They are still the Raiders. They practice in Oakland. They play, 450 miles to the south, in Los Angeles.
"And we camp out on the edge of reality," said Lyle Alzado, the defensive end.
Their home field still rests somewhere between the prosecution and the defense. And Al Davis, their managing general partner, still wears the black, the silver and the scowl, saying, "All three television networks are mad at me. They want me to talk about the move. But I don't want to talk about that now . . . No, we haven't overcome anything this year. We just win."
You see, they are the same old Raiders, after all. They are still America's most cuddly chain gang. With this team, when nothing is new, all is askew.
Saturday afternoon, the judicially dubbed Los Angeles Raiders (9-1) will play the New York Jets (7-3) in an AFC second-round playoff game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the place only the National Football League schedule calls Home.
"Our home," said linebacker Matt Millen, "is on the road."
"I never even take my hair dryer or razor out of my suitcase," said punter Ray Guy.
Throughout their 23-year lifespan, boredom has never dared tap the shoulders of these Raiders. And this season has been particularly enlightening, with equal parts bombast and nostalgia.
"Really, what we have here is a great blend," said veteran linebacker Ted Hendricks. "From Mormons to Muhammads to Matuszaks."
The Raiders are still involved in litigation. The city of Oakland estimates it is losing $180 million per year in economic activity without the Raiders, and is trying to reacquire the team through the right of eminent domain. Another trial arrives in Monterey County Superior Court May 16.
Some things never change, it seems. Then again, some things do.
The old guardians of the Raiders prepare to depart now. Offensive linemen Gene Upshaw (16 seasons) and Art Shell (15 seasons) will retire after this season. And now, too, the bell likely tolls for John Matuszak, the 31-year old defensive end, who hasn't played this year because of a back injury.
So then, what has made this team competent enough to reverse last year's injury-filled 7-9 disaster, to return to the Super Bowl-winning competence of two years ago, to beat surly San Diego twice and to lose once this season to Cincinnati, 31-17?
Foremost, there is rookie running back Marcus Allen, who ran for 697 yards (third best in the NFL) and scored 14 touchdowns, best in the NFL.
"With the risk of sounding conceited or overconfident," said Allen, the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Southern California, "I knew I could play."
"We've gotten a running back in the open in the past," said Dave Dalby, the Raiders center of 10 seasons, "but they wouldn't stay open once they got there. Marcus does."
"Where would this team be without Marcus Allen?" said linebacker Rod Martin. "Look at last year."
Then, there is the defensive line of Reggie Kinlaw (age 25), Howie Long (age 22) and newly acquired Alzado (age 33), who combined to lead a defense that recorded an NFL-high 38 sacks and helped keep opposing offenses to 86 rushing yards per game, second best in the NFL.
"We just call ourselves '11 Angry Men,' " said Martin.
Al Davis has always had an eye for veterans who the rest of the free world thought ready for the cloak room. Alzado was acquired for an eighth-round draft pick from Cleveland on draft day in 1982.
"How embarrassing do you think that was to me? An eighth-round pick? Are you kidding me?" said Alzado.
Davis also reinvigorated kickoff/punt returner Greg Pruitt, 31, who has had a marvelous season (his 26.5 yard average on kickoff returns ranks third in the NFL) because he, too, was acquired for future considerations from Cleveland on draft day. At first, Pruitt was hurt by the trade.
"Then I figured there must be a positive in every tragedy," said Pruitt. "So I told myself it could have been worse. I could have gone to Baltimore."
Another Raider generator has been Jim Plunkett, 35, the quarterback who seemingly has a renaissance every other season. This season, Plunkett completed 152 of 261 (58 percent) for 2,035 yards, 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Last season, when the Raiders slumped to a despair that included three consecutive shutout losses and a failure to make the playoffs, Plunkett was incompetent first, benched later.
There was a reason for the trouble, unannounced though it was. Plunkett had strained ligaments in his right thumb, which made it difficult to throw, and a groin injury, which made it difficult to run. But he never mentioned the injuries to the press.
"My confidence is back now," said Plunkett.
The Raiders were 2-0, having defeated San Francisco, 23-17, and Atlanta, 38-14, before the strike hit. When they returned from the strike, they trailed San Diego, 24-0, in the second half, then rallied to win, 28-24.
The Raiders say this was the turning point of the season. Since then, they are 6-1, including a 27-10 playoff victory last week over Cleveland in which Plunkett threw for 386 yards.
"When I was with Cleveland," Pruitt said, "we'd get blown out by San Diego. It was strange playing San Diego this year, with everyone on my team saying we could beat them, and then actually doing it."
There is a brash confidence here. This is more than a veteran team. It is a Super Bowl-veteran team.
"The biggest thing is whereas a veteran team can tell the rookies the difference between the exhibition season and the regular season," said Plunkett, "the Super Bowl-veteran team can tell them the difference between the regular season and the playoffs."
Really, the Raiders are the team with the home-field advantage and without the home field. The Raiders practice all week in Oakland, then fly to Los Angeles on the day preceding the home game.
Perhaps it is ironic that you can see the Oakland Coliseum from the Raiders' practice field. Perhaps it is fitting that the Raiders' practice field is next to the Oakland Airport.
"We fly down to L.A., eat a meal, play a game, then fly back here," said Hendricks. "Los Angeles isn't home. It isn't the road. It's somewhere in between."
"We're like a yo-yo," said Martin, the linebacker, "going down, coming up, going down, coming up."
The majority of Raiders still live near Oakland. For the players, who live in Southern California, though, life is tough. During the week, most of them live in Oakland hotels.
"I've been in this hotel room since one month before the strike, two months after it," said Allen, who makes his home in San Diego. "Room service is getting expensive."
Calvin Peterson, a reserve linebacker who lives near Los Angeles and rooms with Allen in Oakland, bemoaned the hotel life, droning over and over, "The same four walls . . . "
Six months ago, Howie Long was married. He said he now spends $350-$400 a month calling his wife in Los Angeles..
The Raiders have averaged nearly 57,000 fans per game in the Los Angeles Coliseum, which seats 74,000 comfortably, and more than 90,000 with limited-visibility seats. In 1981, the Raiders averaged nearly 49,000 in the smaller Oakland Coliseum.
The makeup of the crowds is different in Los Angeles than in blue-collar Oakland.
"L.A. is a stylish town," said Alzado. "The fans wear sunglasses and weird hairdos. When I played in Cleveland, fans wore jackets and boots. That's it. And they drank beer. In L.A., they drink champagne."
"The fans in L.A. don't know us yet," said Plunkett. "We don't know them."
Long added, "I think Ricardo Montalban is one of our fans.