Skip to main content
Original Issue

They Had A Corner On The Championship

Al Davis didn't waste time. Unwilling to wait for the postgame locker-room mob to disperse, Davis, the managing general partner of the Raiders, threaded his way through the feverish and the jubilant in the home team's quarters at the Los Angeles Coliseum to congratulate his troops for the way they had humbled the plucky but overmatched Seattle Seahawks 30-14. Davis didn't mince steps. He went straight to the adjoining lockers of cornerbacks Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes. Running back Marcus Allen had contributed 216 total yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Jim Plunkett had gained 240 total yards and played with an élan and nimbleness he seems to put away for safekeeping until games like Sunday's AFC championship. Strong safety Mike Davis had intercepted the Seahawks twice. Wide receiver Malcolm Barnwell had caught five passes for 116 yards. The locker room was fairly choked with stars. Al 'Davis rightfully could have chosen any of the above as the recipient of his initial kudos of the day, but he's a man of defined priorities whose first, immutable law has always been: Give me two great corners, and I can move the earth.

Davis raised his left fist and smiled ferociously at the two magnificent, undressed athletes. "Lester. One more. Michael. One more," Davis said. Then he moved on. Hayes and Haynes, judge and jury, had allowed the black-clad horde that plays between them to dominate the Seahawks. On the third play of the game, Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg threw to wide receiver Byron Walker. Hayes intercepted but was called for pass interference. "A phantom call," Hayes said. "My shadow must have bumped him." On the next play, the Seahawks ran their AFC Rookie of the Year, Curt Warner, to the left. Haynes—alone—folded Warner into a new shape. No gain. Linebacker Rod Martin then sacked Krieg. No receiver had come open. An incomplete pass followed, and Seattle had to punt. But the Raiders roughed the kicker. Krieg had a new, brief life.

On the first play after the roughing call, Krieg, under a heavy rush, looked right, toward Hayes, and threw for wide receiver Steve Largent. "Sometimes a quarterback will just test a guy's reputation," said Raider running back Greg Pruitt. "And often he'll wish he hadn't." Hayes intercepted the sideline throw and raced 44 yards to the Seahawk 26. Thereafter, the Seattle offense was funneled inside and reduced to a bare trickle. With 8:46 left in the third quarter and the score 20-0 Raiders, the Seahawks had 16 yards in total offense.

Hayes is an All-Pro again, having regained the reputation for excellence he'd had in the Raiders' last Super Bowl season, 1980, when he covered himself with an orange goo called Kwik Grip Hold Tight Paste and intercepted 18 passes. This year he has only four. "But I've dropped at least eight," he says. "Mentally, I miss the stickum."

He had no problem clutching those two early throws by Krieg. "Hayes was waiting for the blitz, " said Krieg. "He knew what we were trying to do. He gambled correctly."

Hayes concurred in that analysis. "Largent prefers the quick out or the slant whenever the defense blitzes," he said. "I was thinking five-yard pattern." Was he playing man-to-man? "Yes," Hayes said. "Of course." The Raiders, unlike most NFL teams, still like their cornerbacks to play the old one-on-one.

One reason Hayes's interceptions have fallen off so drastically—he has had but 10 in the last three seasons—is that the ball usually has been on the other side of the field. From 1982 until six weeks ago the Raiders played Ted Watts, a 1981 No. 1 pick at right corner, but Watts may be more a safety at heart. In any case, he wasn't an earthshaking cornerback. Meanwhile, the NFL had outlawed stickum.

The NFL, it seemed, also made an attempt to outlaw Haynes. This fall, commissioner Pete Rozelle voided a trade in which the New England Patriots would have sent Haynes, then a holdout, to the Raiders. Rozelle said the deal had been consummated minutes after the Oct. 11 trading deadline. "I thought I was going to be in New Jersey, with Mr. Trump," says Haynes. "When they blocked the trade, I was upset. No other team had been willing to give up what New England was asking for me [a No. 1 pick in 1984 and a No. 2 in '85]. No doubt about it, I was headed for the USFL."

Ah, but if Kwik Grip Hold Tight Paste had Howard Slusher for an agent, as Haynes does, perhaps it too would have had a better fate. Slusher threatened to sue the NFL for blocking the trade, and an out-of-court settlement was reached on Nov. 10. The Patriots got their draft picks; Haynes, 30, got a reported three-year, $1.2 million deal; and the Raiders got a six-time All-Pro who has even veterans reaching for terms of praise.

"The difference after Mike came was like night and day," says Martin, an All-Pro himself. "I haven't had a player like him on my side of the field since Willie Brown retired."

"These are the best corners in the game." says Raider free safety Vann McElroy—a Pro Bowler, too—who intercepted a pass Sunday.

"To see them operate is something," says Mike Davis, who held the Seattle tight ends to one catch. "Especially Haynes. Lester has his own style, and it's effective for him, but Haynes is unreal. He makes you want to clone him."

Haynes shaped up in no time after the trade. He saw spot duty against Buffalo on Nov. 20 and had eased into the starting lineup, replacing Watts, by the San Diego game on Dec. 1. Now he and Hayes patrol man-to-man, gliding back and forth behind the linebackers as receivers go in motion or standing over their heads when they line up outside, Haynes is tall (6'2"), narrow of hip, a heavier man (202 pounds) than he looks to be. Hayes seems bulkier but weighs about the same. "All chest and ass," he says. Hayes, in his seventh year, can still run a 4.5 40. Haynes insists he's faster than ever, at least 4.5. "It's obvious why we got Michael," says Al Davis. "Once again, they were trying to stop us." No need to mention who "they" are. "It was good for the team. It was right."

Mike Davis explains what's so right: "Say I'm the quarterback. I see two All-Pros outside. Can't go to my wide receivers. What must I do? Do I send out a back and leave myself susceptible to the blitz? Do I go to the tight end? Say we double the tight end." Davis laughs.

Krieg, who was 3 for 9 for 12 yards before giving way to Jim Zorn in the third quarter, said, "They were in coverages we had seen before, but their corners are just very good."

Hayes had talked freely about the Washington Redskins and the Super Bowl all week, not equating looking past the Seahawks with ignoring them. "I don't fear [wide receivers] Charlie Brown or Art Monk. I fear Joe Gibbs," said Hayes. "Their offense is more complex than San Diego's was when Gibbs was there. He took Brown and Monk and made good receivers into semigreat receivers. Gibbs could line up [311-pound Redskin tackle] Joe Jacoby at tight end and make an All-Pro out of him." As the game clock wound down on Seattle, Hayes, in a Super flush, had said, "Charlie Who, Art Donkey, bring 'em on!" In a calmer postgame moment, he added, "I'll have Monk strongside 75 percent of the time." Then, Haynes will have Charlie Brown? "All over the field," said Haynes, relishing the challenge.

Before L.A. went out to face Sunday's test, defensive end Lyle (I've Never Met a Man I Thought Could Beat Me in a Fight) Alzado had given the Raiders, twice losers to Seattle in the ho-hum regular season, a pregame fireside chat. He told them how someone—it wasn't clear who—had said on a radio talk show that Plunkett isn't any good, that Howie Long has a big mouth and that Allen isn't half the back Warner is. Such talk. Long is a 6'5", 270-pound, Pro Bowl defensive end in his third year out of Villanova. He's the strongest of the bad puppies who follow the bad dog Alzado everywhere. And Alzado usually heads for the football. Rookie defensive end Greg Townsend from TCU, who plays on passing downs, sacked both Krieg and Zorn. "If you put Greg Townsend's 10½ sacks in a four-man line situation, playing full-time," said Long, "you're talking about a 25-sack, 20-holding-penalties player." Another rookie end, Bill Pickel, 6'5", 260, from Rutgers, got to Krieg once.

Warner, the leading AFC rusher in the regular season, found very little room to maneuver against this front wall. He had only 26 yards on 11 carries and caught two passes for 10 yards. "The defense concentrated on Curt," said Krieg. Likewise, the Seahawk defense attempted to focus on Allen, but a little draw play, a crack right side of an offensive line and Allen's individual brilliance added up to 154 yards rushing and 62 yards and a touchdown receiving. "We wanted to free Marcus to choose his own holes," said right guard Mickey Marvin. Throughout, Allen made his best maneuvers to the right, over Marvin, tackle Henry Lawrence and tight end Todd Christensen.

On one third-quarter play, Allen took a hand-off from Plunkett at the Seattle 46, dashed between picture-perfect blocking on the right side and was bumped toward the sideline. It should have been a 10-yard gain, but Allen continued running north while his body faced west, somehow remaining upright. This spider's move is often used as an agility drill called the carioca. It's as artistic and as difficult as it sounds. Allen not only did it, but he also straightened it out and turned "it into a dazzling 43-yard sprint to the Seattle three, where he was dragged down—though not without a snarling fight—by Seattle safety John Harris. "Marcus Allen is the consummate running back," said Marvin. On the next play Allen caught a three-yard TD pass from Plunkett that made the score 27-0. Allen was sporting a nasty cut under his right eye, an award for a block he delivered while leading fullback Frank Hawkins to one of his two touchdowns in the second quarter. "The game wasn't as easy as it looked," said Allen.

"This team is tough, enduring and can withstand distractions," said Raider coach Tom Flores, who could win his second Super Bowl in four years, although he's never in line when they're handing out genius awards. "We don't panic."

"Tom's great," says Haynes. "Yesterday he said, 'Well, men, another championship game. Let's go do it.' I thought, 'It might be another for you, but for me it's the biggest game of my life. It took me eight years to get to this spot.' " No doubt he will defend it well.


Allen gave the Seahawks a flying lesson on this second-quarter launch, which moved L.A. to the Seattle one-yard line and set up...


...this Hawkins touchdown, making the Raider lead 10-0.


Hayes, one of the Raiders' cornerstone cornerbacks, grabbed an early Krieg pass away from Largent (80) and returned it 44 yards.


Long and Alzado, L.A.'s bookend defensive ends, made a Seahawk sandwich out of Krieg.


Plunkett threw for 214 yards and displayed nimble feet in running for three first downs.