The Los Angeles Raiders' last gasp of real glory came on Jan. 22, 1984. The place was Tampa, Fla., the setting was Super Bowl XVIII and the coronation was a 38-9 whipping of the Washington Redskins.
Marcus Allen won the MVP award by rushing for 191 yards, and a linebacker named Jack Squirek claimed his 15 minutes of fame just before halftime with the easiest touchdown in Super Bowl annals.
Will history repeat itself? Are the Raiders going back when the Super Bowl revisits Tampa in two weeks? Will destiny and deja vu be dressed in silver and black next Sunday when the Raiders invade Buffalo for the AFC championship game?
Inquiring minds wanted to know after Allen rushed for 140 yards and the Raiders extinguished the Cincinnati Bengals 20-10 yesterday in the L.A. Coliseum.
This was a weekend that ran true to form in the NFL. The divisional playoff round was dominated by the favorites. There were no upsets, but there were a few recurring themes.
In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers rejected the Redskins 28-10 on Saturday and the New York Giants smoked the Chicago Bears 31-3 yesterday. Question: Which team was warming up for the annual Super Bowl blowout? Answer: Watch Sunday when they play for NFC bragging rights.
In the AFC, the Bills froze out Dan Marino's magnificent obsession and outscored the Miami Dolphins, 44-34, on Rich Stadium's snow-covered tundra Saturday. No wonder. Don Shula didn't even look like Don Shula in that aqua parka. Next, the Raiders from sunny California will try to survive frigid upstate New York.
How about the Old Geezers Club? All the winners had one this weekend. Old as in football age, anyway. The Raiders' Allen, who seemingly has been around forever, turns 31 in March and is in his ninth NFL season. He was clutch when the Raiders lost Bo Jackson to a strained right hip early in the second half. He finished strong with runs of 20 and 18 yards on the field-goal drive that iced the game in the fourth quarter.
There was the Giants' Ottis Anderson, a 33-year-old, 12-year veteran who saw expanded duty against the Bears after rookie Rodney Hampton broke his left leg in the second quarter. Ottis, who will have to carry the running game from here on out, responded with 80 yards on 21 carries.
Then there was Buffalo's James Lofton, a 13-year vet. A relic as a 34-year-old wide receiver, Lofton ravaged the Dolphins'
secondary with seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown.
And finally there was San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, a youthful 34. The 49ers' 12-year veteran was a picture of cool efficiency contrasted against Mark Rypien's wretched excess. Although Rypien passed for 361 yards and the Redskins rolled up 441 total yards (to the 49ers' 338), Montana struck for three consecutive touchdown drives in the first half. He finished with 274 yards and two touchdown passes.
What the Old Geezers Club suggests, of course, is that experienced leadership will go a long way in the postseason.
Another theme that materialized was the matter of revenge. It promises to smother both championship games this week.
The Giants want to avenge a 7-3 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco on Dec. 3. That was when 49ers safety Ronnie Lott got in quarterback Phil Simms' face with an unflattering remark after a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.
Simms won't play this time, though. He's out with a badly sprained ankle, not likely to return this season. Which raises a curious possibility. Suppose his replacement, longtime backup Jeff Hostetler, can do what Phil couldn't last Dec. 3 and beats the 49ers. If he does, does that mean Simms, a former Super Bowl hero himself, is out of a job?
Hostetler handled himself commendably in his first playoff start yesterday. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. It is Hostetler's scrambling, more than his passing, that concerns the 49ers. Simms was no threat to leave the pocket.
The Raiders are looking for a cup of the same revenge stew in Buffalo. They blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Bills on Oct. 7 en route to a 38-24 defeat. It did not go down well. Besides, they didn't have Jackson at the time.
Now, it is possible they may not have him again. Or, at least, Bo may be limited by the effects of Kevin Walker's tackle at the end of a 34-yard run yesterday. But they do have Allen, who rushed for 71 yards that game.
Allen helped give the Raiders a 24-14 lead. But the Bills erupted for 24 points in a six-minute span. The big plays in the comeback were a 38-yard touchdown run by cornerback James Williams after Steve Tasker blocked a Raiders punt, and a 49-yard TD run by cornerback Nate Odomes after stealing the ball from receiver Willie Gault.
Whether the Raiders can solve the Bills' raging offense is another large issue. Quarterback Jim Kelly returned from a three-week, injury-forced absence and not coincidentally, Buffalo scored on eight of its first nine possessions.
The NFL's top-rated passer this season, Kelly threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns. In the snow. In Bills' weather. That's why the Bills like their chances this time around.