ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- At the end of the 1989 season, Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis knew he had a sick offense. So he called a doctor. A quarterback doctor.
After watching his team slip to 25th in passing offense, Davis hired former Illinois head coach Mike White last spring and gave him a mandate to straighten out the Raiders' woeful quarterback situation. Largely because of White's one-on-one tutoring of quarterback Jay Schroeder, the Raiders have made it to Sunday's AFC championship game against the Bills in Buffalo.
This season, Schroeder threw 19 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions. He had an NFL-high yards-per-completion average of 8.53.
Those numbers were a dramatic reversal from the previous year, when Schroeder was physically and mentally battered. That season, he suffered a collarbone injury on his very first pass attempt and while trying to play with the injury, nearly destroyed his career. Throwing 13 interceptions and completing less than 47 percent of his passes, he was banished to the bench in favor of Steve Beuerlein by midseason.
"When I got here, what I found was a guy who was a relatively scarred quarterback," said White. "He was a guy who had lost his job last year and, as the statistical things indicated, just wasn't performing as a top quarterback. But he happened to be a guy who was deeply committed to proving himself."
How committed? Committed enough to make the stunning (and politically shrewd) offer to give up $100,000 of his $1 million salary this season. That got Davis' attention. Plus, the Raiders' owner had traded Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jim Lachey to Washington for Schroeder in 1988, and Davis doesn't like to look bad.
"After last season, I just wanted them to know I was ready to play," Schroeder said. "They were fair with me from Day One, and I just wanted to be fair with Mr. Davis."
Beuerlein might gag a little over all this talk of fairness. He held out in the preseason wanting a significant improvement over his '89 salary of $140,000. Not only did Davis play hardball, but after Beuerlein did sign, he was never activated.
Obviously, that move paved the way for Schroeder to win and keep the quarterback job this season. But despite White's tutelage, Schroeder still hit a bumpy stretch in 1990.
Halfway through the season, Schroeder had a four-game slump when he tossed four interceptions, no TDs and completed 44 percent of his passes. The Raiders went 1-3 and there were calls to replace him with Beuerlein. Coach Art Shell wouldn't make the move.
"I felt good about Jay all year long, even when the pressure came about to make the change there," Shell said. "I'm going to do what's good for our football team and right now, Jay Schroeder is good for our football team."
Last week, in the Raiders' 20-10 playoff victory over Cincinnati, Schroeder's two touchdown passes were tributes to the long hours of practice spent with White.
Schroeder credits White with his turnaround. But the quarterback also said the the Raiders' offensive scheme, which emphasizes the running of Bo Jackson (injured hip) and Marcus Allen, has helped him immeasurably.
"You find that some teams will commit eight men to stopping our running game," Schroeder said. "And any time we get a team that's going to spend that much effort trying to stop that part of our attack, it's going to make it a lot easier to be able to throw the ball."