American Football: Raiders hit target but parachutist misses: McCallum gets three touchdowns as the Broncos are beaten in Los Angeles

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The Independent Online
A WEEKEND of exhilarating play-off action was given a bizarre final touch when the parachutist who interrupted the world heavyweight title fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe tried to repeat the stunt at the Los Angeles Coliseum where the Raiders were playing the Denver Broncos.

Jim Miller of Henderson, Nevada, who landed on the edge of the ring at the outdoor bout in Las Vegas in November, was not so accurate on Sunday, missing his target by a city block and landing in a stadium carpark. He was promptly arrested, had his power source - a huge petrol-powered fan - confiscated and charged with attempting to disrupt a football game, a misdemeanour under Los Angeles city law. He was later released, which presumably puts organisers of all major sports events in America on advanced warning.

The players were oblivious to Miller's attempted intervention but the game itself, which the Raiders won 42-24, provided plenty of reasons to look to the skies.

After exchanging punts on their first possessions the two quarterbacks, Jeff Hostetler of the Raiders, and Denver's John Elway, engineered six touchdown drives in succession, each one ending with a pass. The half ended with the sides level at 21-21, but in the second half the Raiders combined an improved defensive display with a reawakening of their long dormant rushing attack to take a grip on the game.

Napoleon McCallum, who has been ignored for much of the season, made the most of his opportunity, galloping for three touchdowns as the Raiders took complete control. 'I think today, whatever we needed to score, we would have. We've come together as a team. I thought the last team to score would win, but our defense came up big in the second half,' Hostetler said.

The Raiders were the only lopsided winners in a weekend of close encounters, but they will be substantial underdogs on Saturday when they play the Bills in Buffalo. Three years ago they were thrashed 51-3 in the AFC Championship game though they will draw confidence from their 25-24 victory there early last month, the Bills' last defeat.

The Raiders' most recent experience outdoors was less invigorating, a 28-0 loss in Green Bay. 'I don't mind cold weather at all, but I wish I could convince my team-mates to feel the same way,' Tim Brown, the Raiders wide receiver, said.

Green Bay, having put the spin on Detroit, appear to face the toughest task in the second round, visiting the Super Bowl holders in Dallas without five inside linebackers and with a sixth, Bryce Paup, playing hurt. For all their big-play capabilities - and in Sterling Sharpe they have the NFL's hottest receiver at the moment - it is difficult to envisage the Cowboys doing anything other than winning comfortably.

A closer game can be expected in San Francisco where the 49ers entertain the New York Giants. A month ago the 49ers were the league's form team but three defeats in their last four, including their last two, have prompted doubts about this year's vintage of a perennial play-off team.

In particular, a promising young defense may be leaking at just the wrong time. If they continue to do so the game will come down to how the Giants cope with the 49ers' glittering array of offensive talent. If Young, Rice and Co can be limited to a couple of TDs the Giants could pull off a shock, but the 49ers remain favourites.

The Kansas City Chiefs' visit to the Houston Oilers should also be tight. Joe Montana demonstrated in the Chiefs' over-time defeat of Pittsburgh that he has lost little of the poise in the pocket that defined his halcyon days in San Francsico. What he has lost is an outstanding receiving corps. The Kansas City wide- outs dropped a handful of decent passes against the Steelers, but cannot expect to get away with such profligacy against a Buddy Ryan defense which has perfected the art of pilfering the ball.

THIS WEEKEND'S PLAY-OFF GAMES

SATURDAY

AFC: Los Angeles Raiders at Buffalo

NFC: New York Giants at San Francisco

SUNDAY

NFC: Green Bay at Dallas

AFC: Kansas City at Houston

(Photographs omitted)

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