The scoreboard clock didn't work and there were 12,898 no-shows at Memorial Coliseum tonight for the Los Angeles Raiders' first home game. But the new team in town turned what looked like a disaster into a rousing success, overcoming a 24-0 deficit to defeat the San Diego Chargers, 28-24.
The game wasn't blacked out in the Los Angeles area and there were only 42,162 in attendance. The Coliseum seats 73,999 for professional football.
Raiders rookie running back Marcus Allen, playing on the same home field as when he was an all-America at Southern California, rushed for 87 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns as the Raiders won for the third time this season, joining Miami and Pittsburgh as the only undefeated teams in the American Conference.
The Chargers, despite a 357-yard passing night by Dan Fouts, who completed 25 of 42, dropped to 1-2.
Raiders free safety Vann McElroy intercepted a Fouts pass in the end zone with 1:56 remaining to seal the victory.
The Raiders had driven 80 yards in nine plays for the go-ahead touchdown on the previous possession, the score coming on a one-yard run by Frank Hawkins after Jim Plunkett had completed three straight passes to account for 55 yards. The drive was set up when San Diego's Rolf Benirschke missed a 33-yard field goal with 9:55 remaining.
But the Chargers rallied behind Fouts, who mixed passes to Wes Chandler with handoffs to James Brooks to move the ball to the Raiders' 18-yard line with 2:04 remaining. But on a second-and-10 situation, with defensive end Ruben Vaughn, who already had sacked him once, poised to unload again, Fouts threw the ball up for grabs and McElroy, a rookie from Baylor, ran it down in the right corner of the end zone.
The Raiders held the ball until there were only 10 seconds remaining, but Ray Guy, back to punt, fumbled the snap and was forced to run. He lost 10 yards, giving the ball back to the Chargers at the Raiders' 30 with four seconds to play.
Fouts' final desperation pass in the end zone was incomplete.
"Monday night football just brings out the best in us," said Raiders Coach Tom Flores. "When you consider all of the elements and the situation we were under, not playing in eight weeks and having to come back after falling so far behind, it's a great win. It was even fun.
"We felt we were getting stronger and felt we could dominate the second half if we just stayed with our game plan and we did."
Fouts missed on his first pass of the night, but he completed his next six on his way to an 11-for-18 (158 yards) performance in the first quarter. He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Scales, Benirschke kicked a 19-yard field goal and Chuck Muncie scored on runs of two and one yards to stake the Chargers to a 24-0 lead with seven minutes left in the first half.
Muncie fumbled the ball away at his own 17 with 1:25 left in the half and five plays later, on fourth down, Plunkett passed two yards to tight end Todd Christensen for the Raiders' first touchdown.
They scored again early in the third quarter on a three-yard run by Allen at the end of a 63-yard drive after a 27-yard punt by San Diego's Maury Buford.
Kellen Winslow fumbled the ball back to the Raiders four plays later when he was hit by Otis McKinney,Vaughn recovering at the Chargers' 30. Four plays later, Allen scored from the six on a sweep and Chris Bahr's conversion cut the San Diego lead to 24-21.
"This is a bitter pill for us to swallow," said San Diego Coach Don Coryell, "but we have to give the Raiders credit. We got tired in the second half, but they must have been tired, too."