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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.