Al Davis's LOS ANGELES RAIDERS are a dynasty, or the closest thing to one right now. They have won three Super Bowls in the last eight years. They're the defending champions. Davis says that the fun is just starting, that guys who sat on the bench last year are better than those who played. But veteran dynasty watchers say the Raiders are ripe for a fall.
What happened to the great dynasties of the '60s and '70s, to the Packers and Steelers? Essentially the same thing: They got old. Loyal veterans were not replaced in time. Coaches got sentimental. Superstars faded, and no new ones came along.
Last year the Raiders were the oldest team in football. This season 15 players who are 30 or over should make the roster. That's a lot over a 16-game season. Ah yes, Davis says, but look at the young guys waiting to step in—Don Mosebar at guard, with Pro Bowl written all over him; Curt Marsh at the other guard, returning from a back injury; Marc Wilson at quarterback, should Jim Plunkett falter; Bill Pickel and Greg Townsend on the defensive line; Dokie Williams at a wide-out. Teams generally don't get that old on Davis. Players are gently coaxed into retirement, as Ted Hendricks was this year. And now there's a healthy mix of young and old.
O.K., but there are more insidious things at work. Greed, envy. Super Bowls should mean supersalaries, right? What is it that Cowboy G.M. Tex Schramm once said, "Every time you win a championship it costs you money"? Davis tries to shortstop that one by regularly upgrading his people. But now there are grumbles. Tight end Todd Christensen held out. He wanted to be paid what the No. 1 receiver in football should be paid. Davis reminded Christensen that they'd redone his contract last year, and then he signed up his old warhorse, Dave Casper. "Looks like his old self," Davis said, ignoring the fact that two other NFL clubs had given up on Casper.
Defensive end Howie Long left camp for a day. He didn't feel that a $175,000 salary was in keeping with his All-Pro status. We redid you last year, Davis said. Don't worry, we'll get around to it. But when, Long wonders, when?
Other veterans are also seeking renegotiation, and muttering. "The summer of discontent," Davis calls it. "Happens every year. We'll get it worked out."
If it is truly worked out, if youngsters are quietly inserted into the lineup to form that healthy, dynasty-perpetuating mixture, if the old hunger is still there, then there will be no stopping the Raiders, because they have a lot of talent. They showed they could win the Super Bowl with corners (All-Pros Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes) who could play bump-and-run, with a 260-pound linebacker (Matt Millen) who could nullify a guard by himself, and with a quick and agile noseguard (Reggie Kinlaw) who could cut off the blocking angles. They peaked at exactly the right time—the postseason. If 1984 is a natural progression, look out, world!
The SEATTLE SEAHAWKS crept into the playoffs for the first time in their history last year on the paper-thin margin of 13 Raider turnovers in the two games against them and a missed extra point by K.C.'s Nick Lowery. In a world hungry for Cinderellas, they went to the ball twice in the postseason and came away starry-eyed. Then the Raiders shattered their glass slippers with a nasty 30-14 win that wasn't as close as the score.
We are left to wonder which is the true Seahawk team. Is it the nifty, crisp-blocking gang of gung-ho overachievers, led by an inspirational quarterback from Milton College named Dave Krieg, that punched enough holes for rookie Curt Warner to top the AFC in rushing? Or is it a group that played over its head—a team with a defense whose ranking of 27th in the NFL was no fluke, with an offensive line whose lack of size was painfully exposed by the bullying Raiders and a quarterback who came unhinged under L.A.'s relentless pressure?
Coach Chuck Knox must be worried about those things, too. He tried to get Warren Moon, but lost to Houston. He brought in a couple of 280-pound-plus tackles, Bob Cryder from New England and Bryan Millard from the Jersey Generals of the USFL, because 258-pound holdover Steve August isn't big enough. In the first round he drafted Terry Taylor to play left cornerback (the bomb was the Seahawks' undoing last year; 22 passes of 40 yards or more were completed against them), and in the second round he took Daryl Turner, a gifted long-ball receiver, to help build Krieg's confidence. Both were excellent picks.
But this year everybody—including the Raiders—will be ready for them.
San Diego Chargers' coach Don Coryell keeps his brain working. Just when we get him typed—the man who loves to throw, the great architect of those timed patterns—look what he does. He brings in fullback Pete Johnson, and not only that, he tells his p.r. department to list Johnson's correct weight on the program—278. So what is this, ballast for the Air Coryell balloon? A comedy routine to keep the fans amused between acts? Hell no, says Coryell, we're thinking of Johnson and Chuck Muncie in the same backfield, 514 pounds of thrust crumbling enemy lines. And just to make it more serious, we'll go with three tight ends at times, count 'em, three.
Now there are two ways to look at this. He's not really serious; he's just setting people up for the lightning bolts. Or, and I believe this is the case, he is again one step ahead of the game, anticipating a switch in eras—a return to good old power football, massive rumbling offenses running over those quick and agile pass defenders who have forgotten how to stop the run. Hey, that's what I call football. Way to go, Don!
It's a cinch that something had to be done. Air Coryell was 6-10 last year. San Diego's explanation for that is simple: The club was 1-5 in the six games Dan Fouts was out. O.K., so that leaves it 5-5 in the games he played. Is that anyone's goal in life, .500?
Here's another depressing note for the Chargers. Their commitment was to defense last year, and four rookies started, but even so, San Diego gave up more yards and points per game than it did in '82. This year the Chargers picked up more defense: cornerback Mossy Cade in Round 1 (a holdout in camp); Mike Guendling, a very promising linebacker in Round 2 (out for the year with a fractured tibial plateau). They brought in three vets for insurance, but only one might help, 34-year-old linebacker Brian Kelley from the Giants. With Coryell's offensive brain power, a little defense could get the Chargers into the Super Bowl. But where do you find a defense these days?
Seldom has a team looked worse reaching the playoffs than the DENVER BRONCOS did last year. Their defense finished 21st in the NFL. Their offense finished third from last. John Elway, the most publicized rookie quarterback since Davey O'Brien, ended up next to last among NFL passers. Just to help the kid's ego this year, they traded for the guy who finished dead last—Scott Brunner of the Giants.
O.K., O.K., we know Elway's no stiff. Dan Reeves threw too much at him at first, and when he tried to simplify it, the veterans complained and Steve DeBerg had to come in and bail Elway out. Now DeBerg's in Tampa Bay (for a fourth-round draft choice) and Elway's on his own, behind a line that is thin and banged up, a line that allowed the most sacks in the AFC last year. Sounds bad? Wait, there's more. Linebacking, once the heart of those great Bronco defenses, is nowhere, with Randy Gradishar retired and Bob Swenson indefinitely out with a post-op knee.
Still, there are some reasons for optimism. Pat Bowlen, the club's new owner, seems committed to winning. When strong safety Dennis Smith, the heart of the defense, made noises about the USFL, Bowlen issued a three-word command to assistant general manager John Beake: "Get him signed." It took only two sessions with Smith's agent, Howard Slusher, to get the deal done. By contrast, the guy that Bowlen bought the team from, Edgar Kaiser, spent three years griping about the dollars and then turned a $33.5 million profit when he sold out. Guess how the players felt about that?
From the wisdom of former Jet coach Weeb Ewbank comes the following: "I'll put up with you only until I can get somebody better than you." Those words are lost on KANSAS CITY CHIEFS coach John Mackovic. On draft day he traded cornerback Gary Green, one of the finest one-on-one cover guys in the NFL, to the Rams for first- and fifth-round choices. Bad influence, he said. Questions the coach's authority too much.
Mackovic comes from the Dallas system, where good citizenship is prized. But here's the thing about Tom Landry. A guy could gripe for years, question his authority, whatever, but if he could play, Landry would tolerate a Butch Johnson, a Hollywood Henderson, even a Duane Thomas. Within a space of two years the Chiefs have now lost three members of what was once one of the league's finest secondaries.
I guess he knows what he's doing, but gee, those cover guys are hard to come by. Give Mackovic an A+, though, for turning Bill Kenney into a Pro Bowl quarterback. And give the club credit for getting Ken Lacy, a quality runner, away from the USFL. Something had to happen. K.C. was 28th in the NFL in rushing last season.
L.A. 's Millen is such a mass in the middle he's double trouble for opposing offenses.
Muncie went up and over piles last year, but with the 278-pound Johnson leading the way, he'll probably just bore holes through them in '84.