The turning point in Oakland’s 23-9 loss to the Cleveland Browns came late in the second quarter, when the Browns were trapped deep in their own territory nursing a 10-6 lead.
Things got a bit chippy as Browns center Alex Mack took a swing at Raiders defensive lineman Gerard Warren. The unsportsmanlike penalty set the Browns back to their own six yard line, but it was only the first of a series of flags to come. All of which were directed towards the Raiders.
Mack said he lost control because Warren was twisting his hands and fingers. "[Warren and I] were getting after each other the whole first half and later in the game he tried to throw me and just started twisting my hands and fingers and I didn't like that," Mack said afterwards to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Then Oakland’s Richard Seymour and Cleveland offensive lineman Rex Hadnot got mixed up in a scuffle and were both flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
The killer was Seymour getting penalized another 15 yards for arguing the call.
Two plays later, Stanford Routt was flagged and ejected from the game for head-butting a Browns player. After referee Jeff Triplette had assessed the damages against the Raiders, Cleveland was sitting pretty at the Raiders 27.
A couple plays later, Browns quarterback Derek Anderson found Mohamed Massaquoi for a 19-yard touchdown and 17-6 advantage.
Penalties had not been a problem for Oakland this season but Triplette’s crew saw to protecting the home team by flagging the Raider 13 times for 126 yards. And an angry Seymour says the referee was out of position to make the proper call.
"I hit my own teammate," said Seymour. "He went out to make to make a tackle and I hit him. The referee was behind him and didn't see what happened. The film will show it all. He's human and mistakes happen. I think everyone just jumped in. A little spark started the whole thing. It seemed that everything was directed toward us. That's the Raider mystique. You never want to go into a game with a pre-judgment on what you want to do and that's the way we felt it happened."
Apparently the refs had a preconceived notion of possible "Raider dirty deeds" and saw visions of Jack Tatum spearing Webster Slaughter over the middle, or something like that.
All told, Oakland was slapped with two penalties for unnecessary roughness, two more for unsportsmanlike conduct, and one for taunting when Zach Miller flicked the ball towards a Cleveland player after a catch.
Anderson told reporters that the Raiders targeted Browns running back Jerome Harrison. "They were beating on [Harrison] when he was on the ground and our guys aren't going to let that happen.”
"It got a little feisty out there," said guard Eric Steinbach. "We didn't keep our cool at first. We're not at choir practice out there. But that late stuff they were doing sparked us and helped us get seven points."
Memo to Anderson and the rest of the wussified Browns who felt the Raiders were too rough. This is the NFL and you will get hit. It’s a game for men, not boys. If the hit comes late so be it, that’s part of playing professional football.
Jim Brown would simply laugh in your face and walk away if a player complained about eye-gauging, hand twists, pulls and other illegal mischief at the bottom of a pile.
As for the Raiders, this franchise will always have to battle two opponents on Sunday’s (one in pads and the other wearing strips and blowing a whistle). Of course it’s unfair to the Raiders and this type bush-league refereeing will only drive more and more fans to believe in conspiracies against the Silver and Black.
Will officials ever be fair to the Raiders? No, because the NFL doesn’t want them to. That would ruin their formula for great sports television.
Just like that old wrestling script authored by Vince McMahon and his cohorts, Oakland wears the black hat and hits the hero from behind with the folding chair. No doubt the NFL thrives on this image of the Raiders and does nothing to disspell it--whether its true or not.
In the future, maybe the Raiders should return to their roots, which means actually embracing their role as the league villian. It's time to start knocking skulls for real this time.