To deal properly with the fact that Ted Hendricks once pranced about the Raiders' practice field in full uniform astride a show horse, and frequently can be seen on non-game days with enormous crow feathers sprouting from his helmet, requires reexploring the two worlds of a pro football player.

Off the field, he is expected to be a virtuous, even inspirational, adult, a role-model crutch for spineless or hopelessly frustrated parents. On the KEN DENLINGER team, he often is treated as a no-mind child, tucked into bed, told with whom to associate and to keep that chin strap buckled or you might get a boo-boo.

A fella needs to maintain his sanity somehow with all this culture madness, to say nothing of 250-pound wedge busters scrambling his brain. So Hendricks, and not many others now that Hogs can make commercials, flout The Football System by laughing at it.

The Raiders were one of the last NFL teams to convert to that jock religion called weight training; when they did, Hendricks was there with a reminder that it just might not be the truth and the light. Lined in a row at training camp was contraption after shiny muscle-popping contraption. And a gadget University of Miami alum Hendricks designed and dubbed the Hurricane Weight Machine.

The universal features of the Hurricane Weight Machine included: inner tubes in the shape of bench-press weights; a nozzle in case one wanted to shower while pumping air and handy receptacles that would keep beer cans from falling to the ground or sloshing over during all this strenuous exercise.

Hendricks was telling the Raiders, not too subtly, that he had thrived for nearly a dozen years resembling the analogy he so detests, a berserk bird, and without hoisting much more than a knife and fork before and after games.

"Weird," said former Raiders coach John Madden. "Just a weird guy."

This is the affectionate judgment of a man paid handsomely to crash through a simulated outfield fence during a beer ad. But you were forewarned about football folks, that they also take odd bounces.

Fans and teammates have marveled how Hendricks' body has survived most of 15 seasons, with the Colts and Packers before the Raiders, and 203 straight games, how he has managed to stretch that 6-foot-7 frame in front of kicks for an incredible (yes, it's appropriate here) 25 blocks. He also has scored an NFL-record four safeties.

To outsiders, he's The Mad Stork; to his teammates, he's Kick 'Em, which evolved from the original Kick 'Em in the Head, Ted. How that came about was the newly arrived Hendricks in 1975 accidentally kicking a helmet while it still was attached to teammate Marv Hubbard.

Hendricks has an impressive array of headgear he has worn in place of his helmet at practice. He reported one day, in full uniform, every pad in its proper place, with a German helmet perched atop his head. He also has a hat shaped in the form of a turkey head. Once he carved a pumpkin, stuck Raiders decals front and back and slipped it over his head.

"The first meeting after I arrived (in 1977)," said Pat Toomay, "we were going over the opposition. It happened to be a right-handed team, and all of a sudden Hendricks takes the game plan and throws it up in the air. It's floating to the floor and he's walking out of the room.

"I never saw him again (in the defensive team meetings). You can imagine how that hit me, coming from Dallas, to hear a guy say, 'We can take the week off' and actually do it."

Hendricks only takes off after footballs in games.

"He leaves everything on the field," Madden said. "He just loves to compete. And the amazing thing is how he's played that many games without a serious injury. No knees or ankles. Maybe a thumb. He doesn't have thick muscles. His are so long."

Hendricks certainly plays a more courageous game than he talks. He refers to his drive to excel as the Hurricane Spirit and describes it as, "If the going gets tough, quit. That way you'll never lose." So when a back slips by him in practice passing drills, catches the ball and begins to gloat, Hendricks yells, "Did not beat me. I quit."

Quitter Ted made the Pro Bowl at ages 24, 27, 33 and 34.

"The 49ers drafted a tight end (Ken MacAfee) who was supposed to be sensational but never made it at all," Madden said. "And I think I know why. It was during a preseason game. Hendricks was playing like it was no big deal and this kid suddenly hits him from behind. Gets him mad. Well, the guy never got off the line after that.

"Ted'd stuff him, and still make the tackle. And the kid would never get close to running his route (on pass plays). That experience might not have been the major reason he never made it, but it was a big reason. His confidence was shot. You don't mess with Ted Hendricks."

To more than strangers who inquire about how long he plans to work at play and play at work, Hendricks replies: former players have told him how tough the transition has been and not to leave until the body insists. The one on-the-field concession to age is being replaced by a defensive back during blatantly obvious passing situations.

He also warns about being too giddy too early about the Raiders' defense this season. Remember, he cautions, one of my Colts defenses had a chance for a fewest-points record, until rookie Jim Plunkett and an otherwise bad Patriots offense spoiled it.

So we can expect this immensely appealing player, in every way one can imagine, to go on disrupting offenses and sticking his head in the path of a kicker's flying foot for quite a while longer. And tweeking a sport badly in need of it for a team that tolerates everything but playing poorly. That's nice.

"I hope he goes another 15 years, because he's the last of the old school," said Toomay. "The Cybernetics Era is not yet fully upon us."