Monthly Archives: February 2012

Marcus: The Autobiography of Marcus Allen

Draft Day

Depending on which NFL draft pundit you listened to, I (1) had a good chance of being the first player selected; (2) lacked the overall talents the pros were looking for and therefore would see a number of other running backs picked before I was; and (3) had won the Heisman simply because anyone with a modicum of ability would have rushed for the kind of yardage I did behind the USC line.

Among the more absurd rumors that got around to me was that some teams were concerned that I might be too much of a party guy. The reasoning went something like this: O.J. Simpson moved in LA’s fast lane and mad no secret of his love for the nightlife and bright lights. OJ and I had become friends. Therefore, I must be out on the town with a girl on each arm every night.
Once again I was getting far more social credit than I deserved.
I would hardly consider taking a date out to a movie or a nice dinner or even attending an occasional barbecue that OJ and his girlfriend, Nicole Brown, liked to host at his Brentwood home, as being “out on the town.”

Nine picks would be made before I finally heard my name being called. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, announcing each of the picks, said, “With the tenth pick of the first round, the Raiders select Marcus Allen, running back from the University of Southern California.”

I felt mixed emotions. As a longtime fan of the Raiders, I knew that theirs was a fullback-oriented offense. The primary function of the running back was to block. I had no reservation about that aspect of the game. But I thought of myself as a multi-dimensionalplayer. I liked running the ball and going downfield as a pass receiver. The news that I would begin my professional career with the Raiders made me somewhat apprehensive. At the same time, I was excited about the prospect of being part of a team that had such a great tradition of winning–and would, by all reports, soon be leaving Oakland to player their games in the Los Angeles Coliseum.

At the time of the draft, I was later told, Raiders president Al Davis was in Los Angeles federal court, preparing to testfy int he trial that would ultimately determine whether he had the right to move his team from Oakland. Throughout the day he would slip away from the proceedings to phone the Raiders office and see how the draft was progressing.
Apparently there had been an ongoing battle between Dais and personnel director Ron Wolf over who the team should select. Wolf lobbied to pick me…Meanwhile, Davis reportedly favored a big, fast Baylor running back named Walter Abercrombie.

Los Angeles Raiders Marcus Allen Hall of Fame

From the phone, the frustrated Davis… had finally told Wolf that he was being summoned back into the courtroom and for them to make whatever pick they felt best. “But,” he reportedly said, “I want you to remember one fuckin’ think: If you pick Allen, he’s your guy, not mine.” And while Wolf would tell me years later that there had never been any disagreement in the Raiders front office over the decision to draft me, I couldn’t help but wonder.

Al Davis… was every bit the legendary figure I’d heard, read about, and seen on TV for years. Dressed in all-white, he wore two Super Bowl rings, and dark glasses despite the dim lighting of the dining room. His hair was combed back into a ducktail that I’d only seen in Fifties movies about rebellious teens. And the rapid clip of the boyhood Brooklyn accent he’d never lost had about it an almost hypnotic quality.

As one who had always had tremendous respect for great players of the past, I found it inspirational to have them on had ( at the games  Jack Tatum, the former cornerback who some even today judge the meanest and dirtiest player ever to wear a Raiders uniform, came up and welcomed me to the team. “I want you to go out there and kick ’em,” he urged, “then spit on ’em…”

The Los Angeles Raiders

The Oakland-turned-Los Angeles Raiders finally made their long-delayed home debut in the Coliseum on a November Monday night against the San Diego Chargers.  Few teams over the years have staged more dramatic comeback wins than the Raiders… The Raiders had won eighteen of the twenty-one Monday Night Football games in which they had appeared.

In the first half, San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts was unstoppable… as the Chargers jumped out to a 24-0 lead.  With just forty-seven seconds remaining before intermission ,Jim Plunkett finally got us on the scoreboard when he threw a short touchdown pass to tight end Todd Christensen.

In the dressing room Flores spent little time pointing out the myriad mistakes we’d made–including my near-disastrous fumble on our only scoring drive-and instead… he talked of the Raiders’ tradition of Monday-night success, noting that we had only thirty minutes of playing time to live up to our reputation.

A sack by Ted Hendricks stymied the Chargers’ first offensive series and provided us our chance to move to within striking range. I scored from the three and we narrowed the margin to ten.  Odis McKinney forced a fumble by SD tight end Kellen Winslow … Suddenly, we were playing Raiders football.

Plunkett picked up first downs with completions to Christensen and Cliff Branch, as we moved into scoring range. A reverse to wide receiver Malcolm Barnwell caught the Chargers defense by surprise, then fullback Frank Hawkins went in from the one to put us into the lead.  Along with the rest of the Raiders offense that was crowded on the sidelines, I yelled encouragement to the defensive unit, pleading for them to shut Fouts down one last time.  And finally they did when our left cornerback, Lester Hayes, batted away a Fouts pass in the end zone.

Lyle

Lyle Alzado fascinated me. His background, about which he openly talked in as self-depreciating manner, sounded like something out of West Side Story. He had grown up on the mean streets of New York and had the knife-fight scars to prove it. .. He survived his boyhood days because he was big and mean enough to be the neighborhood bully. By age sixteen when was working as a bouncer at a bar he described as “one of those real life bucket of blood joints.”

When Lyle talked about the good old days, there wasn’t the slightest attempt to hide the sarcasm. He’d spent more than his share of nights in jail for fighting, drinking, and petty thefts. One night, he recalled, after waking in the Nassau County drunk tank, he removed all his clothes and began to jump up and down, screaming through the bars that he was going to kick every ass in the place if he wasn’t release immediately.

Finally an elderly prisoner looked up at him through weary, boozy eyes and quietly told him to shut the hell up. “You’re just a bum like me, kid. Take it easy. You’re going to be spending the rest of your life in and out of places like this.”

For Lyle, the old drunk’s observation was something of an epiphany. “At first, ” he recalled, “I didn’t know whether to punch the old bastard or kiss him. No one had ever talked to me like that. But, hell, what he said was true. That’s probably the biggest favor anybody every did for me.” That’s when Alzado decided to focus his strength and hostilities on football.

Los Angeles Raiders Marcus Allen #32 and Al Davis

It has been suggested that the two worst things that could have happened to me in my second year as a member of the Raiders were to be named the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl and have my picture appear on the cover of a popular national magazine.

The first was troublesome because it went against the Al Davis philosophy that the organization and team, not individuals, should be the focus of attention.  Somehow, by being named the Super Bowl MVP, I had blatantly violated the credo.  Apparently…Davis was not at all happy with the attention I was receiving.   To compound matters, someone published a commemorative picture book on our championship season and made the unfortunate decision to title it “Marcus Allen and the Los Angeles Raiders.” To say the least it did not sit well with the man who had long made it clear that the team was the sole creation and property of Al Davis and no one else.

To that point, I’d had no real indication that our relationship was so fragile.  He’d never been particularly friendly, but there were few of the players to whom he displayed a great deal of warmth.  If Davis had reservations about drafting me, I felt certain that I’d proven myself as a valuable member of the team. I saw no legitimate reason for his hostility.

If nothing else, Al Davis has to be the most enigmatic, power-driven man I have encountered during my football career. And for all the faults the press and other owners around the league found in him, they had to admit one thing: He’d been successful.

Described as a loner, a rebel, and an egomaniac, he went against the good ol’ boy mentality of pro football ownership at every opportunity. In league meetings, the old joke went, Al Davis was always the “1” in 27-1 votes on matters of rules and policies.

And the thing about it is that he was fully convinced that he was right and twenty-seven other owners and general managers were dead wrong. In the world of Al Davis, there are but two kinds of people: those who agree with him, and the enemy.

He created a paranoia that was rampant throughout the league. Rival coaches were not only convinced that he spied on their practices, but that he even bugged visiting locker rooms so that he could listen in on pre-game and halftime strategy talks. He was feared, and he loved it.

As overseer of the Raiders, he built the team into the most feared in the NFL, proudly pointing out that no other professional sport team could boast the winning percentage of his beloved “Raid-uhs.”

I had not yet learned the price he demanded of those working alongside him, was unaware of the stark fear his domination of employees generated within the organization. What I would come to learn was that Davis presided over the Raiders with a monarch’s zeal. No opinion was valid unless it was originally his, no employee was judged worthwhile without unquestioned loyalty, no effort, however mighty, measured up to his demands. And if for some reason he harbored a grudge, it was for life. As I would ultimately learn.

Unlike virtually every other team in the league, the Raiders quarterbacks are required to hold on to the ball until they see a reciever break into the open.  There are no timing routes, where the ball is thrown to a  particular spot where the receiver is expected to be. It was a long-standing Al Davis rule that the quarterback not release the ball until he could see the numbers on the front of the receiver’s jersey.  That explains why we historically had more holding penalties charged to our offensive line and suffered more quarterback sacks than anyone in the league. For all their greatness, quarterbacks like Joe Montana, John Elway, and Dan Marino would have been killed had they spent their careers in the Raiders offense.

In the years that I’d been with the Raiders, the conversations we’d had were all similar. Davis would approach me in the dressing room or on the practice field and, careful to remain out of earshot of anyone else, would ask my opinion, usually of one of my teammates or coaches. I sensed he was looking for some form of criticism or negative reaction that I had no reason to provide.  If he did not share whatever opinion I offered, it was made eminently clear, usually with a response preceded by his standard “Aw, fuck…”

What was even more interesting was watching as he eventually found his way to the person he’d just asked about to get his opinion of me.  It was a game I found to be not only silly, but potentially divisive. And he played it constantly.

Bo Jackson

In fact, Bo and I got along well from the beginning. My resentment was not focused toward him. Like many of my teammates, I had been taken aback by the terms of his contract, to play what amounted to half a season annually. Truthfully, I regarded Bo’s presence as just another way Davis had discovered to slap me int he face. That aside, I was sure that the special accommodations being made for Jackson were destructive to the chemistry of the team. But, again, any jealousy or anger toward Jackson was misdirected. He hadn’t come to Al Davis: Davis had gone to him.

Los Angeles Raiders Marcus Allen #32 Hall of Fame

If you are going to be pissed off, I told more than one teammate, be pissed at the guy standing over there on the sidelines, wearing the white jogging suit and dark shades.

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Tales from the Oakland Raiders by Tom Flores

From the book Tales from the Oakland Raiders by Tom Flores 2003

Our very first game was at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco… on July 31, 1960. It was a night game against the Houston Oilers, which we lost 37-22. And so it started for the Raiders….

Of the Raiders two main rivals –the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos– I would say that the Chiefs rivalry is based on a mutual respect for each other… The Broncos rivalry, however, is based on disgust.

There also were the many times that we’d be in one of the (Denver) end zones and, before the Broncos had sense enough to put up the big fence, fans used to shower us with snowballs. That sounds innocent enough, except some of them were quite lethal because they had rocks in them.

As soon as the dismal 1962 season–when we won one game–was over, coach Red Conkright was fired. In January 1963, Al Davis was hired as the Raider’s head coach and general manager. Since I missed all of the 1962 season with the illness, the first time I met him there was some skepticism as to whether I would be able to play again.Training camp was forever. I think we reported for camp shortly after July 4, and then didn’t break until the Friday before our first league game which was September 7.

Al has a passion for football. He never would do anything to hurt the game. Sure, he does some things attempting to get the edge on people.

Simply put, Al is very loyal to those who have been loyal to him.  He will go to endlesss lengths to accommodate somebody–tohelp someone– even if their departure from the organization was a little acrimonious. He still does what he can to help.

Mark Davis, Al’s son, was a little guy when I fist met him. Now he’s a man in his forties.Mark was kind of a nosy and mischievous kid. During practice, he oftentimes would run on the field, grab the football and kick it and then run right through the middle of a drill. Mark always bugged all the players and the trains in the locker room.

Mark always bugged all the players and the trainers in the locker room. One day — and I’ll never say who did it– some mysterious people tied Mark and taped him to a chair in  he locker room.  They had to have used several rolls of tape to wrap up little Mark Davis.

I think those years are when Mark developed his great love for the Oakland Raiders. To this day, he still lives and bleeds with the Raiders. With every loss he hurts, and with every win he celebrates. But I guess that’s the way it is for most of us.

Ron Wolf.

I first heard of Ron Wolf in 1963 when Al Davis came to the Raiders. For a long time, many people in the organization probably thought Ron Wolf was a fictitious person. Many of us had heard the name Ron Wolf and we knew that he worled for the Raiders in some type of capacity, but we would have had trouble picking him out of a two-person line up.

Who was Ron Wolf? Was he a figment of Al Davis’s imagination? Did Al make up this person so that he would have a name to which he could refer occasionally?

Well, come to find out, Ron Wolf was a real person. .. Ron was always in the back room somewhere, in the darkness, looking at old films of teams and players. Or he was back there fixing the film when it broke, because in those days, the film couldn’t handle the torture that scouts and coaches delivered…

Finally, when Ron Wolf came out of the darkness, out of this mole hold back there and into the sunlight, we realized Ron was playing an important role in the organization, because suddenly we would see this new player and then another new one.  Ron Wolf was a big part of the Raiders organization and the development of the pool of players. He was almost like a one-man show establishing the scouting department and going around the country.  He was doing a thankless job in those days.

Unfortunately for Ron he left the Raiders one year too soon, because in 1976 the Raiders won their first Super Bowl, XI. He came back to the Raiders during John Madden’s last year to help in the scouting department.  Ron helped John with some of the personnel moves.

I remember in January 1984, when we were the Los Angeles Raiders, playing in the AFC Championship against the Seattle Seahawks. We had a comfortable lead… I was not celebrating yet, but was feeling good inside. I turned around and there was Ron with the biggest smile on his face, because now he had a chance to go to the Super Bowl.  He was just beaming.

Ron had some health problems while we were in LA and he walked away from football for a short time…  Later in the 1980’s he got a chance to go to Green Bay…  Quietly—the way Ron works so well—he started assembling a championship team in Green Bay. He did a marvelous job of drafting and signing personnel.

Fans

Raider fans are forever. You either love the Raiders or you hate the Raiders; there’s no in between. Early in the 2002 season, when we played at the San Diego Chargers, there were hundreds of Raiders fans in the airport who were in town just for the game. When we go to New York, Buffalo, New England, wherever, our hotel lobby is always filled with Raiders fans. That’s just the way it is.

Raider fans have always been unique. At Frank Youell Field, where we played from 1962-1965, you could turn around and you were not more than 12 feet from the stands. The fans were right behind the bench. The players could turn around and talkt o them. We could almost touch them, they were so close to us. Only about 20,000 people could jam into Frank Youell, but their excitement and enthusiasm was felt because they were so close. During those early years it was almost as if they were in the game with us, especially in 1963 when we started winning.

The Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders

Moving from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982 was not an easy task. When I took over as head coach, the rumors that we were going to LA had started. It was a roller coaster time.  I thought the people who operated the Oakland Coliseum were going to make the necessary changes to keep the Raiders. Instead, they told Al Davis that they weren’t going to make any changes and that Al couldn’t move the team because Pete Rozelle wouldn’t allow it.  I think that was when Al went down and finally started listening to the people in Los Angeles.

Jim Plunkett

Like many NFL teams, the Raiders can be identified by their quarterbacks through the decades. This current decade, at least the first part of it, belongs to Rich Gannon. Tom Flores was the early 1960’s, and Daryle Lamonica was the late 1960’s.  Kenyy Stabler was the 1970’s. And Jim Plunkett was the 19680’s.

The only think Jim Plunkett did as a player was win. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1970.  He won the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award with Boston. And he won two Super Bowls with the Raiders, including the Super Bowl XV MVP award. I will never understand why he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame yet.

In 1980 we traded Stabler for Dan Pastorini. I was not in favor of the trade, but I went along with it. It probably was time for Stabler to go, but we could have traded him for a first-round draft choice. However, since we traded a starter for a starter, Jim was still second string. In hindsight, he should have been the starter.

Oakland Raiders Jim Otto, Tom Flores

We started the season 2-2, going into a home game against Kansas City. The Chiefs beat us badly that day, 31-17.  Pastorini was out with a broken leg. There were all kinds of rumors that I was to be fired. All of a sudden, Jim was our guy. We played at home the next week and we beat San Diego.

Even though we were 3-3, we were trying to find our way above water going into Pittsburgh the following week for a Monday night game in front of the whole country. Jim had a marvelous game that night. All the guys were making big plays. We won 45-34.

Throughout his career, Jim took a beating because of the way he played. He was big and not a real nimble guy, so when he ran with the ball or when he was in the pcked, he took some pretty good hits. He was such a courageous guy though.  But in 1983 he was really beat up.

We took a 5-1 record to Seattle in October. We lost, 38-36, committing seven turnovers. By the end of that Seattle game, Jim was really beat up.  The next week at Dallas we made a change, starting Marc Wilson at quarterback. Jim wasn’t happy about it, but he went along with it. We won in the last minute of the game, and we lost the next week to Seattle at home in the LA Coliseum. Then we went to Kansas City.

We were playing a typically close game against eh Chiefs. There seemed to be a jillion people in Arrowhead Stadium—all wearing red. All of a sudden Marc Wilson went down.  He said, “Coach, if you want to win this game, you better put Jim in, because I think I’m hurt pretty bad.”

So there we were again—time for our team’s savior, Jim Plunkett. It was almost like he came in on a white horse. He came into the game against the Chiefs and he was incredible. He was like a new person. He had spring in his legs, he was bouncing and was as agile as I had ever seen him. He had life in his arm. He was flawless that game and nearly flawless the rest of the season.

Once again, Jim took us all the way to Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa, where we beat the Redskins. Jim had a big night, making some big plays. He played great in big games and was a champion through and through.

It’s funny to think back to the end of training camp in 1980 when Jim came to me wanting to be released or traded. I am extremely thankful that Jim decided to stay. I would bet he’s thankful that things worked out the way that they did. I thank God for Jim Plunkett.

Art Shell

One thing about the Raiders is that very few guys have come in and started right off the bat. Usually, guys have people that could play ahead of them, so there was no urgency to rush. The Raiders drafted Art Shell in the third round of the 1968 draft. When he came in, he was a guard, but they were grooming him to become the left tackle. When he finally became the starting left tackle in 1970, he was there forever.

Art Shell was the epitome of a left tackle, because he was intelligent, nimble, explosive, quick and quiet. You never knew if he was in the huddle or in the meeting rooms because he was so quiet.  Art helped us win two Super Bowls and then he became a coache for me on my staff when he retired from playing after the 1982 season.

Oakland Raiders Quarterback Tom Flores #15

All of Art’s work paid off for  him, because in 1989, he became the first black head coach in the NFL.  In an interview he was asked, “How does it feel to be the first minority head coach in professional football?” He said, “I wasn’t the first minority coach.”. The reporter gave him a quizzical look. Then Art said, “Tom Flores was the first minority coach I’m the second.”