Everyone knew the redhead would replace the blond at quarterback for the Raiders. It was supposed to happen sometime in 1993, though, not Wednesday, when word leaked that rookie Todd Marinovich will start for injured Jay Schroeder in Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum.
The Raiders did not make an official announcement and probably won't.
Coach Art Shell said only that it is possible Marinovich will start ahead of No. 2 Vince Evans in place of Schroeder, who is hobbled by two sprained ankles. But neither Marinovich, in his excitement, nor Evans, in his disappointment, could keep the secret for long.
Marinovich, a rookie from USC and a man who has four professional football passes to his name, told the gathered media before lunch that he was going to run the first-team offense in practice this week.
"I don't know if that means I'm starting or not, but it's a good indication." Marinovich said.
Evans, 36, said Shell broke the news to him Wednesday morning.
"I was very disappointed and hurt," Evans said. "That seems to be the way things are done. Since I've been here, I've never really been given a shot to play."
Evans has been listed No. 2 behind Schroeder all season and assumed the natural pecking order would make him the starter if No. 1 was felled.
"Nothing is automatic in life," Shell said.
Still, with his experience, Evans seemed the more logical short-term successor to Schroeder, injured in Monday night's 27-0 loss to New Orleans Saints.
"I was excited coming to work this morning," Evans said, "because I thought that it was going to be inevitable, based on the progression as to how things have been all season. So that kind of threw a wrench in things a little bit."
News that Marinovich would start should come as a surprise to the Chiefs, and maybe that's the whole idea.
Because of a rare circumstance, the Raiders and Chiefs will play each other in consecutive weeks. The winner of Sunday's game secures home-field advantage for a first-round wild-card rematch, either Dec. 28 or 29.
Might Marinovich be a pawn in a larger playoff chess match?
The Raiders, who limp into Sunday's game with injuries to key starters, must decide whether winning home-field advantage is important enough to risk rushing back wounded players, maybe at the expense of a more important game a week later.
Why give the Chiefs more film to study? Why not feed them an untested rookie--a left-hander no less--hoping Marinovich might steal a game while no one is looking?
This much is certain: the Chiefs are going to have a tough time rounding up game film on Marinovich. His career has consisted of one quarter's work in an exhibition game against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 12. Marinovich completed three of four passes for 16 yards. His completions were thrown to Greg Bell, Mike Alexander, and Greg Harrell--who are no longer Raiders.
It has been a long time.
Marinovich has taken over scout team operations this season, a chore reserved for Steve Beuerlein in 1990, and has received minimal work with the Raiders. Marinovich has taken no more than 10% of the practice snaps, maybe less.
"Hopefully I'll get enough work out here so that I'll be prepared," he said. "I think it's like riding a bike. Once you do it, you can get back on and ride it well."
Marinovich has not played in a game of significance since his dubious collegiate farewell in the 1990 Hancock Bowl, when the then-USC sophomore was removed by Coach Larry Smith in an 18-17 loss to Michigan State.
In the aftermath, television cameras caught Marinovich mouthing the words "I'm outta here" on the sidelines.
And Marinovich was. After a drug arrest in January, he forfeited his junior and senior seasons to enter the NFL draft. There, the Raiders made Marinovich the 24th pick with the hope he someday would mature into an NFL quarterback.
Someday is Sunday.
"Just being patient, that's been the hardest thing," Marinovich said. "Just sitting back and waiting my turn. It might be this weekend."
Shell said Marinovich has made steady progress this season and downplayed concerns that the rookie has not had enough work with the first team to be effective.
"He hasn't run an abundance of plays in practice," Shell said. "I think Jay has done most of that. I think if you look at most football teams, the starting quarterback gets 90% of the snaps in practice. But he has gotten some. And he's had some work after practice. So I don't see it as being a real big problem if he has to (take the) snap. I don't see that."
Shell also refused to answer questions about whether the team reacted hastily in trading Beuerlein to Dallas last summer.
"I'll talk to you about the Raiders," Shell said, "but I will not talk to you about the Dallas Cowboys."
The talk now is about Marinovich, who, with a push from a diligent father, Marv, has been working toward this moment almost since birth.
"Oh yeah, I'm ready for it," he said. "I can't wait. This is a dream come true."
Schroeder, getting around without crutches Wednesday, held out hope that he could practice late this week and play Sunday.
He hadn't been told there might be other plans.
"I haven't been told anything," he said, "probably because I don't factor in the decision making."
Neither does Evans, who said his disappointment will not preclude him from helping Marinovich. "It's easy to be negative, to be a distraction," Evans said. "Certainly that's never represented my character. Nevertheless, I'm human, and it does hurt and I will not try to cover that up. I don't think that's being any less than a man by doing that."
PRO BOWL: Led by Ronnie Lott, eight Raiders are selected for the Pro Bowl. C7