1983 LA Raiders: Fourth Best Team in the '80s Bull Market Era

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1983 LA Raiders: Fourth Best Team in the '80s Bull Market Era

I’ll say this: If the 1983 Raiders are the fourth best team in the 1982-1987 Bull Market Era, the other three must have been coached by Saint Peter with Moses as the offensive line.

But Raiders fans instead have Al Davis: owner; president; play caller; iconoclast; baby, just win, baby, because Al has an unparalleled commitment to excellence and, in the early '80s, was the scourge of Alameda County.

No matter how insufferably weird you think Al is—and I fall in the “Al is excruciating, like a howling domestic cat that insists on wailing through the early morning” Camp—the '80s Al knew the NFL game like no other. 

Al produced. He produced the XI champion in 1976 with a 16-1 team, arguably (suck it up, 1972 Dolphins) the best of the decade of the 1970s. Al produced the XV winner in 1980 with a wild-card team. And Al Davis got his Raiders in XVIII directly in the face of the 16-2 defending Super Bowl champion Redskins in 1983 and simply took them apart piece by piece to the tune of a 29-point winning margin. 

He’s difficult to argue with, the Bizarre One.

Difficult to challenge he is, especially when he wins a Super Bowl with a coach (John Madden) and a quarterback (The Snake), and then wins again four years later with a different coach (Tom Flores) and quarterback (Jim Plunkett, who in the anti-sociopathic sense is the Anti-Snake). 

Well, it was 1982, and Al Davis made the prudent decision to keep the same coach and signal caller. Nothing like stability. Prudent it was, but Al gets a little bored, I guess, and uproots a billion-dollar enterprise, and Mary, Mother of God, changes cities to Los Angeles.

AD, like Al Davis, like ADHD.

Say, Al, we say with a palpable concern, there’s already an NFL team in LA, my man. 

Al replies, “Not like mine, baby!”

Spot on with that one, Mr. Davis...baby.

In 1982, the season was so much in turmoil from the 57-day players’ strike that the league threw up its collective hands and dropped the divisional playoff format.

The teams in each conference were seeded from one through eight, developing a 16-team playoff tournament, eliciting such comments as, “Golly, why don’t you do this every year?” to which the league replied, “It just makes too much sense.”

The ’82 strike-choked edition of the Raiders, in their first year in Los Angeles, finished 8-1 with the AFC’s top seed. LA whipped up on No. 8 Cleveland but was promptly dismissed in the AFC semis by the overachieving No. 6 Jets.

Absolutely no one was pleased with that funky playoff setup, especially the 1982 LA Raiders. The Super Bowl champion Redskins loved it. As far as Washington is concerned, the players can strike every season.

There is that potential.

So, why did I spend 369 words on the history of Raider football?

It’s important to the silver and black that a) the ’76 and ’80 Raiders have shown the ’83 Raiders what it’s like to win, and b) you can’t get much more pissed off than the ’82 Raiders. The season after LA’s 9-2 finish, commitment to excellence, as important as it is—and its importance cannot be overemphasized—was not enough. 

Al Davis’ 1983 Los Angeles team went hunting the heads of anyone in a different uniform.

No one does that like the Raiders.

During the years in the early and mid ‘70s, as Oakland pursued the elusive Super Bowl championship, safeties Jack Tatum and George Atkinson set the game’s standard for legal (very legal, Steelers) assault. 

As an opposing receiver lay half-conscious on the turf, Tatum and Atkinson used that receiver’s heap of humanity to remind anyone who needed reminding that “this is the way it’s going to be today.”

The hard hitting continued in Los Angeles in 1983, with Lyle Alzado, Howie Long, Ted “The Stork” Hendricks, and Matt Millen delivering the back teeth-rocking hits of the decade of the 1980s.

Those gentlemen allowed a new class of Raiders defensive backs to patrol the secondary. Rest assured, the safeties were still tough, but Al Davis took a new tack. Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes were two shutdown corners who were so skilled in their craft they could render any NFL wideout completely irrelevant.

Hayes and Haynes were the law downfield, so how good was the rest of the defense? The Raiders’ defense allowed a combined total of 24 points in the two AFC playoff games. Pittsburgh scored 10, while Seattle, victors over Los Angeles twice that season, managed only 14.

Ask the “how good” question again, and I can answer it no better than with the plight of Seahawks running back Curt Warner. In the AFC Championship game, Warner, the AFC’s ’83 rushing leader with 1,449 yards, was garroted for just 26 yards while facing the misery of a stud back getting only 11 carries.

After the defense had its fun, they gave the ball to the Raiders offense. Averaging just under 28 points per game, Los Angeles also had rather consistent production, as they scored over 20 points in every game all season.

Quarterback Jim Plunkett was rather accurate in ’83 with a completion rate of just over 60 percent. Todd Christensen led the league in receiving, as Plunkett found him 92 times for a solid tight end 13.5 yards per catch number. 

Cliff Branch also lined up for his third Super Bowl Raider team, keeping safeties and corners honest with his world-class speed and veteran wile.

If you think Plunkett, Christensen, Branch, and others like running back Kenny King and receiver Malcolm Barnwell created offensive fireworks...well, we just haven’t discussed the USC Heisman winner in his sophomore NFL year.

It’s here, baby. I can’t approach the subject of the Raiders’ thousand-yard rusher Marcus Allen without getting into his showcase, Super Bowl XVIII.

Washington fans, secure your safety harness.

My expectant wife and I, the fearful father of the future, watched the Tampa game with some CPA folks from her firm. The date of the game was Jan. 22, 1984, which meant we were a month away from losing our Double Income No Kids (DINK) status. 

We did maintain our Yuppie license since a CPA and an ‘80s stockbroker who were married gave off the worst Yup stink imaginable.

1983 Washington was 16-2 and the defending Super Bowl champions. I considered all that as well as LA’s 14-4 record and found it interesting that the ‘Skins were barely three-point favorites.

Being the broker I was, I should have been able to analyze the inference. However, being the broker all of us brokers were, I barely knew anything. Any conclusion I reached would have been faulty.

Some good resulted from XVIII. A) It looked as if Up With People was finally banned from performing halftime shows in Super Bowls, and B) John Madden came back for a second CBS Super Bowl stint. He and Pat Summerall are the best. 

And, some sad: John Facenda, the voice-over artist of NFL Films, a man who launched a generation of boys with sports fantasies that included Mr. Facenda’s voice saying their names, would complete the Super Bowl XVIII highlight project and pass away a few months later. I still miss him.

Bronko Nagurski tossed the coin. Mr. Nagurski shares with Dick Butkus the award for Baddest Football Name Ever. Then, pop artist and self-described big sissy Barry Manilow belted out The Star-Spangled Banner as no other could.

Time for football.

Actually, it didn’t take much time. The Los Angeles Raiders laid waste to that calm-before-the-storm three points incredibly quickly. Al’s men rung up 21 points on the invincible Redskins by several methods.

Special teams players salivate for the big play in a Super Bowl. LA’s Derrick Jensen won the lottery as he blocked a punt deep in Washington territory and recovered same for an early touchdown. That’s the way Al likes to do things.

Jim Plunkett took control by using the speed and skill of Cliff Branch. Branch pulled in a 50-yarder from Plunkett in the second quarter and then caught a 12 yarder to make it 14-0.

The ‘Skins finally got it together. Joe Theismann rhymes with Heisman took his offense on a big drive. Just when Washington got some mojo, Raider Rod Martin, the picker of three picks in XV, broke up a third-down pass. The Redskins settled for a field goal.

That’s Raiders 14, Redskins 3, and that’s when Joe Gibbs changed into his pajamas.

Plunkett led LA, albeit stalling just past midfield with less than a minute remaining in the half. Punting maestro Ray Guy dropped one on the Redskin 12. Theismann had 12 seconds to do something. 

Many coaches would take a knee and head for the locker room.

But no.

Gibbs inexplicably called “Rocket Screen.” Sounds like a great play, except for the fact that silver-shoed running back Joe Washington took it 67 yards against the Raiders in early October. 

Inexplicably? Except for that? 

Think about it. Coaches have a long memory when it comes to getting rolled and smoked. The Raiders’ linebacker coach sent LA ‘backer Jack Squirek to cover Silver Shoes. Theismann laid the ball in Squirek’s hands as if he were the primary receiver. Two linebacker strides later, Los Angeles had a 21-3 lead and walked into the locker room.

Washington? They looked like they were hit by a rocket.

Regardless, someone must have said something at halftime in the Redskins’ locker.

Ya think? 

An angry and determined Joe Theismann took Washington by the feathers, taking them nine plays from their 30 to set up a one-yard John Riggins touchdown.

Here we go!

But Raider Don Hasselbeck blocked the point-after attempt to give his squad a 21-9 lead. (That's Elisabeth Hasselbeck's father-in-law for those of you keeping a conservative scorecard.)

Washington promised its fans a better comeback.

It was as if Joe Gibbs passed out cookies and milk on the Redskin sidelines and began reading bedtime stories. Alas, there were no sweet dreams.

The Raiders took command from there as no other NFL team can.

From Daryle Lamonica to Warren Wells to Jim Otto to Jack Tatum to George Atkinson to Mark Van Eaghen to John Matuszak to The Snake to Art Shell to Gene Upshaw to Ben Davidson to Otis Sistrunk and Dave Casper, the studs were lined up on that vast sideline called the Raider Nation as their team put up 14 quick ones in the third quarter.

If one wants to score 14 quick ones, it is better for one to have Marcus Allen on one’s team.

Allen began by making the score 28-9 with a short touchdown run.

The Redskins awoke from the nightmare after a Cliff Branch fumble. No way. They turned over the ball on downs at their 26.

Back to bed, Redskins.

Larry Csonka’s 49-yard punishing ramble in which he took down four of George Allen’s Redskins in VII...John Riggins’ 4th-and-1 touchdown run in which he made a Dolphin linebacker pay the price in Super Bowl XVII...None of these classic Super Bowl runs could be anywhere near the gallop that took place after the change of possession.

Obtained from Wikipedia’s article on Super Bowl XVIII, here’s LA Raiders radio broadcaster Bill King and his call of Marcus Allen’s amazing 74-yard touchdown run:

Plunkett giving to Allen, sending him wide left. He has to reverse his field...and he gets away for a moment.  Cuts up the middle to the 40, runs across a man to the 50, down to the 40, picking up a blocker, gets to the 20...to the 10...to the five...touchdown Raiders! Holy Toledo! 74 yards!  The Raiders are mobbing Marcus Allen, who has just stood a crowd of 72,000 on its collective ear!

In XLIV years of the Super Bowl, there may have been teams that could have consistently beaten the 1983 Los Angeles Raiders.

However, only two teams, the 1983 Raiders and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, went into their Super Bowls with so few believers and so many doubters, walked onto the field with a supposedly superior opponent looking to get theirs, and absolutely annihilated them.

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