Jimmy Johnson, the Miami coach from 1996-99, would probably still be in football if he could have taught Wheatley how to run the ball.

At Oakland, someone's taught him--and that someone is probably running-back coach Skip Peete, Willie's son and Rodney's brother, who, until he moved to the Raiders in 1998, had spent virtually his whole career in college football--where the good coaches don't assume, they teach.

In August, 1999, moreover, somebody at Oakland saw something in Wheatley at a time when nobody else did, and that somebody could have been Peete or Jon Gruden, the coach, or Al Davis, the owner.

Such a thing has happened before in the Davis organization.

Over and over and over.

* * * *

Raiders Foil Pass Defense

On a San Diego playing field, Oakland's G-Men, Gannon and Gruden, were held without a touchdown only seven days before their seven-touchdown explosion against Kansas City--but the 15-13 victory over the Chargers that day was accomplished by an unemotional Raider team.

During the long season, good teams have to take some opponents in stride, for no pro club can be emotionally ready every Sunday.

And the test on such days is not whether you score, it's whether you win.

In the Oakland-Kansas City game, it was the Chiefs' pass defense that was tested--and failed.

While Gannon was going for the 14-0 first-quarter lead that took the suspense out of the game, he converted on four consecutive third-down passes--on third and four, third and three, third and seven, and third and 17--and such plays are almost always a test of the defense, not the passer.

It's a football truism that on third-down plays, the good defense almost always finds a way to handle the good passer.

Defensively, however, the Chiefs failed to get a grip on all the Oakland talent--on Tim Brown and Andre Rison, on James Jett and Rickey Dudley, on Napoleon Kaufman and Gannon and Wheatley.

* * * *

A Five-Hundred-Yard Passer

On offense at Oakland, the Chiefs were good enough to win, and, probably, they would have won if their defensive team had played with even a modicum of success.

It was following a 3-3 start this season that Coach Gunther Cunningham, impressed with the Ram offense, converted the Chiefs into a passing team, whereupon they became the first to outscore the Rams, 54-34.

Against the Raider defense, the quarterback of the Chiefs, Elvis Grbac, became the NFL's eighth 500-yard passer of all time.

The first of the eight, Norm Van Brocklin of the 1951 Los Angeles Rams, also won the NFL championship with a long pass that year.