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If only HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ could have met Madden’s Raiders

On Thursday came a dramatic — some might say sadistic — turn of events. The Cleveland Browns were selected to be featured in the new season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
This development sailed right into the wheelhouse of former Raiders coach, CBS/Fox broadcaster and NFL Hall of Famer John Madden Friday morning during his KCBS radio show with Steve Bitker and Stan Bunger.
“Whenever (Hard Knocks shows) up in an NFL training camp, doesn’t the team wind up having trouble that year?” Bunger asked Madden.
“Usually they do,” Madden said. “I think they’ve picked teams that were having trouble anyway.”
That’s not far from the truth. According to sbnation.com, there rules which determine whether a team can decline appearing on the reality show, which lasts the duration of training camp, or whether it has no choice. The Browns were one of six teams this summer that had no choice. This season should be highly entertaining, if you enjoy watching butterflies have their wings pulled off.
“What did they do, lose 31 of their last 32 games or something ridiculous, something that only Cleveland can do?” Madden asked.
Answer: Yes. The Browns were 1-15 in 2016, and 0-16 last season. With the first pick of the NFL draft they selected high-spirited quarterback Baker Mayfield. So there is some fodder there.
“That could be tough,” Madden said. “You would think that as the club owner, general manager, coach or someone, you’d have a say over it. Now the league tells you who’s going to be on Hard Knocks so you can’t say, ‘No, I think we’ll pass on that one.’
“Had I ever had a choice to be on Hard Knocks when I was coaching, there’s no way in the world I would have done it, unless I was told to by the league.”
“You would have been completely open with them,” Bunger joked.
“I would have been as closed as a closed vault in a bank,” Madden shot back.
It was at that moment I worked up a serious lament that there wasn’t a Hard Knocks-type show when Madden was coaching the Oakland Raiders. Think of the characters: Larger than life John Matuszak (cruising every Wednesday night), Ken Stabler, Ted Hendricks (who once rode a horse onto the practice field, wearing a German army helmet adorned with Raiders logos), Otis Sistrunk, Phil Villapiano, Ben Davidson, Lyle Alzado.
Then there was their home away from home, the El Rancho Tropicana Hotel in Santa Rosa. Shortly before the 11 p.m. bed check players came roaring into the parking lot to avoid getting fined. Five minutes after bed check, many of the same players would creep surreptitiously toward the road, where they were picked up by companions for a night on the town. Taverns abounded. The Music Box, Melendy’s and the Bamboo room next to the El Rancho were favored watering holes. Ken Stabler called it the circuit.
Legend has it that fullback Marv Hubbard rode his Harley to a saloon one night. When he saw two Hells Angels sitting on his bike a short time later, fisticuffs ensued. The combatants-turned-drinking buddies repaired back inside. Legend also has it that at some point, some year, a jukebox was tossed through a tavern window.
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“It was just kids having fun and life being good,” Stabler told deadspin.com in 2010. “We couldn’t wait to get to training camp, to get away from wives and girlfriends, play some football, have a few drinks at night. And do that for eight weeks.”
The Hard Knocks crew would’ve had to go to training camp just to film the training camp.

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