When the Raiders' Matt Millen was a senior at Whitehall (Pa.) High, the Cowboys' Randy White tried to recruit him for the University of Maryland. They got into a fight.
"I guess you're not going to Maryland now," White said.
At one spring-practice scrimmage at Penn State, Millen got into so many fights that Joe Paterno sent him to the sidelines.
"I'm not standing on the sidelines for anyone," Millen told him and walked out of the stadium—in full uniform.
April 16, 1984
Millen has gotten into fights with opponents he liked (the Chargers' Kellen Winslow, the Redskins' Otis Wonsley) and teammates he didn't (John Matuszak, for one). When Sam Boghosian, the Raiders' offensive line coach, wanted to pick up the intensity level at the Wednesday practice before the last Super Bowl, he thought a fight might do it. Naturally, he chose Millen to start it.
Millen has always had a low boiling point, and he's not afraid to let people around him know how he feels. At a practice before the Big 33, the Pennsylvania-Ohio all-star high school football game, a coach threw a blocking dummy at Millen and told him to hold it. Millen threw it back at him, He wound up captaining that team.
He has been cursed at by officials and by teammates. Jack Reynolds, the 49er linebacker, once got so upset at Millen that he shot him a raspberry on the field. Last winter during L.A.'s championship game with Seattle, Millen was screaming so loudly on the sidelines that one of the Raiders' assistant coaches made him a $100 bet just to get him to shut up.
From his inside-linebacker position, Millen surveys the world of NFL football in an ever-mounting rage. His enemies are the blockers who hold him and the ones who don't, the runners who dodge him and the ones who take him straight on, teammates who screw up, coaches who won't give him enough playing time and, of course, officials. He won't go for the knees and he won't hit a guy whose back is turned, but those are about the only things he won't do on the field. His coach at Whitehall High, Andy Melosky, says Millen's play was "fanatical—like the Japanese pilots in World War II." Al Davis calls him "my policeman," and the Raiders wouldn't trade him for any other inside backer in football.
"In our scheme, for what we want him to do, he's perfect," says Charlie Sumner, the Raiders' defensive coach.
And what exactly is it that they want him to do? Stuff the power running inside; take on the guards—those 280-pounders who come out of the weight room, assembly-line style—straight up; clamp on the tight end coming across; dominate; intimidate; terrorize. Millen stands 6'1¾" and plays at 250 to 260 pounds, 25 more than your average inside backer. Once he was as high as 284. Davis has always been enamored of the oversized player, the disruptive guy with the potential to wreak havoc. The 6'8" Matuszak; 6'9" Charles Philyaw; 6'7" Ted Hendricks, the tallest linebacker in history; 7-foot defensive tackle Richard Sligh, the tallest anything—they all have worn the silver and black.
Some of them have been disappointments. Not Millen. In his four years with the Raiders, they've won the Super Bowl twice. In Los Angeles' 38-9 win over Washington this past January he played head on against the Redskins' 275-pound All-Pro guard, Russ Grimm, and nullified him. But he has yet to be selected for the Pro Bowl. He isn't a darling of the players and coaches who do the voting. He'll talk to the enemy, taunt him. Off the field he's bright, funny, terrific company. On the field he isn't popular, or as one college coach told Millen's parents when he was trying to recruit him, "I've got to have your son. He's just a mean, nasty s.o.b."
"Thank you," said Millen's dad.
"I've cut down on the talking," Millen says. "You've got to know who's bothered by it and who's not. With a guy like Ed White, the guard for the Chargers, it's a mistake. He just gets madder and madder. He never said anything about it my rookie year. My second year, after the game, he said, 'Hey, Kid, c'mere. You should be in the Pro Bowl except you're an ass. Nobody'll vote for you.' I said, 'I'm doing it for a reason.' He said, 'Reason or not, you're a good player. You don't have to do that.' "
There's another reason why Millen's name might not appear on many Pro Bowl rosters in the future: Situation football cuts down his playing time. Millen plays the strongside inside-linebacker spot, which is as close as you can get to the old 4-3 middle linebacker position. The strongside inside man usually gets the hook in passing situations, when the nickel or dime defenses come on the field. Millen's forte is the nasty stuff inside the tackles, but in a lot of the games last season the Raiders got ahead and the opposition had to air the ball out.
Not that he hasn't had his fun with receivers. The Chargers' Winslow is one of his favorites.
"Two years ago he caught a pass against one of our safeties, Kenny Hill, and spun the ball on Kenny's chest," Millen says. "I told him, 'I'm gonna get you for that, Kellen.' I head-butted him down the field on the next play. You could see it on the film. Kellen sinking slowly, like a KO in the ring. He probably doesn't like me now, but I like him. He plays hard. He's a competitor.
"Last season Eric Sievers, their other tight end, was running an in pattern and I just sort of covered him, and he said to me, 'What's wrong? You didn't hit me,' and I said, 'I only hit Kellen.' That was the game where Howard Cosell saw me glaring at Kellen and said on TV, 'Don't start in with Kellen, that's my advice to you.' Then Frank Gifford said, 'Matt Millen, I wouldn't start with him, either.'
"Kellen likes to push off, which is O.K. with me, because I like to hold. The last time we played them, Kellen pushed me and I fell down and I got up screaming. But I couldn't get him. I told him, 'O.K., see you next year.' "
Sumner says Millen's a "better coverage guy on passes than you'd think." but the L.A. defense isn't designed to put Millen in many tough coverages downfield. Given the nickel-and-dime schemes of situation substitutions, he'll be on the field about 60% of the plays.
"If we hadn't been winning, being pulled would have killed me," Millen says. "I'd love to be an old 4-3 middle linebacker. The guys I loved when I was growing up were the punch-you-in-the-mouth players: Nitschke, Butkus, Alex Karras, Willie Lanier. Gene Upshaw used to tell me stories about Lanier. No one wanted to look at his face. They were all afraid of him. Punch 'em in the mouth...I was always taught that's the way you play. Now everyone holds and the game's all position blocking; they just want to get in your way. Oh, I don't mean everyone. Not Ed White or Mike Munchak or Bob Kuechenberg. Not John Hannah—he'll try to rip your throat out. That's good; it means you're gonna have fun out there.
"But in the papers you read about so many guys who talk about what hitters they are, and you look at the films and they don't do anything. They're self-promoters."
Millen smiles. A stranger might describe the smile as "malevolent," noting Millen's small, dark eyes flashing under heavy eyebrows, set off by a formidable mustache and a short mop of dark hair, like a watchtower on his thick, fortress-like body. But the description isn't accurate. Millen's expression is more one of great glee, the look of a natural-born storyteller about to embark on a favorite tale—now wait till you hear this one.
"We're at a minicamp in Oakland," he says, eyes sparkling. "I'm driving back to our hotel from practice with Randy McClanahan, a linebacker. John Matuszak is standing in the parking lot outside the practice field waving this cannon at us, a .44 Magnum he used to carry, as we drove by. We couldn't believe it was actually loaded. Then, we're rounding a corner and—boom!—he blew out a stop sign.
"Soon after that in practice he's staring at me. I say, 'What the hell are you staring at?' He switches right away and starts smiling. 'You, big guy, ha ha,' he says. That's Tooz, all that fake camaraderie—'Hey, baby, how's my big backer? What's cookin', good-lookin'?'—that kind of crap. One day Al Davis said to me. 'You know, Tooz is really a force out there,' and I said, 'You've got it wrong, Al. You mean a farce.' "
On the field Millen uses a severe rating system for judging players—how a guy delivers a blow, how he takes one.
"You can almost tell what kind of people they are by the way they take a hit," he says. "The running backs, for instance. You can tell John Riggins is a proud guy. Same as Earl Campbell. They never say anything. With Riggins it's like another day at the office. Wait a minute, in the Super Bowl I did hear him say something. After one play he said, 'Ah. crap.' It was more frustration than anything else. He wasn't always making the right cuts in that game. I heard he said so himself.
"You hear all sorts of sounds out there. We have a guy on our team we call the Growler. Ed Muransky, the guard. He pulls out to block you and he's growling. One time in a scrimmage he blind-sided Jeff Barnes, an outside backer. Barnesie told me, 'I didn't see him coming.' I said, 'Well, you should have heard him.' Hannah makes more noises than anybody. He comes off the line and sometimes he's whistling, sometimes he's snorting or groaning.
"Jack Reynolds of the 49ers showed me a new one. On one goal-line play, Curt Marsh, our left guard, drove him to the back of the end zone. We scored, and I was coming in for the extra point as they were walking off, and I yelled, 'Hey, Hacksaw, how'd you like the ride?' He didn't say anything, but he stuck his tongue out and cupped his hands over his mouth and, 'Phhhttt,' he gave me this big raspberry. I said to the guy next to me, 'Hey, did you see that?'
"Backs make all kinds of noises out there. Some of them groan or hiss. When you hit Curt Warner, he goes 'Ahhh,' like all the wind is out of him. That is, when you can hit him. Tony Dorsett always has something to say. You hit him and he pats you on the rear and says, 'Good job.' Every time. Once he cut back right into me and I caught him in the chest. When I got up he was still on the ground. He didn't reach for a hand up, he reached up and patted me.
"A guy like Chuck Muncie, you hit him early, he quits. But then, late in the game, something gets into him and he's a bull again. He's always kidding out there. 'Take it easy on me, big man.' Yeah, sure. Once on a pass play I hit him and his feet went up and he grabbed me and held on and I fell on top of him. The ref called me for holding. I yelled, 'Hey, I didn't hold him. he held me,' and the ref said, 'I don't know what it was but you shouldn't have done it."
"You have to watch yourself with some of those guys. With Pete Johnson in Cincy, for instance, you've got to tackle him low and hope you don't catch a knee. The Falcons' William Andrews is a mean runner. He'll stick you high, try to hurt you. I like that. We've got a guy on our team, Frank Hawkins, who's the same way. People say, 'Oh, he's only five-nine.' What's the difference? All he does is knock people on their can.
"The Giants had a guy named Leon Perry. What a hitter he was. I saw films of him against the Redskins in which he flipped their whole defensive line. No, wait a minute, he didn't flip Dave Butz. Too heavy. But he jacked him right up and someone else cut him. When the Giants got rid of Perry I couldn't believe it.
"The hardest hit I took in the Super Bowl was by Otis Wonsley, the Redskins' blocking back, on Riggins' touchdown. He hit me in the chest with his helmet and it felt like a cannonball. I grabbed him by the face mask and pulled him down and I yelled, 'You can't hurt me!' Hurt me? I couldn't swallow for three days."
After the Super Bowl, Millen and his wife, Patricia, and their year-old son, Matthew, were back home in the Lehigh Valley within two weeks. Los Angeles might be just right for some people, but all it meant to the Millens was a cramped apartment that cost $875 a month and a bunch of people they had nothing in common with.
Two years ago they bought a 230-year-old farmhouse a mile away from the house in Hokendauqua where Millen grew up and where his parents still live. Hokendauqua is derived from two Lenni Lenape Indian words meaning "in search of land." The land ends at the Lehigh River, on the eastern fringe of town, where there is a somber three-street-wide neighborhood called Darktown, jammed between the river and a hill.
"I used to love it down there when I was a kid," Millen says. "I'd go down there to be alone. I'd walk along the river or the dam, or the old railroad tracks. I had a relative who was killed on those tracks—King Andy, my father's cousin. He had a reputation as a great brawler. One night they found him on the tracks, knifed."
Millen bought the old farmhouse from the town doctor. His off-season is devoted to fixing it up. He figures it'll take about five off-seasons to get it in top shape. It has the original wooden beams, the low, 18th-century doorways, the mud-and-horsehair "mortar" in the walls. There are artifacts that were never removed—an old German rifle, a World War I airplane propeller. The telephone exchange still has a name. Hemlock 4, instead of just numbers.
"You drive around here and it's like going back in time," Millen says. "Cop-lay, Northampton—visiting them is like stepping back to the '50s. There's still a Roxy Theatre. Kids still cruise at night. There used to be so many farms when I was a kid. Now the developers are taking over. It kills me.
"Where we grew up was Old Hokey. It ended at Third and Carbon. Then the fields started. Then they built New Hokey. They ripped up a schoolyard to put a road through. Some of my friends still won't drive on it. They go around. They're bitter."
"New Hokey means three things," says Patricia, a former All-America gymnast at Penn State. "Every house has a cinder-block garage, ornaments on the lawn, like fake elves or a fake deer, and paper cutouts on the front door every holiday, paper witches for Halloween or paper hearts for Valentine's Day."
Hokendauqua is seven miles north of Allentown, and at one time it was rolling farmland. Then industry came in—the cement mills, the factories. In the 19th century the Thomas Iron Works built what is now called Old Hokey as a company town for its employees, one of whom was Matt's grandfather, Andrew Millen, who came over from County Derry, Ireland in 1865, when he was a year old. Matt's father, Harry, settled in a company house, half of a double, and there he and his wife, Elizabeth, raised 11 children, the sixth of whom was Matt. They slept four or five to a room, they fell all over one another, they fought.
"Anytime there was a fight, my father would take us downstairs and we'd put the gloves on," Millen says. "Girls, boys, it didn't matter. My sister Beth is three years older than me. I could never beat her. She had the reach on me. Once my brother Hugh and I got into a fight in our room and he knocked my head through the wall. He said, 'Oh, oh. now you've done it.' I said, 'Waddya mean, me? I didn't do it,' and he said, 'Well, it was your head.'
"My dad works for Western Electric [now AT&T Technologies], and I remember one year he was laid off for a while and things got a little tight in the house. The church sent some food over. My mother was embarrassed, but not me. I helped carry the stuff into the house. What the hell, it was something to eat.
"There were always plenty of farms around, plenty of fruit trees. We'd get cherried out, peached out, appled out. I remember my brother Andy and I sitting down and eating a whole basketful of tomatoes. My father used to say, 'We'll eat what we can and what we can't, we'll can.' "
Matt's father says, "People have asked me, 'Why did you have 11 kids?' It was because I let my heart run away with my head. I was one of 10 kids and so was my wife. We grew up on the same street, you know; we knew each other since we were babies."
In the Lehigh Valley, athletic traditions were as much a part of life as the factories and the mills. Millen's father played high school football and baseball, and he says, "My father must've been an athlete, too. He had me when he was 55." Matt's uncle Andy Tomasic was a single-wing tailback and defensive back for the Steelers in the 1940s and pitched for the New York Giants.
"He helped me," Matt said. "He said, 'You're gonna be out there with a lot of big guys who think they're great, and you're gonna have to make 'em...ah heck, you know how it goes."
Matt's first love was baseball. "When I was 13 I pitched one game," he says, "and I hit the first five batters. I was laughing so hard they had to take me out. I knew Hugh had once hit five guys, so after the fourth guy I said I might as well go for it.
"I started playing football when I was eight. I still remember a play we had from Hokey Legion ball—22 Smash. We had a winning team. Hokey always won, and when I got to Whitehall High we always won there, too. They're very serious about football in this area."
When Millen was an eighth-grader, Whitehall, a high school serving several small communities north of Allentown, hired Melosky to coach the football team. He'd grown up in Allentown's tough Sixth Ward. He was a former gym boxer and had been in the camp of the old AFL New York Titans as a quarterback and safety. He found a group of rough, eager kids who lacked only one thing—a weight program. So he started one. Millen, who'd been a 135-pound flanker as a freshman, was a 190-pound tight end and defensive end the next year and made the All-Lehigh Valley offensive and defensive teams, a rare achievement for a sophomore. Whitehall, quarterbacked by Hugh, then a senior, went 10-0.
"Matt was like a diamond in the rough," says Melosky, who's still at Whitehall, in the Health and P.E. department. "He was dedicated to the weight program. He had more desire than I'd ever seen in a kid that age. All he needed was polish. He was so intense, he'd get into so many fights in practice, that the assistant coaches would complain. He wasn't a cheap-shotter; he was just trying to get to the ball."
In his junior year Millen was up to 220 pounds and playing fullback and defensive end. Penn State, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Florida State and Ohio State were already showing interest in him as a defensive player. Then his career nearly ended.
"We were playing Nazareth, and they had a quarterback who kept coming down the line," Millen says. "Melosky told me, 'Give him the big lariat across the head.' The first two times I caught him perfectly. The third time he ducked and my right elbow caught him high on the helmet. Blood pooled in the elbow joint. There was ossification. My arm bent at a right angle. I used to walk around school with my hand in my shirt, like Napoleon."
The doctors told him it was a permanent thing. Melosky called it a tragedy. "What a career that kid could have had," he said. He put Millen to work charting plays on the sidelines. It wasn't a great idea. "He was so fired up he'd hit guys who came out of bounds near him," Melosky says. Finally Millen decided to straighten the arm out himself.
"First I tied weights to my arm and held it in the whirlpool until the water was scalding hot," he says. "All it did was scald my arm. The skin started peeling off. Then my buddy Ed Gall and I went down to the metal shop and I put my arm in a vise and had him pull it. That just hurt it worse and I had to go back to the doctor. He looked at me and I could tell he was thinking, 'What a moron.' The week of the Super Bowl some writers were asking me where I got the idea of the vise, and I said, 'Doctors Fine and Howard,' you know, the Three Stooges, and they write it like I was serious.
"Anyway, the doctor said, 'Whatever you do, don't lift weights,' so naturally the next day I was down in the weight room, and I was doing a dead lift with 500 pounds and my arm snapped. A big piece of calcium broke away. The arm was O.K. after that. The doctor probably took credit for performing a medical miracle."
Millen tells this story in the weight room at Whitehall High. It's a Tuesday afternoon and 70 kids are pumping iron. The neck machine, the shoulder machine, some $6,000 worth of equipment in all, have been donated by Millen out of playoff and Super Bowl earnings. "My legacy," he calls it.
On the wall are the photographs of past Whitehall teams, the 10-0 team of 1973, the 4-7 team of' 74, the year he was hurt as a junior, the 9-2 team of '75, when he was a 230-pound defensive end and fullback as a senior.
"There's my hero," Millen says, "the guy throwing the finger at the camera, Carmen Fragnito, our middle linebacker. My senior year we're losing to Parkland 9-0, late in the fourth quarter, and in our defensive huddle Carmen says, 'O.K., we're not gonna win, but next play let's all unload on the guy playing across from us.' That was just fine with me, so I get into this big fight with my man, and all of a sudden I'm the only one. Everyone else is watching me.
"We had some funny guys on that team, some outcasts. We were the L.A. Raiders of high school football. At night we'd go down to Muhlenberg College and terrorize the fraternity houses. We had a sign in our locker room that said HOME OF THE SICK BOYS."
"Their huddle stunk," Hugh Millen says. "No one ever washed their uniforms."
By the end of his senior season Millen was a two-way terror, a target for college recruiters from all over the country. "An impact player," says John Chuckran, the Penn State line coach assigned to recruit Millen's area. "Matt was a guy who made things happen right away, the kind of kid you knew would come in and immediately help your program."
Penn State had been keeping tabs on him for two years. Michigan State had sent its ace recruiter, Howard Weyers. "He told me, 'Kid, you can have whatever you want,' "Millen says. "He was the guy who got fired the next year when Michigan State was put on probation."
Michigan sent former linebacker Dennis Morgan. He told Millen, "I'll let you drive my Mercedes."
"What's a Mercedes?" Millen said. Soon after, he started driving a '57 dump truck lent to him by his friend John Saganowich, an electrician. The Sagmobile, he called it. He still drives it.
One night Morgan and Paterno ran into each other at Millen's house. Harsh words were exchanged. "You'd better get one of them out of here," Millen's mother said. Morgan just smiled and winked. "Matt and I go a long way back, don't we, Matt?" he said. "Uh, yeah, right," Millen said.
The recruiting war got more intense. Bo Schembechler paid a personal call.
"He came walking into the house in a long black leather coat and boots, like a Gestapo man," Matt's father says. "Our dog started growling. Bo said, 'Get him downstairs. I'm not coming in with him here.' "
"Recruiters," snorts Melosky. "They all give it to you. I had jobs offered me if I'd guarantee them Matt. One guy showed me $9,000 in a black suitcase; he opened it up right down here in the George Washington Motor Lodge, off Route 22. He offered me a fur coat for my wife, a T-bird. A guy from a Southern school showed up. I took him to a gin mill in Allentown. Who comes in but another recruiter. They nearly came to blows. I broke it up. When the Southern guy left, he thanked me for my hospitality and we shook hands and he had a $100 bill in his palm. Another zero."
Randy White, who'd just played in the '76 Super Bowl, came up to try to recruit Millen for Maryland. They went to the Whitehall weight room. Millen, the first guy in the school's history to bench-press 400 pounds, lifted 435. White did a few sets of 425.
"I'm thinking. This guy's not much,' "Millen said. "I'd forgotten he'd just gotten through a whole football season. I challenged him to an arm wrestle. I got him like this, one inch from the table. I yelled at him, 'You're going down!' Then I looked at his face. Bored, ho-hum. He flipped my arm over and almost tore my shoulder out."
"Matt went for him," Melosky said. "This was for real. White just hoisted him up in the air and squeezed him until he calmed down."
"He told me in that drawl he picked up in Texas or someplace, 'Well, you probably won't go to Maryland now,' " Millen says, " 'but I'll see you in a few years, and when I do we'll play for real.' "
Woody Hayes invited Millen out for a personal interview in his office at Ohio State. "I'm sitting there," Millen says, "and he's talking to me about academics, and I'm looking at pictures on the wall of John Brockington and Jack Tatum and Archie Griffin, and I'm thinking, is this guy honest and sincere, or is this just another factory? I'm looking all around the room, and Woody's saying to me in that lisp of his, 'Thun, pay attention.'
"Then he says, 'Thun, we think here at Ohio Thtate, you're gonna be a great'—then he looks down at a piece of paper he had in front of him—'notheguard or defenthive end for uth,' and I'm thinking, 'Great, this guy's real interested in me,' and my eyes start wandering again, and he says, 'Thun, pay attention.' And that's the way it went for about half an hour."
Millen visited Colorado. "I went there with $10 and I came back with $340," he says. "My dad said, 'Anything illegal out there?' and I said, 'No, Pop.' He said, 'You're a liar,' and I said, 'You're right, Pop.' "
Millen signed a letter of intent to Colorado—in blood. "I thought it would be a cool idea," he says. "I just took a knife and cut my arm and signed with the blood. My dad wouldn't sign it. He wanted me to go to Penn State. He was very subtle about it, though.
"I never really thought of Penn State. I'd gone to this Penn State get-together in Allentown. Paterno spoke. I was just there to have fun. Joe's giving this righteous speech about how nothing's illegal down there, and in the middle of it I yell out, 'Does this mean I won't get the car you promised?' I elbowed the guy next to me. Some joke, huh?"
The Nittany Lions finally won because they had geography on their side. Millen's family would get to see him play. Paterno sent Chuckran down to bring back the letter of intent. Millen couldn't find it. One of his younger sisters, Ellie, had hidden it.
"She wanted Colorado," Millen says, "because she loved John Denver."
Paterno had a duplicate letter flown down the same day.
At Penn State Millen and Bruce Clark, the most highly recruited lineman from Western Pennsylvania, were on twin tracks. They were freshman linebackers together, then the defensive tackles for three years. Their junior year, when Alabama beat the Nittany Lions in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship, they both made All-America. Clark was named on five teams, Millen on two. Penn State's Sugar Bowl press guide called Clark "the nation's outstanding defensive lineman." Millen was called "a two-year starter at defensive tackle." That year Millen had 54 tackles and nine sacks to Clark's 51 and seven. The year before, Millen had led Clark 63-56 in total tackles and they'd tied in sacks. Clark won the Lombardi Award after the 78 season. It wasn't hard to see where the publicity push was directed.
Penn State's '78 team was a rare collection of talent. Thirty-three members of that squad were eventually drafted by the NFL, and 28 stuck. There were six All-Americas that year, five eventual first-round draft picks, five more seconds.
In his senior year Millen hurt his back early in the season and played only sporadically. Clark had a knee operation and missed the last three games. The season was a downer—a 7-4 record and an appearance in the Liberty Bowl, a game neither Millen nor Clark played in.
"I remember driving around with Bruce in Memphis before that game, and how depressing it was," Millen says. "He had his leg in a cast, I had a bad back. Joe had given me my captaincy back, after he'd taken it away from me early in the season. I couldn't care less.
"Joe and I didn't really get along. I'd learned my football in the Butkus-Nitschke style, encouraged by Andy Melosky. Everything at Penn State was la-de-dah stuff, the image. I remember the academic athletic adviser, Frank Downing, telling me to carry a briefcase when I went to class and sit in front and raise my hand and ask a lot of questions. 'Good for the image,' he said.
"Joe didn't like the idea that I was always getting into fights. He didn't like the idea that I had my own way of doing things. In camp my senior year I showed up a little hefty. I ran a set of 40s. Then I had to run a mile and a half. I felt myself cramping up. I stopped. So he threw me off the team. He said he didn't want me around, that I was a bad influence, uncoachable. I said, 'What am I supposed to do?' He said, 'Here are some phone numbers in Canada.'
"The next day I came back and ran the 40s again—10 of them in a 5.05 average—and the day after that I ran the mile and a half and got back on the team. But Joe said he was taking away my captaincy. I said, it's just a rubber stamp anyway.' They moved me back to the fifth team, with the freshmen. I had to work my way up. I was just killing guys and I felt sorry for those kids, but eventually I got back.
"I remember lifting weights with Bruce the day of the draft. Joe came in and congratulated Bruce for going to the Packers on the first round and me for going to the Raiders on the second. I told him, 'They're going to make a linebacker out of me.' He said, 'You can't play linebacker,' and I said, 'Hey, Joe, you can't coach, either, but that doesn't stop you.' Afterward Bruce said, 'Matt, why do you do that?' and I said, 'I dunno, why does he say that to me?' "
Paterno remembers his relationship with Millen as "basically good," but adds, "There was that one time when he needed discipline and I felt he had to have it. He was a good kid, a coachable kid, but sometimes he was a little wild. When we won the national championship the season before last, he was one of the first guys to call and congratulate me."
"I guess I did at that," Millen says. "It was the most hypocritical act of my life. I guess the whole thing with Joe was that he felt I was a threat to his authority, so he decided to make an example of me. Someday I'd like to sit down with him and talk about the whole thing."
The Raiders have had no problem with Millen. They were looking at three inside linebackers in the '80 draft—Buddy Curry of North Carolina, who went to Atlanta on the second round, George Cumby of Oklahoma, a first-round pick of the Packers, and Millen. Davis says they rated Millen ahead of Cumby, who was "a flow guy rather than an attack guy, like Matt is. We had Matt rated ahead of Clark, too. We couldn't see Bruce as a linebacker conversion."
When they got Millen, they sat him down and showed him films of one play. "Charlie Sumner showed it to me 10 times," Millen says. "Fourteen-Lead Joker-O, where the noseguard is doubled and the off guard pulls around and the fullback leads into the hole, forming a double team on the inside linebacker. Charlie said, if you stop this play, we'll be fine.' "
He has been stopping it for four years, and the Raiders, who will tolerate the freest of free spirits, haven't tried to dampen his enthusiasm for the game. But they admit that he can get on people's nerves.
"I never say anything at halftime, but I don't know, I kind of got carried away during the Super Bowl," Millen says. "I stood up and said, 'C'mon now, we can't let up,' and Todd Christensen, our tight end, said, 'You're right.' I said, 'We've got to treat this like it's 0-0,' and Christensen said, 'You're right.' I realized how dumb I was sounding, but I felt it had to be said, so I said, 'We can't be complacent,' and Christensen said, 'You're right.' Finally I turned on him and screamed, 'Christensen, you'd better straighten up!' His face got ghostly white. I think he's still mad at me.
"Early in the championship game against Seattle our offense was having trouble, and I kept screaming to Steve Ortmayer, our special-teams coach, 'We've got to score! The defense has got to score!' He kept telling me, 'Will you shut up, I can't stand your yelling.' Finally he said that if I'd shut up he'd bet me $100 our offense would score a touchdown before the half. Well, he won the bet, but I told him I was only kidding.
"After I intercepted a pass in that game Jim Plunkett was intercepted on our next series, and I yelled at him, 'Don't force the ball!' and he said, 'Screw you,' and I yelled it again, louder. Now he's mad at me, too."
Raider players remember one team meeting before the '82 strike when Mike Davis, the player rep, stood up and suggested that the veterans pool their money to help the guys who might run short. There was silence. Then Millen got up. "I told them, 'Lemme say this. For the guys who don't have dough, that's tough. Go sell your $80,000 Mercedes. Get a loan. I don't want to help support some guy's $50,000 coke habit. I don't want to fork over my dough so some guy can stick it up his nose.' Nobody said a word after that. The problem is that people don't think. Take this pear here. To me it looks green. Then one guy says, it's turning yellow.' Then another one says, 'Yeah, I see it,' and before you know it everyone's saying the pear's a banana."
There's one more segment of the NFL fraternity that has had touchy dealings with Millen—the officials. A few refs he likes, such as Gene Barth, Jim Tunney and Ben Dreith, but some of them make him shake his head.
"Jerry Markbreit is the wackiest," he says. "In one game he was calling a penalty, and he's taking half an hour to make his announcement. I said, 'C'mon, Ref, wrap it up,' and he got all upset and said, 'Don't you ever talk when I'm on the mike.' Another time he's talking during a time-out, and [defensive end] Howie Long is trying to get a signal and he's having trouble hearing, so he says to Markbreit, 'Hey, would you shut up. I can't hear our defense,' and Markbreit got so mad he wanted to fight him. He kept yelling, 'Wanna make something of it?'
"I remember in the '81 Super Bowl, there was an all-star crew of officials, and one goes over to another one and starts to instruct him on something, and the guy says, 'Screw you, keep your damn mouth shut.' I was standing next to Ted Hendricks, and he said, 'Blub, did you hear what I just heard? My nickname on the team is Bub, except for Hendricks—he calls me Blub—and I said, 'I think so,' and Hendricks said, 'Every year I play this game I see something new.' "
And even if he's around as long as Hendricks, Millen probably will, too. And he'll be very happy to tell you all about it.