Raiders look back, fall behind Past success leads to present failure

December 26, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Pride, Poise and Peanuts.

That might be an appropriate title for the tale of the downfall of the Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders.

The team that will show up at RFK Stadium today to play the Washington Redskins in their season finale is a team that bears little resemblance to the one that once made Pride and Poise its slogan.

The Raiders, struggling at 6-9, now appear to have little pride or poise, but they do have a player (reportedly wide receiver Mervyn Fernandez) who was caught eating peanuts on the sideline during a game two weeks ago.

The incident is symbolic of how far the Raiders have fallen since their glory days in Oakland.

In their second year in Los Angeles, they routed the Redskins, 38-9, in Super Bowl XVIII in January 1984. Al Davis, the team's controversial owner, proclaimed that the "greatness of the Raiders is in the future."

Nobody knew it was in the past. That turned out to be the Raiders' last hurrah.

Since that game, the Redskins have won two Super Bowls and have a shot at qualifying for the playoffs tomorrow.

The Raiders have won just one playoff game since that Super Bowl. In their past seven years, their regular-season record is exactly .500 -- 55-55. The team that once proclaimed itself as the winningest organization in professional sports has become mediocre.

"Just win, baby," was once Davis' slogan. Now, the Raiders just win every other one.

The pride seems to be gone, too. Marcus Allen, the hero of that Super Bowl victory over the Redskins, has charged that Davis is trying to ruin his career and nobody -- including Allen -- is even sure why Davis is upset at him. Davis isn't commenting.

In any case, Allen, whose career already might be ruined at age 32, will leave sometime after Feb. 1 if the new free-agency deal is finalized next week.

That's another part of the problem. In the past, it was often said that, if the players got free agency, Davis would scoop up the most coveted ones. They'd want to play for the Raiders. Now, the Raiders have lost their mystique, and some of their players just want to get out of town.

The major problem seems to be that Davis acts as if he can keep doing the same things he did two decades ago.

Even former Raiders standouts such as Lester Hayes can't understand it.

"I think a high school defensive planner would actually stop that offense. It's that outdated," Hayes said. "The offense has no type of thought. They think that Art Shell [now the coach] is still playing, that [Gene] Upshaw is still playing. That's the old days. You can't play Humphrey Bogart football if you don't have Humphrey Bogart Hall of Fame players. If you don't have any Hall of Fame players in your offensive line, you have to change and they won't change. I don't understand it."

It's really not that hard to understand. For Davis, a man who apparently came to believe his own legend, change seems impossible. He figures the things that were successful in the past will be successful in the future.

He once had success with problem players, so he used a first-round draft pick on quarterback Todd Marinovich two years ago, despite his reputation for being immature. He's still immature, and is now a third-stringer.

Davis did try to change in 1988, when he brought in former Denver Broncos assistant coach Mike Shanahan as his head coach. Shanahan -- who's now running the San Francisco 49ers offense as an assistant coach -- lasted 20 games before Davis fired him, apparently because he was trying to change the way the Raiders did things.

Davis then installed a loyal Raider, Shell, as his head coach. That worked for a while -- the team was 12-4 in 1990 -- but didn't solve the basic problem, and the team has regressed.

For a man such as Shell, who was so much a part of the winning tradition, it's difficult to see the team struggling like this.

"It's very tough. I've never gone through anything like this," Shell said. "It's just unbelievable. It's like a nightmare. I keep hoping I'd wake up, but it's here. We'll just have to continue to fight and move on and get ready for next year."

Shell, though, scoffs at reports that he's lost control of the team.

"There are people that are out there that want to see us be destroyed and want to see us being taken down," he said. "They take me apart. They take Mr. Davis apart, and they take the

organization apart. When you lose, people take shots at you. You have to sit there and listen to people take shots at you.

"You've got to understand that, when they take shots at you, it's because you've been successful at some point in time during the course of your life. So now they've got an opportunity to take a shot at you when you're down, and they do it. That's part of life. The only thing you can do to combat that is to go out and win, and we'll be back on top again."

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