LOS ANGELES — The greatest myth about this football team, the Raiders, is that you only need a uniform to be a part of it. As if 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 different. It is the reason that wherever you look across the American landscape, would-be heroes are wearing silver jackets and black hats 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 his locker this season to get to Bo Jackson, he knew it. All during the clamor they made last year around new coach Art Shell — his former teammate
— he knew it.
And now, at this moment, he knew it again. It was late Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum, like so many other late Sunday afternoons in his career, and Allen, now 30, gazed at the small crowd that was on its feet. The game was over. The freeways were thickening with traffic. But these fans stayed. They waited. They cheered. “MAR-CUS! MAR-CUS!”
He waved. He walked toward the tunnel. Security guards formed a human wall. Cheerleaders stood on their tiptoes to get a peek. O.J. Simpson, who, once upon a time, also made the No. 32 famous in this stadium, 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,” said Simpson of the Raiders’ 20-10 playoff victory 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 taken the mike and twirled it around O.J.’s neck.
Instead, this is what Marcus Allen said: “You know, I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Spoken like a true Raider. Bo hasn’t been there yet
Hey, kids, all you non-shavers who think those silver helmets are just another marketing tool to make Bo Jackson famous. Listen up: Bo Jackson has yet to earn his Raiders uniform. It is still on loan. He hasn’t played a full season. He hasn’t led the team in blood or courage. Most important, he has never been to the mountaintop. The motto of Al Davis’ weird and crazy crew 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, busting into the open, gaining 140 yards, leaving Cincinnati defenders at his feet, the way he left 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 Raiders’ backfield, and some thought he was the best rusher in the game. That was a while ago. Things have changed. New faces. Losing seasons. Dwindling crowds. For a while, the Raiders seemed destined to go the way of Dillinger, 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 Raiders 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 ran off-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 and again. Do the old magic, Marcus. When he started running there was 5:41 left. When he finished, 19 seconds were left. He gained half a football field during that drive. He ate the clock. He sealed the win.
“I’ve been doing this a long time.” Old Raiders live up to tradition
Allen entered the Coliseum tunnel, a place he has been going since his college days at USC. He showered. He took a pat on the back from Davis, like the old days. And then he came out to meet the press. A mob. The locker near his — No. 34, JACKSON — was empty and ignored.
“I was really pumped up for this game,” Allen said. “I still know how to focus. I know what these (playoff) games are about. You get one chance. Sudden death. I was ready.”
Old Raiders always are. Old Raiders know about living up to the moment. Three times since 1977 they made the Super Bowl. Three times they won it.
So on Sunday, it was the old guys again. It was Allen rushing and Greg Townsend, the big defensive end, who slam- dunked Boomer Esiason just when Boomer was thinking about winning this game. And it was Shell, who was in his last year as a Raiders player when Allen joined the team. Shell guided the Raiders on Sunday the way John Madden once guided them. Have fun, but get it done.
Now someone asked Allen about the pressure.
“Pressure?” he said. “Pressure is what’s going on in the Persian Gulf. This isn’t pressure. We’ve been doing this a long time.”
He got dressed. He went home. A long time. That’s what the franchise is about. If the Raiders do get back to the Super Bowl this year, don’t be surprised if it’s Allen — not Jackson — who leads the way. Bo may know marketing. But Marcus knows how to make Sundays black and silver.
Go ask Al Davis which really matters.