IT IS JAN. 17, 1984, A TUESday night, and I am sitting in the
hotel room of Matt Millen, the Raiders' strongside inside linebacker,
watching films on a bed sheet pinned to the wall. The films are of
the Washington Redskins' 37-35 | victory over the Los Angeles Raiders
early in October, a game in which the Skins scored 17 points in the
final six minutes. Millen still doesn't believe it happened.
''See that,'' he says. ''Mark May, their right guard, and I get
tangled up. Now I'm saying something to him. Look, now I'm patting
him on the backside.''
He smacks his forehead with the palm of his hand. ''I can't
believe that's me out there. I'm saying something about our old
Pitt-Penn State days. Nice, friendly chitchat. What was going through
''Last night I watched these films five times. I couldn't sleep.
It's going to be a different game this time.''
The Raiders drafted Millen in the second round in 1980. They moved
his 260 pounds from defensive tackle, which he had played at Penn
State, to linebacker and told him they had drafted him to stop one
play, the strongside power run. They had been 20th in the NFL against
the run in 1979, and had also missed making the playoffs for the
second straight year. In Millen's rookie year they had won the Super
Bowl. The next season their second-round pick was Howie Long, a power
defensive end out of Villanova. Now they were back in the Super Bowl.
The defending champion Skins were the NFL's showpiece power
running team. They had been held to fewer than 100 yards only once
that season -- by the Raiders that October. Joe Theismann had thrown
for 417 yards that afternoon, against a secondary that would later be
shored up with the acquisition of Mike Haynes from New England.
The Skins could beat you in any number of ways. Theismann was the
All-Pro quarterback; Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby were All-Pros at guard
and tackle. Wideout Charlie Brown was in the Pro Bowl, and John
Riggins, who had had his greatest season ever at age 34 (1,347 yards
rushing, 24 touchdowns), should have been in the Pro Bowl but wasn't,
for some reason.
''I like the matchups, right up and down the line, I like them,''
Millen said. ''Me against May or Grimm, Howie against George Starke,
our middle guard Reggie Kinlaw against Jeff Bostic, Lyle Alzado
against Jacoby. The plan is for me to walk right up to the line to
play the guard head-up. The Redskins won't get that push up front.
Theismann will have to put it up. And now we have Haynes back there
in the secondary, the best cornerback in the game.''
That wasn't what was written during the week, though. The stories
were all about intimidation, the Silver and Black, the Commitment to
Excellence signs % pasted up all over Tampa during the week. There
was even a sign outside the Raiders' hotel: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING
RAIDER LAND. Hold my hand, dear. This is scary.
Raider managing partner Al Davis kept it alive. After Wednesday's
practice he told Millen, ''We have to get some intensity out here.
Start a fight.''
''I picked the worst fighter I could find on the offensive line,''
Millen says. ''I jumped Mickey Marvin, and we started rolling on the
ground, and that night all the wire services had the story. Wow,
those Raiders are really intense.''
The writers, free-lancers, TV guys with their minicams -- they all
swarmed into the tent set up for interviews with these Hell's Angels.
The crush was unbearable. Long, jammed into a wooden chair and
practically smothered, rolled his eyes and stared skyward. ''Give me
a day to die,'' he muttered. ''Are we in Kansas yet, Toto? I don't
know where I am. Oh God, I'm in a tent.''
''What's the dumbest question you've been asked?'' a TV guy asked
linebacker Ted Hendricks.
''That one right there,'' he said.
Scalpers made a killing. I've never really believed those scalper
stories, $500, $800 for a ticket. But this time I saw it myself, a
woman in the lobby of the press hotel paying $1,000 cold cash for a
ticket, peeling off the hundreds from a fat roll.
The Redskins were favored, but 60% of the writers went with L.A.
in the pool I ran. First time the press ever went for a Super Bowl
underdog. Coach Bill Walsh, whose 49ers lost to the Redskins in the
NFC Championship Game, said he liked L.A. -- big. ''Just watch,
they'll be surprisingly good,'' he said. ''I think the Redskins'
bubble may have burst.''
I kept my eye on the Redskins lining up in the tunnel for the
intros. Theismann was watching some balloons jerking and darting
every which way in the gusty, unpredictable winds. He didn't look
On the Skins' first possession Theismann went at Haynes three
times and got three incompletes out of it. Then the Raiders blocked a
punt and scored. Things would get worse. Theismann's next two passes
fell incomplete. The Skins' running was getting stuffed. Millen was
firm on the inside, and Kinlaw was too quick for Bostic. The wind was
playing tricks with Theismann's passes.
The play everyone remembers was Raider reserve linebacker Jack
Squirek intercepting a screen pass for a short TD, but the verdict
was already in. That made it 21-3. Eventually the score would reach
38-9. Marcus Allen got the Super Bowl car for his record 191 yards
rushing, but the game was history when he broke his big one, his
74-yarder. I would have given the award to Kinlaw.