AT ONE TIME WE WERE very big on Super Bowl formulas, anything to
help pass the two weeks between the conference title games and the
-- Super Bowl Formula I: Experienced teams always beat
first-timers. (That one went when the Steelers won in '75.)
-- Formula II: The Minnesota Vikings never win.
-- Formula III: The Pittsburgh Steelers never lose. (Two proven
formulas, for sure, but useless -- this game was between the Raiders
and the Eagles.)
-- Formula IV: The looser team wins. Well, yes, that might work,
if you don't count Super Bowl II, Packers vs. Raiders, but even the
Pack had guys like Max McGee.
Yep, that was a formula we could sink our teeth into. Loose
against tight. Jets vs. Colts; Steelers, at least in the beginning;
Vikings vs. Oakland and their Bowl of Flakes in '77. And this Oakland
team had its loose wires, to be sure. Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak,
Lester Hayes -- plenty of them.
The game was in New Orleans, and the Raiders made Bourbon Street
their unofficial headquarters. On Wednesday night Matuszak was
spotted in the French Quarter well after curfew, and it was clear he
was just getting started. Hendricks had been assigned to guard him
and make sure he stayed in his room. That's like asking an olive to
guard a martini.''We had our first practice 11 days before the
game,'' one Raider said. ''Only 23 players showed up. One guy was in
Linebacker Matt Millen told his teammates, ''I've been in the
league too long to let this chance slip away.'' Millen was a rookie.
The Eagles' coach, Dick Vermeil, was quoted as telling his players
that anyone caught downtown past curfew would be sent home. ''If he
were coaching the Raiders,'' Oakland guard Gene Upshaw said, ''he'd
look up and down the sideline on game day, and he'd be all alone.''
After the game, after the Raiders had won in handy fashion, 27-10,
the Superdome cleanup crew found huge piles of peanut shells by the
Oakland bench. The Raiders had been gobbling goobers between plays.
Helen O'Connell sang the national anthem in 1:19. The year before,
I'd timed Cheryl Ladd in 1:18. The year before that, the Colgate
Thirteen had sung it in 1:19. Only a one-second variation in three
years. . . . I was still pondering the implications of that when
the Raiders' Rod Martin intercepted Ron Jaworski and set Oakland up
nicely for a touchdown.
It was the first of three interceptions for Martin (who had come
back into the league as a free agent), a feat that normally would
have earned him the MVP award. But this was also Jim Plunkett's
moment, and he won it. The Oakland quarterback was the human interest
story of the week: how Oakland managing partner Al Davis had rescued
him from the scrap heap, where he had been tossed by the 49ers;
dusted him off, given him a lube and an oil change, and sent him back
Later in the first quarter Plunkett threw an 80-yard touchdown
pass to Kenny King, the longest reception in Super Bowl history. That
gave the Raiders all the points they would need, although Plunkett
would throw one more TD, to Cliff Branch in the third quarter.
The game had been billed as a clash between good and evil,
Vermeil's straitlaced squad against the children of hell. Al Davis
was involved in a lawsuit with the NFL, which eventually resulted in
the Raiders moving to Los Angeles. Pete Rozelle was his bitter enemy,
and there was conjecture that the commissioner would assign someone
else to present the trophy. Rozelle didn't.
Morality-play aspects aside, we had here a very courageous Raider
team: the first wild-card contender to reach the Super Bowl; a team
that had to win three times on the road; a team that beat San Diego
in the AFC Championship Game by holding on to the ball for almost
seven minutes at the end. There's nothing evil about that.