LOS ANGELES — The greatest myth about the Raiders is that you need only a uniform to be a part of them. As if the colors make the man. You slip on the silver and black and suddenly, you’re not just good, you’re Raider-Good. You’re tough. You’re intimidating. You’re different. It is the reason that wherever you look across the American landscape, would-be heroes are wearing silver jackets and black caps these days. Look at me. I’m a Raider.
It doesn’t work that way, of course. Marcus Allen, a real Raider, knows it. He has always known it. All during the stampede of TV cameras that plowed past him this season to get to this guy, Bo Jackson, he knew it. All during the clamor they made last year to bust down the door of Art Shell — his former teammate — he knew it.
And now, at this moment, he knew it again. Here he was, on another Sunday afternoon in the Coliseum, like so many other Sunday afternoons in his career, and Allen, now 30, gazed at the crowd that was on its feet, not leaving. The game was over. The freeways were thickening with traffic. But the fans stayed. They cheered his name. “MAR-CUS! MAR-CUS!”
He waved. He didn’t smile much. Real Raiders don’t. The security guards formed a human wall. The cheerleaders tried to peek in through the openings. Allen kept walking toward the tunnel. He was tired. O.J. Simpson, the last guy to make No. 32 famous in these parts, slipped into the circle, and stuck a microphone in Allen’s face. NBC wants an interview, he said.
Allen stopped. The cameras rolled.
“Great game, Marcus,” Simpson said of the Raiders’ 20-10 playoff win over the Bengals. “Tell me, when Bo went out with the injury, did you feel you really had to pick it up?”
Allen grinned. He should have laughed. He should have taken the mike, twirled it around O.J.’s neck and said, “Get serious.”
Instead, this is what Marcus Allen said: “I hope Bo gets better. I hope he’s back next week. But, you know” — pause — “I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Spoken like a true Raider. Bo Jackson hasn’t earned it yet
Listen up, kids, all you non-shavers who think that those neat silver helmets are just another marketing tool to help make Bo Jackson famous. Jackson still has not earned his Raider uniform. It is still on loan. He hasn’t played a full season. He hasn’t led the team in guts. Most important, he has never been to the mountaintop. He hasn’t won it all yet. And remember, the motto of Al Davis’ bandits is not — despite what some people think — “Bo Knows Football.”
The motto is “Just Win, Baby.”
Marcus Allen knows how to win.
It was beautiful to watch him out there Sunday afternoon, cradling the football, racing to the outside, leaving the Cincinnati defenders diving at his feet, the way he did it to the Washington Redskins that Sunday night in Tampa seven years ago, when, with the whole world watching, he galloped for 191 yards and took home a Super Bowl MVP trophy.
That was back when Allen had the most famous feet in the Raider backfield. That was a long time ago. Things have changed. New faces. New coaches. Losing seasons. Dwindling crowds. For a while, the Raiders seemed destined to go the way of Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone — legendary past, no present.
But now we see that for all those changes, Allen has not changed. At least not when it counts. Sunday was a big jump over the broom for this Raider team, its first playoff game in five years, and once again, here was No. 32 leading the way. He took a handoff in the first quarter and burst through an opening for 19 yards. A few minutes later, he took it again, off left tackle for 16 yards. It was this kind of day. Big holes. Big runs.
And then, in the fourth quarter, with Jackson on the bench with a hip injury and Cincinnati rising from the dead, threatening to steal this game, the Raiders gave the ball to Allen again. Do the old magic, Marcus. When he started running there was 5:41 left and when he finished, there were 19 seconds left. He had gained half a football field during that drive. He had 140 yards on the day. Twenty-one carries. He sealed the win.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. Older Raiders savor winning again
So it was the old guys Sunday who gave the Raiders one more taste of the good stuff. It was Allen, and it was Greg Townsend, the big defensive end who also remembers that Super Bowl in Tampa, grabbing Boomer Esiason and slamming him to the ground for a sack. And it was Shell, who was in his last year as a Raider player when this USC kid named Allen joined the team — it was Shell who guided them Sunday, kept them cool, played it smart.
Mostly it was Allen, being himself again. “I haven’t minded all the fuss that’s gone on (over Jackson),” he said. “It’s been interesting. But for games like this, well, I still know how to focus. I still remember.
“I’m just glad we’re winning again.”
Won’t it be something if guys like Allen and Townsend — not Jay Schroeder or Jackson — get these Raiders to another Super Bowl this year?
You know what? It won’t be a surprise. You earn your colors out in LA. Bo may know marketing. But Marcus Allen knows how to make Sundays black and silver. Go ask Al Davis which really matters.