Controversy Clouds Rare Raider Victory

Times Staff Writer

Raider senior assistant Bruce Allen looked into a turbulent sea of microphones, cameras and notebooks at Network Associates Coliseum on Sunday afternoon and said resolutely, "We like wearing the patch."

That was before Oakland had upset the Minnesota Vikings, 28-18, even before the opening kickoff.

Wearing the patch means playing dominating, menacing football.

The Raiders did that for a change Sunday.

Wearing the patch also means playing the role of outlaws off the field.

The Raiders may also have done that, according to a CBS report. According to the report, four Raiders -- linebacker Bill Romanowski, center Barret Robbins, and defensive linemen Dana Stubblefield and Chris Cooper -- have been notified by the league that they have tested positive for the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).

While denying any knowledge of the accuracy of the report in an impromptu news conference, Allen said the Raiders wear their image with pride, even if it means attracting attention good and bad.

"I'm not really talking about it," Robbins said of the report before quickly exiting the Raider locker room after the game. "Obviously I'm not happy about it."

The charge is the latest in a series of off-the-field problems for Robbins, who missed last season's Super Bowl because of erratic behavior that was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder. He also had off-season knee surgery.

"You never know what's going to happen," Cooper said when asked if he had been notified by the league of a positive drug test.

Stubblefield, who was not activated for the game, had already left the locker room by the time the media were allowed in.

Romanowski hasn't played since Sept. 22 because of post-concussion medical problems.

According to the report, the four Raiders were notified this week that urine samples had come back positive.

Allen said the Raiders would have no way of knowing if the report is true because the drug testing is a matter between the league and the players. Team officials would not be brought into the situation until later in the process.

"The team is always the last to know," he said.

If the charges in the CBS report are correct, the four Raiders would face four-game suspensions, but each has the right of appeal.

Stubblefield and Cooper appeared Thursday before a grand jury probing a nutritional supplements lab -- the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO).

An attorney for BALCO founder Victor Conte has confirmed his client is the target of the grand jury probe. Conte has been accused by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of supplying athletes with THG. He has denied the report.

"I'm disturbed that any information was leaked," said Raider defensive lineman Trace Armstrong, president of the players' association. "For someone to leak this or make a statement like this is irresponsible. This isn't about the Raiders. It's a process agreed to between us and the league. And somehow, that process has been violated."

While most Raiders were hesitant to talk about the report, they were more than happy to discuss the win over the NFC North Division-leading Vikings (6-4), who have lost four in a row.

Based on Sunday's performance, in front of 56,653, the biggest puzzle is how the Vikings managed to win their first six games.

By the time Sunday's game was over, Minnesota had managed to fill up every negative category on the stat sheet. They had six turnovers (three fumbles and three interceptions), were guilty of 10 penalties for 60 yards, ran their offense as if it were the first day of training camp and dropped several passes.

Despite all that, Minnesota was in the game nearly until the end against the Raiders (3-7).

With their top two quarterbacks (Rich Gannon, shoulder injury, and Marques Tuiasosopo, knee injury) out for the season, the Raiders are depending on third-stringer Rick Mirer, but no more than they have to.

They again stuck to a ground game, rushing 43 times while passing only 13. They were led by Tyrone Wheatley, who rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown.

The tone was set early when Raider cornerback Phillip Buchanon picked off Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper's first pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.

Given a lead, the Raiders rushed 17 times in the first half, passing only four times. Zack Crockett's one-yard run increased their lead to 14-3 by the half.

Wheatley's two-yard run in the third quarter was matched by Culpepper's 11-yard scoring scramble.

But in the fourth quarter, Culpepper, who completed 27 of 49 passes for 396 yards, connected with Kelly Campbell for a 29-yard touchdown pass and Hunter Goodwin on a two-point conversion to cut the Raider lead to 21-18 with just over 8 1/2 minutes to play.

On a fourth and two from the Viking three with just over three minutes to play, the Raiders had a chance to expand their lead to six with a chip-shot field goal. Instead they went for the first down, a gamble that appeared to have paid off when Mirer, roaming to his right, had an open Tim Brown on the goal line. But Brown dropped the ball.

But as was the case all afternoon, Minnesota failed to capitalize, Culpepper responding with his final interception, Rod Woodson picking off the ball to set up a game-clinching, two-yard scoring run by Crockett.

"There's always answers, man," Viking defensive tackle Chris Hovan said afterward. "Always answers."

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