During the first half of Monday Night Football, a press release from the NFL hit reporters’ inboxes, including perhaps the most exceptional line in a player disciplinary letter.
From: Jon Runyan, NFL vice president of football operations
To: Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos cornerback
… “You deliberately ripped your opponent’s chain from his neck just as you did last year when you played against him” …
The circumstances surrounding this statement are pretty remarkable: that Talib would snatch a chain off the neck of his opponent, Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree, not only once but on two separate occasions; that Crabtree would continue to wear a gold chain in a game despite it having been snatched before; and that Crabtree even went so far as to tape the chain to his neck for Sunday’s game against Denver, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, in expectation that Talib would try to snatch it again.
The result was that the repeat chain-snatcher and chain-snatchee were each suspended two games for violating the NFL’s unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness rules, because of an altercation that went beyond just chain snatching. Early in the first quarter, Crabtree punched Talib’s fellow cornerback, Chris Harris, forcing him off the field. On the very next play, as Crabtree continued to block Talib after the play was over, Talib snatched Crabtree’s chain, and the two continued to tussle outside the field of play, exchanging punches and triggering a sideline skirmish.
Their altercation was probably the greatest theater of a mostly dreary Week 12 slate of games, but the consequences for acting out on a beef dating back to last season were immense. Both players were ejected after the fight less than three minutes into the Raiders’ 21-14 win against the Broncos, so the pair of veteran starters are in line to miss essentially three out of 16 games, pending appeal of the suspension.
It’s a pretty weighty response by the NFL—one that seems intended to send a message. These are the second and third multigame suspensions for on-field actions issued by the league this season; according to FootballZebras.com, a website covering NFL officiating, there have only been five other multigame suspensions for on-field actions in the NFL’s history. (None of the others involved chain-snatching, as far as we know).
“Such actions have no place in this game, engender ill will between teams, and lead to further confrontations,” Runyan wrote to each player.
The previous incident between the two players occurred at the end of last season. Talib said he was bothered by Crabtree’s attitude and decided to snatch his gold chain. At the time, Crabtree said he made a “business decision” not to retaliate. The Raiders and the Broncos played once earlier this year, but Crabtree was out with an injury in that game. Failure to make a business decision this time around, if the suspension holds up, will cost each of them two game checks, which for Crabtree is several hundred thousand dollars and for Talib amounts to more than $1 million.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio questioned on Twitter the reasoning for suspending his player two games when a previous fight between the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey and the Bengals’ A.J. Green resulted in ejections but no suspensions. That incident involved just those two players, while this one turned into a larger melee, as Runyan wrote, that “endangered various sideline and League personnel, including one of our Game Officials who was injured trying to maintain control of the situation.”
The other multigame suspension for on-field actions this season was Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict, whose three-game suspension (originally five, before his appeal) for a hit on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman was certainly influenced by his history of previous violations of the player safety policy. Talib has a past history, not just as a chain-snatcher—he was also suspended one game in 2015 for reaching into the face mask and poking the eye of Colts tight end Dwayne Allen. Crabtree has never before been suspended by the NFL.
The Raiders have more to lose than the Broncos—at 5–6, they’re still in the playoff mix in a muddled AFC. The 3–8 Broncos, riding a seven-game losing streak, have much dimmer hopes. But perhaps more than anything else, the melee, or brouhaha, or donnybrook—there so many fantastic synonyms for fight!—represents two frustrated teams in need of leadership. The Raiders have underachieved, failing to meet the expectations of them as a trendy Super Bowl pick. The Broncos aren’t anywhere close to resembling their championship team from just two seasons ago.
So, on a Sunday afternoon in November, instead of fighting for playoff positioning, two veteran starters fought over a gold chain. They both lost.
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