For the last three weeks, the Oakland Raiders have reacted to the end zone as though it were the Los Angeles Coliseum.
They can't get in.
In that time their offense has decorated the scoreboard with a final "0" in Detroit (16-0), at home against Denver (17-0) and, most recently, in Kansas City (27-0). The defending Super Bowl champions are 2-4 and, most pitifully, have set a post-World War II record for being shut out in consecutive games. The 1942-43 Brooklyn Dodgers were shut out six games in a row.
Says Al Davis, Raider managing general partner, "This is just inept . . . I'm willing to accept the blame for what's happening. It's disgraceful."
The Raiders have problems. It almost seems as if they haven't scored since their suit against the National Football League ended in a mistrial in mid-August. The jury was hung, 8-2, in favor of Davis, who still wants his team to move to Los Angeles.
But even that judicial game was a defeat, really. Now, a new trial date is being pushed back about as far as the Raiders' offense. "We are in a position where our offense is predictable and when you get in that position, they can really tee off on you," said Oakland Coach Tom Flores, who has replaced ineffective quarterback Jim Plunkett with Marc Wilson in the fourth quarter of the last two games.
In those games, Wilson completed three of 19 passes for 30 yards and had three intercepted. Flores now reportedly is thinking about starting him Sunday here against Tampa Bay. Things have become that bad.
And Raider fans are even less pleased now than before the season when they watched Davis try to flee south with their team. From 1970 to 1979, every game in the Oakland Coliseum was sold out. Last year, after Davis announced his decision to attempt to move, the average attendance dropped to 49,335 in the stadium that seats more than 53,000. It was the lowest for Oakland since 1968 in the American Football League. Neither of the first two home games this season was sold out.
It used to be that when the name Al Davis was announced in Oakland the fans would raise the "No. 1" index finger. Now it's a different sign.
"Al Davis doesn't care one way or the other," said Rod Seagraves, a 26-year-old San Jose mechanic, and, most important, a Raiders fanatic.
Seagraves was standing in the Oakland Coliseum parking lot before the Seattle game, wearing a silver and black shirt, tailgating as he always has.
"He doesn't care that this game isn't sold out. He'll get his money one way or the other. He doesn't care about us . . . you have to understand, we like what Al Davis has done for this team . . . but he's messing with the fans. He is turning against us."
Ron Argevitch, on the board of directors of the largest of the 12 Raider booster clubs, wore a yellow shirt that was as bright as it was venomous. It read: "Move Al Davis to L.A."
"Al Davis is a millionaire trying to become a multimillionaire. There is no reason for him to move. He is making money," said Argevitch, a season-ticket holder since 1970.
"It's not the same here anymore. It used to be that everybody wore Raider hats, shirts and everything . . . the hell with Al Davis. You know, I used to call him Mr. Davis out of respect."
The players are not unaware of the games played off the field.
Still, as cornerback Lester Hayes said, "It doesn't matter to us if we move to Siberia, especially if the money is right."
Linebacker Ted Hendricks said of his boss, "Al Davis is not controversial. He just won't let any person or corporation push him around. He believes he's right. In this organization everything filters from the top and Al Davis is at the top."
Tight end Raymond Chester, who recently lost his starting spot to Derrick Ramsey as part of the renovation of the points-poor offense, said, "For some of us older guys, we've had controversy surrounding us for most of our careers, anyway."
Offensive guard Gene Upshaw is in his 15th year with the Raiders. He was replaced Sunday by rookie Curt Marsh. It was the first time in 208 games that Upshaw, team spokesman and leader, did not start. In fact, he was the only man on the roster not to play, thereby missing Jim Otto's team record of 210 straight games.
After the Seattle victory made the Raiders 2-1 (they beat Minnesota in the second week, 36-10, and lost to Denver in the opener, 9-7), Upshaw said, "We have always felt it's us against the world. We like it that way. We respond to it.
"Al Davis has always insulated this football team from disruptions. He always told us that he'll take care of the litigation and that we'll play the games."
After the loss to Denver two weeks later, however, when the quarterback sacks and the outside pressures on the offensive line were mounting, Upshaw said quietly, "I feel numb. I don't want to talk today."
When Davis entered the locker room one hour after the victory over Seattle, he spoke of his problems.
"Here we are the world champions and we have to play on this baseball field. And our players don't have any fan loyalty because of the things I have done. We've had the most winning teams in the history of the game: 16 years in a row. I've got the highest payroll in the league and I'm losing money here."
That was more than three weeks ago, the last time his Raiders won. The offense isn't scoring. The fans are booing. The retrial date still is not set.