The next time someone tells you the Oakland Raiders can't possibly beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Sunday's Super Bowl in New Orleans, refer him to Ted Hendricks and Lester Hayes, the Raiders' twin "ministers of defense."
Oakland's ability all year to stop the offense in key situations is what has the Raiders playing championship football. And if they should upset the Eagles, who are favorites in most quarters, this is probably going to be the reason.
Meeting Hendricks, a 6 ft. 7 in. line- backer who weighs 225 pounds and sometimes wears an old German war helmet to practice, rates right alongside having a date with Lucrezia Borgia. The man whose lanky frame and ferocious play earned him the nickname "the Mad Stork" in his younger days is definitely the aggressor in interviews, although he does allow you the privilege of asking the first question.
Hayes, a cornerback who is several inches shorter and considerably lighter, somehow seems more gentle -- although he sure wasn't while intercepting opposing quarterbacks 13 times during the regular season. Anything thrown to a wide receiver in Lester's territory generally either gets battled away or winds up with Hayes's fingerprints on it.
Basically the principles of Oakland's defense are no different from those of most National Football League teams -- stop the long bomb; turn the run inside; try to put extra pressure on the quarterback in third down situations.
"If you want to know the truth, I stopped trying to read where the offense might attack a long time ago," Hendricks explained after Oakland had defeated San Diego in the American Conference championship game to earn its Super Bowl berth. "I figured there has to be a better way, and there is.
"If a linebacker stays put and doesn't move around, then somebody on the offensive line is going to be able to concentrate on him and pick him up," Ted continued. "But if he's moving, he upsets that concentration and maybe he'll even find a slice of daylight in the offensive line that he can use to his advantage."
Hendricks, partly because of his height but more often because of his instincts, is the best player a team could possibly have for defense when the opposition is in a kicking situation. During his 12 years in the NFL, Ted has blocked a record 19 punts, field goals, and extra point attempts. He also has 23 career interceptions, nine fumble recoveries, two touchdowns on blocked punts , and two safeties.
Hendrick's secret is that he is very good at hitting and sliding between offensive linemen, who, had they looked a moment before, would not have expected Ted to visit their neigbourhood. But once Hendricks does establish penetration, he uses his height, which is even more menacing with his hands extended, to reach up and either deflect or block the football.
Hayes is also an opportunist whose one- on-one reactions probably are as good as any cornerback's in the league. In Oakland's playoff game against San Diego, John Jefferson, the man who is considered the Chargers' most dangerous receiver, caught only one pass in Lester's territory.
Charger quarterback Dan Fouts threw once to Jefferson for 17 yards, had another pass intended for John intercepted by Lester and returned 16 yards, and threw three others that were incomplete. There is no truth, however, to the rumor that Jefferson was looking for Hayes in his jersey after the game.
Hayes, a member of the Texas A&M varsity for four years, was originally a linebacker who didn't get switched to defensive cornerback until his junior year. It was a move that Lester thorougly agreed with, and one via which the Texas state 220-yard dash champion could put his speed to better use.
When the NFL held its annual college player draft in 1977, Hayes told friends not to call him, as he wanted to clear the phone line for whatever pro team might want to get in touch with him.
He expected to go in the first or second round, but the league was in its fifth round before Hayes finally got a call. In fact, 14 defensive backs had been picked ahead of him, possibly because he is somewhat less than the six footer the Raiders make him in their press guide.
What a lot of people probably don't know about Lester is that he actually intercepted 17 passes during the 1980 season, but lost credit for four of them because of off-sides penalties against Oakland.
Hayes has also been seen jumping high enough in the Raider locker room to touch a 12-foot-high air conditioning duct that runs along the ceiling. Probably the only thing faster over 40 yards in Oakland these days is Lester's silver and black Mercedes.