If integration was as easy as football, what a lovely world it would be. Art Shell, the first black coach in pro football's modern era, went to work Monday night and the Los Angeles Raiders snapped their three-game losing streak.
It took an 87-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Eddie Anderson, but the Raiders got past the New York Jets, 14-7, in an inartistic if historic game while "Joe Must Go" ballons wafted among the fans at the Meadowlands."I just love these guys to death," said Shell, now 1-0.
"I almost cried in there but they wouldn't let me do it. Everyone was happy and everyone got a game ball."
For the Jets, falling to 0-3 at home while fans howled for the head of Coach Joe Walton, turned out to be a perfect first opponent for the new coach of a struggling franchise.
After a week of talking about restoring traditions, the Raiders improved their still-best Monday night mark to 27-6-1. They held the Jets to 80 yards rushing, the first time this season they'd held anyone under 156.
Their offense, however, went nowhere most of the night. They took a 7-0 lead in the third period when Mervyn Fernandez turned a medium-range pass from Jay Schroeder into a 73-yard scoring play, but they were tied, 7-7, in the fourth quarter when Ken O'Brien overthrew tight end Billy Griggs, and found Anderson, instead, at the Raider 17.
Anderson, replacing the injured Vann McElroy, already had dropped a sure interception in the end zone, but he held this one, and started upfield.
"Go, Eddie!" Al Davis yelled in the press box, "You can run it back all the way!"
Anderson promptly ran into Jet center Jim Sweeney, but bounced off him. He regrouped, kept his feet beneath him, looked around . . . and spotted an opening in the middle of the field. He shot through it, ran around O'Brien, and, with his breath fading fast, beat the pursuit to the end zone.
"I got hit by about 3-4 guys," Anderson said later, "but I wouldn't go down. I waved at Terry McDaniel to throw me a block (McDaniel said he didn't see Anderson waving until later, on a TV replay).
"I saw the middle just open up. I hit the middle as hard as I could. But it looked like the end zone got farther and farther away as I approached it."
He finally got the elusive rascal to hold still and the Raiders had a 14-7 lead. O'Brien marched the Jets to the Raider 15 in the final seconds of the game, but McDaniel batted down his final pass and Shell had a triumphant debut.
After an awful, scoreless first half - first in the league this season, do you think those ABC execs weren't dying? - things heated up in a hurry.
The first Raider possession lasted two plays. On the second, Schroeder hit Fernandez with a 10-yard pass . . . to which Fernandez added 63 more yards. He tore away from cornerback Bobby Humphrey, ran away from free safety Erik McMillan, sprinted down the right sideline and got a downfield block from Willie Gault, who screened off James Hasty. At the Jet 10, Fernandez cut back on Hasty and trotted into the end zone.
Fernandez came into the game the only NFL receiver to have scored a touchdown in all four games. Now he's the only one to catch one in all five.
The Jets' offense, which hasn't scored a first-half touchdown all season, promptly sprang into action, itself.
After gumming up the kickoff return and starting at their own three-yard-line, the Jets zipped 97 yards down the field. O'Brien picked up a third-and-11 with a 13-yard pass to JoJo Townsell and a third-and-7 with a 26-yard pass to the same ex-Bruin. On the 15th play of the drive, Roger Vick slammed one yard into the end zone and it was about to be tied, 7-7.
Meanwhile, Davis sat in the press box seeming happier than he has been in years. When a friend pointed out something the Raiders had done wrong, Davis replied patiently, "We'll get it."
Monday night, they did get it.
A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step.
So does a trip to the kitchen. Tune in in the ensuing weeks to see what this was.