(This column originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Aug. 16, 1989)
OXNARD -- There are 80 players in the Raiders' camp here, but only one whose passion for bringing back the good, old days runs as deep as yours.
Todd Christensen wants to be an Oakland Raider again.
There aren't many Oakland Raiders left in activity, three to be exact -- Christensen, Matt Millen and Howie Long. A couple of others, Marcus Allen and Vann McElroy, were Oakland property but never played a game until after the team moved to Los Angeles.
Long might want to be an Oakland Raider again, too, but he's being difficult these days, and those who haven't found him unapproachable have found the question goes unanswered. Oakland is not a subject he chooses to discuss at this time. Maybe he doesn't want to come back. Soup commercials don't come easy in the East Bay.
Millen says he certainly wouldn't mind coming back, and you figure deep within No. 55 the fires burn brighter. Publicly, Millen says he would "look forward" to being an Oakland Raider again, that he would "welcome" it. "But, " he quickly adds, "it's not like I make those decisions."
Christensen, the big tight end, rambles right on by that obstacle and then lowers a shoulder into the subject.
"It'd be a thrill, " he said. "While the organization left on terms of animosity, it wasn't as if (the fans) were angry at the players. It'd be a thrill, if only for a weekend. . . . Of course, it would prove Thomas Wolfe wrong."
You'd expect that kind of answer from Christensen, both for its passion and its intellect. This is a football player on whose coffee table sits a biography of Thoreau. (Did you know Thoreau's given name was David Henry but he changed it to Henry David to sound more like a writer? You could look it up; I'll take Christensen's word on it).
Of the few Oakland Raiders who remain, Christensen is the dean. He was there the longest -- three seasons -- before the Raiders went south, and he still hasn't forgotten one game from his first season of wearing silver and black. It was at the Coliseum against Cleveland in 1979. Christensen was an obscure special-teams player, signed in September after being dumped by the New York Giants after being dumped by the Dallas Cowboys. But no Raider was obscure back then.
"I remember I came out to the parking lot after that (first) game, and I saw these four or five people staring at me. 'We wanted to talk to you, ' they said. I couldn't imagine why. And one of them says, 'That was a hell of a block you made on that punt return.' " Christensen is amused, and to this day amazed.
He doesn't expect many of his current teammates will be able to grasp the significance of Aug. 26 in Oakland, when the Raiders return to the Coliseum for an exhibition game against Houston. He doesn't expect them to comprehend the roar that will accompany the Raiders' first steps onto that gridiron since 1981.
The Raiders have had their troubles in L.A. -- a 20-27 record the last three seasons -- but Christensen doesn't buy the Distractions-of-Going-Hollywood theory. There are simpler reasons for the Raiders' troubles, he says. And, by the way, he has a question.
"What if we move back to Oakland, and we're losing? Are they going to say we've gone Hayward?" And then Christensen goes off, as he often does, on a wonderfully wacky tangent. "We'll all be driving pick-ups, " he says, "and we'll have gun racks on them. We'll all be going bowling on Friday nights. The Raiders have gone Hayward."
The Raiders will be in that locale soon, if only for a weekend, and Christensen wouldn't miss it for the world. But he might miss it for reasons beyond his control. Three months ago, Christensen woke up jaundiced and full of pain. His gall bladder had to come out. Monday, he was finally able to join the team in full-scale workouts.
Gall bladder trouble; it makes a man sound old. But Christensen, not surprisingly, feels his 33 years in other ways.
"I'll tell you what makes me feel old, " he says, "and that's when I'm taking the baby sitter home and a Chicago song comes on the radio and I ask her if she likes Chicago and she says, 'I don't know; I've never been there.' "
Well, Todd Christensen has been to Oakland and he wants to come back as badly as you want them all to come back.