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Original Issue

Old-school Beatdown

The once-bad Raiders have become an NFL punch line

Those OaklandRaiders, the guys that put the fun in dysfunctional, have struck again. Or,rather, their new coach has. Reports were sketchy at first, but it seems almostcertain, given the volume of anonymous declarations since (not to mention thepolice report), that Tom Cable sent assistant coach Randy Hanson to thehospital with a broken jaw.

In Raider Nationthis amounts to little more than a performance review. If, during a meeting,Cable shouted, "I am going to kill you," and then rassled Hanson to thefloor, choking him—well, that's just a counseling notice as far as Raiders HRis concerned. Cable may insist "nothing happened" (Hanson's X-rays fromthe Aug. 5 incident might argue otherwise), but that's just for the benefit ofthose still ignorant of company custom.

Which is to say,this was business as usual. The organization has long promoted an image ofraffishness that verges on outright mayhem. Episodes of coach-on-coach,player-on-coach and player-on-player violence are part of Raiders legend.Remember when Bill Romanowski assaulted teammate Marcus Williams during apractice, wrecking Williams's eye and ending his career? This is not a culturethat encourages workplace mediation.

Historically, thiscapacity for casually administered beat-downs has been a part of the Raiders'charm. Owner Al Davis has always been an outsider—whether he was hiring theleague's first black head coach or siding with the USFL in its antitrust suitagainst the NFL—and has insisted on the same combative spirit on his team. Thishas produced a lot of fun and, once upon a time, brought Super Bowlchampionships, as these hair-trigger outcasts defied authority on the field andoff. The chaos was magnificent, a channeling of Davis's pure nonconformingpersonality.

Certainly thislittle episode has Davis's figurative fingerprints all over it, as if he stillbelieves in the transformational properties of paranoia and a goodold-fashioned fistfight. Hanson was a leftover from the previous coachingregime, which ended when the hopelessly retro Davis announced the firing ofLane Kiffin with the aid of an overhead projector. The takeaway from that pressconference was that the Raiders' AV club was even less on the ball than thecoaching staff and that Davis, even at 79, remained the dominant influence onthe team.

Davis has hadlittle success in recent years in choosing his coconspirators and has often hadto make do with Raiders retreads (Art Shell, a stalwart Davis man, was broughtback a second time to reproduce his failure) and desperate rookies. Sodetermined has Davis been to maintain tradition, he once hired a former Raiderto come back as an assistant, even though he'd been out of football for sevenyears; the "coach" had been running a B&B in Idaho, where hepresumably followed league trends on DirectTV.

Anyway, back to ourstory. According to reports Davis insisted on retaining Hanson over Cable'sobjections, leading Cable and players alike to believe that Hanson was a Davisconfidant. (Part of Davis's case against Kiffin was his poor treatment of hispet Hanson.) Once Cable became coach (he'd been interim while Davis searchedfor Kiffin's replacement), he worked to minimize Hanson's role, which had beenassistant defensive backs coach. Cable had reportedly told Hanson he was offthe job, limited to film work.

When Hansonprotested, there was obviously only one thing to do, and Cable did it. Thisproduced characteristic delight within the organization. Players were heardchanting, "Cable, bumaye" at practice, as if Cable's punch had evokedmemories of Muhammad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle. Davis didn't seem to mind thefracas one bit. According to reports Hanson, who had almost heroically tried tokeep the incident secret, was astonished when Davis refused to repay hisloyalty and back him over Cable, telling him, more or less, he'd have to go(lawsuit surely to follow). But Davis would choose turmoil over professionalismevery time.

No doubt the fanswill find this fun as well. They've been as much sympathetic misfits asanything else in recent years, outcasts themselves to judge by their HalloweenNation garb. A punch-out! Great! Alone among their NFL brethren, they acceptcartoon villainy over the real thing and gladly root on Raiders toughness, evenif it's as much costume as their own Sunday getup.

You see, theRaiders aren't very good and haven't been for a long time. They've beenconfusing commotion for football for a while now, their lone appeal as they'vewandered through six straight losing seasons being their consistent league leadin mischief and penalties. Times change. It's no longer productive to fostersuch toxic levels of discontent, with everybody duking it out. Without a SuperBowl, which would excuse just about everything, there is no appeal in suchorchestrated disarray.

As we say, timeschange. And when this plays out the only way it can, we just hope that Davisacknowledges as much at his next press conference, at least upgrading toPowerPoint.

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In Raider Nation, a coach's breaking an assistant's jawamounts to a PERFORMANCE REVIEW.