Strange as it may seem, the Washington Redskins can muster no particular wrath this weekend for the Los Angeles Raiders.
The 38-9 loss in Super Bowl XVIII is only a gnawing, 19-month-old memory for the Redskins. A 21-20 preseason loss to the Raiders a year ago means next-to-nothing. They haven't met since, principally because both lost too soon in last season's playoffs.
It sounds so good: the Raiders and Redskins, Sunday at 4 p.m. EDT on NBC-TV (WRC-TV-4), in spacious Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
But it looks like just another of so many preseason games to most of the Redskins (1-0).
"It doesn't matter who we play," said right tackle Mark May. "This is just another exhibition game to me. Three weeks from now, we'll be 0-0. That's when it begins to matter."
For most of the name players here, the Joe Theismanns and Howie Longs and Jim Plunketts, there is no truer theme for the day.
But consider the 21- and 22-year-olds, the J.C. Pearsons and Danzell Lees and Mike Wootens, all Redskins rookies.
On Tuesday, every National Football League team must cut its roster to 60 players. The Redskins' roster today stands at 90. One of every three players must go in three days (not counting those who are injured).
Although Coach Joe Gibbs wasn't pleased about having to fly five hours to find a preseason opponent, he is happy his team is playing the Raiders.
"This gives you one of the best teams, personnel-wise, to go against," Gibbs said. "Our defensive backs will be tested by the great speed of their wide receivers. And our offense will be tested. They have one of the best (defensive) front fours in football."
Although Cliff Branch, the Raiders' 14-year veteran wide receiver, aggravated a hamstring pull Friday and is not expected to play, the Raiders undoubtedly will test their typically alley-oop passing game, where competition is keen this summer.
Jessie Hester, the Raiders' No. 1 draft choice from Florida State, likely will replace Branch, who is 37, in the starting lineup. Cle Montgomery, Dokie Williams, Malcolm Barnwell and rookie Tim Moffett all probably will play as the Raiders try to decide which four or five receivers to keep.
The Raiders' starting quarterback, without controversy so far, is Plunkett, at 37 the oldest quarterback in the league. At times Sunday, the Redskins may have an all-rookie defensive secondary staring Plunkett in the face: Pearson and top draftee Tory Nixon at cornerback; Barry Wilburn at strong safety and Raphel Cherry at free safety.
"I think it will be like covering our receivers in practice," said Cherry. "We've got three -- Art Monk, Charlie Brown and Calvin Muhammad -- like their guys. We expect some deep balls, about 10 or so."
The last time Redskins kicker Tony Zendejas saw the inside of the Coliseum, he was wearing a Los Angeles Express uniform and was surrounded by the silence of an almost-empty stadium.
"It's going to be a new experience," he said. "I'm anxious to hear some noises there. To have some people there will be nice."
Zendejas' competition with veteran Mark Moseley has been marked by many differences of opinion. The significance of Sunday's game is following form.
"This is a big game," said Zendejas, who will attempt the first field goal and extra point, then rotate with Moseley. "It's on national television. It's the Raiders. It's important for our competition."
Naturally, Moseley doesn't agree.
"It's just another game. It's just like the rest of them. We both have to look good," he said.
For some Redskins veterans, the job is not on the line, but personal honor is. Look for running back George Rogers to start, but expect John Riggins to get a handful of carries, Gibbs said. How Riggins looks Sunday and in the final two preseason games will determine if he or Rogers starts Sept. 9 in Dallas.
Left defensive tackle Dave Butz, like Riggins a late arrival to training camp because of contract difficulties, is expected to start as usual. That position seems to be his alone.
Theismann will start and play an undetermined length of time. If it's the second Sunday of the exhibition season, this must be Los Angeles, but he really doesn't care.
"They're the L.A. Raiders," he said. "They live on the West Coast. We live on the East Coast. That's it."
The Redskins quarterbacks have become media darlings of sorts here. Reserves Jay Schroeder and Babe Laufenberg grew up in Southern California's smoggy suburban sprawl, so their competition to become Theismann's backup has made summer headlines.
Schroeder has looked better than Laufenberg so far, yet Gibbs remains mum on their competition. An indication of where they stand may come when Gibbs replaces Theismann.
If he picks Laufenberg, Gibbs apparently will have decided the former Indiana quarterback deserves "equal time" after last week's mop-up duty in a 17-14 victory over Atlanta.
If he chooses Schroeder, it's likely the ex-UCLA player has become the solid No. 2 man in the coaches' thinking.