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Scott Ostler

Tunnel Can Undermine the Raiders

January 07, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

At the Coliseum, when a football game ends, the players take a short but dramatic walk to the locker rooms.

Both teams enter and leave the stadium through a big tunnel, about 100 yards long. Fans hanging over the sides and top of the tunnel entrance yell at the players and drool and throw things, so the players mostly keep their heads down.

This march, seen close-up, is dramatic. There is always blood and sweat, and often tears. Many players are limping, many are grimacing, in pain or exhaustion. Uniforms are tattered, chunks of sod hang from face masks and from faces. The only sounds are cleats clattering on the cement and occasional whoops from the winners or curses from the losers.

The Coliseum tunnel is a great place to get a feeling for the brutality of the game. And when the Raiders play, the action in the tunnel is sometimes better than the game.

Three times this season, Raider players clashed with the enemy in the tunnel.

After playing the 49ers, Howie Long went after the 49ers' offensive line coach during the tunnel march. Long didn't like the 49ers' leg-whipping tactics.

After playing the Seahawks, Rod Martin spat in the face of a Seattle player as two other Raiders pinned the guy's arms from behind. This was sort of the Raiders' version of hockey's power play.

And after Sunday's game against the Patriots, Long got into a tiff with Pat Sullivan, the Patriot general manager who is also the team owner's son. Long got some help from Matt Millen, who, seeing a teammate in distress, grabbed Sullivan by the hair and swatted him upside the head with his helmet, drawing blood.

There seems to be a pattern emerging here.

Raiders play game. Win or lose, Raiders look for someone to mug in tunnel. Raider picks on smaller guy, or gets help from teammates, or both.

Not very pretty. Especially not from a team whose motto is "Pride and Poise."

Maybe they should change the motto to "Tough Guys in a Tunnel."

Maybe someone should tell the Raiders that the game ends when the gun goes off, whereupon real life resumes and the players are subject to the laws and rules of society.

Maybe they don't know this. Maybe if you let your shopping cart bump into Howie Long's car at the supermarket, Howie will slap you around and then run to a pay phone to call Matt Millen, who will hustle over and slap you around some more.

The Raiders have long reveled in their swashbuckling image, tough guys from the wrong side of the tracks who don't take no guff. But you can be a thug with style. Lyle Alzado, for instance, once plucked off an opponent's helmet and threw it at the poor slob. But he did it during a game, and nobody pinned the guy's arms from behind.

Long and Millen are two gentlemen who play hard and are generally considered swell guys off the field. The problem seems to be that the Raiders are even more intense and emotionally volatile than most teams in the NFL, which is in the business of organized mayhem.

It's hard for some Raiders to turn off the adrenaline right after a game. Still, emotions run high and hot in all sports, yet only Raiders, pro wrestlers and Billy Martin have trouble confining their hostilities to the field of battle.

Please understand that the Raiders' opponents in these postgame bouts should not go blameless. Asked what he was doing on the sidelines, taunting Long during the game, Patriot GM Sullivan said: "Cheerleading."

This is a clear violation of league rules. Any team featuring a sideline cheerleader without exposed cleavage is subject to a five-yard penalty.

Sullivan's actions also defied the rules of sportsmanship and sanity. Sideline taunting should be left to the players, not some "twerp" or "jellyfish"--as Long called Sullivan--who isn't even getting dirty.

And any normal-sized, mature adult person standing on a football sideline shouting insults and threats at an angry, frustrated, frenzied giant like Long, has some deep-seated problems. Maybe Pat's dad didn't let him visit Disneyland.

And say this about the Raiders--you won't find their general manager taunting the other team. In fact you won't find their general manager doing anything. They don't have a general manager.

They do have an owners' son, Mark Davis. Although he's a rabid Raider rooter, Mark Davis is not a team executive and does his cheering and taunting from his seats at the very top row of the Coliseum.

In those respects, the Raiders have class.

But they need a lot of work on their tunnel etiquette. It's ruining their image.

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