Raiders and Rams lost in a football smog
| Los Angeles
These are not the best of times for either of this city's National Football League teams, the Hollywood-style Rams, or the rough-and-ready Raiders. Both seem to have a regular date with frustration, and generally have looked as woebegone as their combined 5-13 record indicates. The Rams did rally Sunday to beat St. Louis, 27-24, with veteran running back Charles White gaining 213 yards on 34 carries. But that was only their second victory in nine games.
On paper, this was supposed to be the year the Rams' offense came of age, with championship balance and roster depth everywhere, and with a line ready to blast holes big enough to accommodate a tank.
There was no reason to suspect that running back Eric Dickerson, since traded to the Indianapolis Colts in a contract dispute, wouldn't gain his customary 2,000 or so yards and score a ton of touchdowns. And inexperienced but talented quarterback Jim Everett would surely benefit from the advertised genius of new offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese.
Head coach John Robinson had made a special project of hiring the man generally credited with building those great passing machines for the San Diego Chargers. Under Zampese, the franchise that had the worst third-down efficiency last year of any playoff team would now probably have one of the best.
Instead, the Rams became undone, partly because of problems generated by the players' strike and partly because of enough clubhouse discord to provide Dear Abby with a month of columns. Their season is gone for 1987, despite their win on Sunday, and they know it.
For Robinson, though, it's somewhat different. John can now spend more time in the care and feeding of his quarterback, reevaluating his personnel, and giving more game experience to newcomers he might not have used if a division title were at stake.
While that kind of coaching probably won't show up immediately on any scoreboard, it could remove some of the potholes that have led to such a disappointing year.
There was a time when the Raiders, who have lost six straight games, including Sunday's 16-14 defeat by San Diego, had the personality of a motorcycle gang.
They were strong on intimidation. They beat up physically on opposing teams. Their owner, Al Davis, had this flair for gathering up all the released troublemakers from other teams and turning them into winners.
Of course the Raiders also usually had plenty of talent, such as their current superb running back Marcus Allen, who was named the National Football League's Most Valuable Player as recently as 1985.
But best of all, Davis has always had a knack for finding quarterbacks who could rally their teammates to victory. For sure, nobody ever hired a guy like Ken Stabler for his neatness, master's degree, or literary preferences - but nobody ever complained about his eyesight, throwing arm, or competitiveness under fire either. And leaders like George Blanda and Jim Plunkett have been other notable examples.
This year, for reasons Davis doesn't talk about, Al and coach Tom Flores turned the quarterbacking duties over to Rusty Hilger, who, in his two previous years with the club, had thrown a total of 51 passes, mostly in the late stages of games that had already been decided.
The Raiders' current problems basically lie in Hilger's inexperience at reading defenses along with a a young offensive line that is not fully adjusted to life in the NFL's trenches.
Against the Chargers, they went back to Marc Wilson, who had been the starting quarterback twice before in his career and couldn't hold the job. Wilson completed his first pass alright - but to a member of the Chargers! He did throw one touchdown pass, but it was too little, too late 47-yarder to James Lofton with 16 seconds left.
It seems obvious that Wilson's return is really only a temporary thing. Under the circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that by the time training camp opens next July, the Raiders will have made still another change at quarterback. That would be the blockbuster trade that Davis should have made at least two years ago! Elsewhere in the NFL
Clyde Simmons, who received little attention during his college career at Western Carolina, has turned out to be quite a find for Philadelphia. The 6 ft., 6 in., 258 lb. defensive end, picked in the ninth round of the 1986 draft as the 234th overall choice, has emerged as a most important man on the Eagles' special teams. On Oct. 25 Clyde blocked a 49-yard field goal attempt by Dallas, and the next week he blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt and an extra-point try by St. Louis. The Washington Redskins also got to know Mr. Simmons this season, when he blocked a point-after-touchdown attempt that figured prominently in a 31-27 Philadelphia victory.
Even though most NFL owners have a sedentary image, nobody can hang that on millionaire John Nordstrom of the Seattle Seahawks. Nordstrom and his daughter Kristin both ran in this year's New York City Marathon. John completed the 26-mile, 385-yard course in four hours, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds, with Kristin trailing her dad by just 11 seconds!