy.'
"Then, when he ran it over, he came back at me and said, 'Hey, I didn't want my first touchdown to be a pass play. I wanted to ram one over.' "
And so he did.
For Vernon Turner of the Rams, Sunday could have been perfect. Everything went right, except his team lost.
"If I could erase what I did and trade it for a win," he said, "I'd do it in a minute."
What Turner did is make a marvelous catch over the middle on a pass play from Everett that started on the Raider 19 and ended in the end zone, giving the Rams a 17-10 lead in the third period.
"I'm not really the kind of player who remembers plays well until I see them on the film," said Turner, who then went on to remember just about everything about the play.
"I remember beating the linebacker inside, and I remember Jim Everett scrambling," Turner said. "Then, I remember bobbling the ball and seeing the end zone coming up and really wanting to go for that. But how I got there, I'm not really all that sure."
Turner got there by carrying a couple of Raiders across the goal line with him, then celebrating and dancing in the end zone so much that the Rams drew a "demonstration foul" that was assessed on the kickoff.
But perhaps Turner had the right. Not only was the scoring pass his first touchdown pass as a pro, but it was his first reception, period.
"You know, I guess that's right," Turner said. "I'm not sure I thought about that until you reminded me. That is kind of neat, isn't it?"
Jeff Jaeger had contributed somewhat to the 17-10 hole the Raiders found themselves in late in the game when he missed a 32-yard field goal in the opening minutes of the final quarter. To a professional field goal kicker, a 32-yarder is a two-foot putt.
So when Jaeger lined up for a 34-yarder with seven seconds left and the game tied, he knew that he better not get the yips again.
"When you come back out--and you bet you are grateful to have another chance--you have lots of things going through your mind, like what you did wrong the last time and making sure you don't do that again," he said. "So, you might say, I was pretty well focused for the last one."
Ram running back Robert Delpino had his best day as a receiver, catching eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, but he was more interested in talking about Ronnie Lott and the Raider defensive back's two key interceptions. "I feel he personally won this game for them," Delpino said. . . . Another player who had a big game receiving was the Raiders' Ethan Horton, who caught four for 93 yards and drew this comment from Jeff Fisher, Ram defensive coordinator: "We didn't cover the tight end all day. We made an all-pro out of Ethan Horton." . . . Roger Craig's 15-yard run for the Raiders early in the third quarter was the team's longest from scrimmage this season.