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Those Oakland Raiders, 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 almost certain, given the volume of anonymous declarations since (not to mention the police report), that Tom Cable sent assistant coach Randy Hanson to the hospital with a broken jaw.
In Raider Nation this 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 the floor, choking him—well, that's just a counseling notice as far as Raiders HR is concerned. Cable may insist "nothing happened" (Hanson's X-rays from the Aug. 5 incident might argue otherwise), but that's just for the benefit of those still ignorant of company custom.
Which is to say, this was business as usual. The organization has long promoted an image of raffishness 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 a practice, wrecking Williams's eye and ending his career? This is not a culture that encourages workplace mediation.
Historically, this capacity 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 the league's first black head coach or siding with the USFL in its antitrust suit against the NFL—and has insisted on the same combative spirit on his team. This has produced a lot of fun and, once upon a time, brought Super Bowl championships, as these hair-trigger outcasts defied authority on the field and off. The chaos was magnificent, a channeling of Davis's pure nonconforming personality.
Certainly this little episode has Davis's figurative fingerprints all over it, as if he still believes in the transformational properties of paranoia and a good old-fashioned fistfight. Hanson was a leftover from the previous coaching regime, which ended when the hopelessly retro Davis announced the firing of Lane Kiffin with the aid of an overhead projector. The takeaway from that press conference was that the Raiders' AV club was even less on the ball than the coaching staff and that Davis, even at 79, remained the dominant influence on the team.
Davis has had little success in recent years in choosing his coconspirators and has often had to make do with Raiders retreads (Art Shell, a stalwart Davis man, was brought back a second time to reproduce his failure) and desperate rookies. So determined has Davis been to maintain tradition, he once hired a former Raider to come back as an assistant, even though he'd been out of football for seven years; the "coach" had been running a B&B in Idaho, where he presumably followed league trends on DirectTV.
Anyway, back to our story. According to reports Davis insisted on retaining Hanson over Cable's objections, leading Cable and players alike to believe that Hanson was a Davis confidant. (Part of Davis's case against Kiffin was his poor treatment of his pet Hanson.) Once Cable became coach (he'd been interim while Davis searched for Kiffin's replacement), he worked to minimize Hanson's role, which had been assistant defensive backs coach. Cable had reportedly told Hanson he was off the job, limited to film work.
When Hanson protested, there was obviously only one thing to do, and Cable did it. This produced characteristic delight within the organization. Players were heard chanting, "Cable, bumaye" at practice, as if Cable's punch had evoked memories of Muhammad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle. Davis didn't seem to mind the fracas one bit. According to reports Hanson, who had almost heroically tried to keep the incident secret, was astonished when Davis refused to repay his loyalty 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 professionalism every time.
No doubt the fans will find this fun as well. They've been as much sympathetic misfits as anything else in recent years, outcasts themselves to judge by their Halloween Nation garb. A punch-out! Great! Alone among their NFL brethren, they accept cartoon villainy over the real thing and gladly root on Raiders toughness, even if it's as much costume as their own Sunday getup.
You see, the Raiders aren't very good and haven't been for a long time. They've been confusing commotion for football for a while now, their lone appeal as they've wandered through six straight losing seasons being their consistent league lead in mischief and penalties. Times change. It's no longer productive to foster such toxic levels of discontent, with everybody duking it out. Without a Super Bowl, which would excuse just about everything, there is no appeal in such orchestrated disarray.