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Fight club (cont.)

Posted: Thursday November 10, 2005 9:27AM; Updated: Thursday November 10, 2005 9:27AM
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Matt Millen had been a serious street fighter back in Hokendauqua, Pa. When he was in high school, he and his buddies liked to crash the local college fraternity parties on Saturday nights and look for fights. When Millen joined the Raiders, Al Davis realized he had a valuable asset there.

In January 1984, the Raiders were in Tampa, practicing for the Super Bowl against Washington.


"Al thought we needed a more aggressive Wednesday practice," says Millen, who was an inside linebacker. "He came over to me and said, 'I want a tougher practice. Start a fight.'

"So I picked out the worst fighter on the offensive side, Mickey Marvin, our right guard, and one of the nicest guys on the team. Poor Mickey never could figure it out. Two minutes into practice and he's rolling around on the ground with some idiot."

The one guy on the Raiders whom Millen could not stand was Big John Matuszak, the Tooz, the 6-8, 280-pound defensive end who had once been the first pick in the entire 1973 draft. Matuszak, now deceased, had rolled out of three camps by the age of 26. George Allen had cut him from the Redskins in training camp in 1976, and when he was asked why, Allen uttered a line that became a classic.

"Vodka and valium. The breakfast of champions."

Yes, Matuszak was known to abuse certain substances. One of his teammates, who didn't want me to use his name, said that he once got into a jam with Matuszak on a flight back from a Jets game.

"He was high on something or other, and he kept pestering me to read some poetry he had written. I wanted to sleep. Next thing I knew he was choking me."

One day in training camp Matuszak was pestering former running back Terry Robiskie, who had just become an assistant coach, about who would stay and who would go. Robiskie casually mentioned that he thought tight end Todd Christensen might be traded.

"That seemed to enrage Tooz, and he went after Terry," said the same guy who had gotten choked. "Terry found someone's crutch lying there and he started whacking him with it until help came."

Matuszak periodically would make headlines for off the field tiffs. Millen noted that they never involved big guys or people with any credentials for toughness. They were usually in bars or nightclubs involving male exotic dancers or half-drunk patrons.

"I wanted to test him out," Millen said, "to see if he could fight. He never went for it. One day he was staring at me in the locker room, and I said, 'What are you looking at?'

"He had been scowling, but he immediately turned it into a smile. 'I'm looking at a handsome guy,' he said. At that point I gave up. Al Davis always loved him, though. Once Al was standing next to me during a D-line drill, and he said, 'You know, that Matuszak is really a force out there.'

"I said, 'You've got it slightly wrong, Al. You mean a farce.'"

I've often wondered what I would do if a player threw a punch at me or challenged me to a fight. Thank God I never had to find out. But others did. Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn once got into a shouting match, in the locker room, with Boston Globe columnist Will McDonough. Clayborn put his hand on the writer's chest and shoved him. McDonough, who was from the fighting McDonoughs of Boston, threw a punch and knocked him into a laundry cart. Clayborn jumped out but the fight was broken up. Next day they made up.

The New York Post's Steve Serby never had been a fan of Jets quarterback Richard Todd, always lobbying hard for back-up Matt Robinson instead. One day Serby wrote something that enraged Todd. In the locker room they got into a shouting match, and finally Todd heaved him into an open locker.

"At the paper, they were all talking about filing a lawsuit," Serby said. "I said, 'No, I'll just show up tomorrow like nothing happened.' Which he did. Todd and he eventually made up. The players were impressed that no legal action had been taken. But when he stepped into the locker room after the incident, what did Serby see?

'On the floor there was an outline, in chalk, of a human figure," Serby said. "And written on the floor, like you'd see at a crime scene, was, 'Where The Body Lay.'"