Traditionally, NFL teams celebrate success by spiking a football. The Oakland Raiders spike quarterbacks.
For much of the game today, Oakland had been exceedingly generous.The Redskins were a threat any time Dan Pastorini cocked his arm. They might soon call this stadium Dante's Inferno, so loud and so often was the Raider quarterback booed. There is no jacket to ward off the sort of flak he was taking after throwing his 100th NFL touchdown pass -- and his 143rd, 144th and 145th interceptions.
With just two minutes left, the Raiders found yet another way to lose. Ahead by 10 points, they would have had Washington third and a mile had defensive end Willie Jones gently put Joe Theisman on the ground for a 10-yard loss instead of whirling him around and trying to bury him with a body slam.
While Theisman writhed on the ground for several frightening seconds, it seemed as if the Redskins had suffered the final injury blow that would effectively end their season after three games. They can scratch and fight with two new offensive tackles,a new tight end, a rookie fullback and a halfback who missed nearly all of training camp. They ar doomed without Theisman's right arm.
Fortunately, Jones tried to drill for oil near the 50-yard line with Theisman's left shoulder, the one he scarcely more than tolerates -- his abuse shoulder, Theisman calls it, "the one I just make sure evens out my suits." That's the one with the ugly, six-inch scar that surely must have come after an even more dreadful football fall than today's.
"Surfing," Theisman said after as inventive and courageous a game as he has played in his football life. "Got that surfing when I was 14. There's a pin in it. The doctor said the only way I'd ever play football again after the accident was to have it done."
The day after school ended for the summer, Theisman rode a wave too close to shore. Like today, there were shoulder priorities, as Theisman recalled the 7 a.m. dialogue with his father.
"Dad, I've had an accident. I've seperated my shoulder."
"Here's your mother."
"As long as it wasn't your right one."
Again today, it was only Theisman's left shoulder that Jone's tried to plant at midfield. After he found it still attached to his body, Theisman returned to battle after Mike Kruczek had relived his Pittsburgh Steeler glory by handing off for an 11-yard gain.
"Of course I came back in," Theismann said, indignant that anyone would doubt it. "To me, football is too much fun to watch. I get all excited, all pumped up. Right now (an hour after the game ended), I have no idea how it'll be for next week. And people'll read this and say I'm on drugs or something. That's not it at all.
"It's just the adrenaline's still going. I love to compete. And nothing short of a fatal bullet is going to keep me out." Yes, he laughed at the absurdity of that bravado.
Theismann has been much more macho this season. Instead of taking a quick right turn out of bounds after running for a first down against the Giants last week, Theismann turned upfield and dashed for a touchdown. Instead of a safe slide during one of his frequent scrambles today, Theisman kept his feet, actually broke a tackle and fought for a first down.
"If it helps us," he said, "I'm willing to sell it (his body) out."
With his left shoulder little more than ornament, providing useless symmetry, Theismann returned and drove the Redskins to the touchdown that made the defeat about as respectable as anyone could have imagined before the game began. This team is marginally fine at full health, playoff bound only if all the cliches about dedication come true.
"What we have now is somewhat a new team," Theismann said. "This (offense) really is just now going through training camp." A guard, Gary Anderson, is manning right tackle, tight end Rich Walker is in his second week as a Redskin and Wilbur Jackson is adjusting to being moved from fullback to halfback.
And the quarterback is running for his life. Someone less nimble, a Billy Kilmer, for instance, would have been carried off the field by the end of the first quarter, so often were Raider defenders mauling Theismann's body.
On that especially bold run that gained 12 yards on third and nine and kept a second-quarter touchdown drive moving, Theismann seemed certain to be clobbered by linebacker Ted Hendricks for a large loss. The Mad Stork was in mad pursuit of Theismann -- and with no one between them. Somehow, Theismann escaped.
"Neat, wasn't it?" Theismann said.
Yes, it was. Later, it was ugly the way Jones jammed Theismann, so much so that the NFL ought to make an example of it. The league had been admirable in taking several strong measures the last few years to make the game more safe. Quarterback safety has been of permanent concern. What ought to be done to Jones was rolling out of Theismann's mouth the istant after the first reporter asked the first postgame question.
"The only way to stop something like that is with a fine or suspension," said Theismann, with reason. "The man had time to grab me, he had time to hold me in the air and then throw me. There was thought process involved. I'll stand in there and let anyone take a clean shot. I love tough, clean football. I love tough, clean (defensive) people.
"But this hoits."
And the only way to hoit Jones -- and assure that future defensive linemen are not recruited from pro wrestling -- is a hand slap to his pocket book. Hard. And with a public announcement of the amount of the fine.
"Fifteen yards isn't enough," Theismann said. "You get 15 yards for pushing downfield."
As he was talking, the father of San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts came by and offered congratulations. And several less distinguished fans did the same. One of them accidently patted Thiesmann on the left shoulder -- and he winced. That shoulder might not be the important one, but it will grab his -- and Washington's -- attention this week.