Sooner or later, much of what needs to be known about a folly of a Raiders football afternoon involves Howie Long: how America's Villains lost, and how come Matt Millen bopped the Patriots' general manager on the head with his helmet after the game.

For the bad and the bizarre of this AFC semifinal, you duck some tape and dirty uniforms being tossed in frustration by the Raiders and cock an ear as Long is saying:

"They kicked our butt. Trust me. I was there for all of it. We didn't deserve to win; the Patriots did. They passed on running downs and ran on passing downs.

"They ran the ball down our throats, and that's not supposed to happen. (Brian) Holloway did a good job handlin' me. This just wasn't our year. Shame on us."

Now for the dicy stuff.

The Raiders frequently are at least as interesting after each play and after each game as they are during. Eyes stay focused on the field to see which rowdy Raider tries to goad an opponent into losing his poise with a subtle forearm to the neck after the whistle.

NFL games end with a gun shooting blanks. That often seems a signal for the Raiders to start shooting their mouths off. Or, in the tunnel through which both teams must pass en route to their dressing rooms, to once more try to avenge earlier nastiness.

This is the Coliseum tunnel through which the athletes of the world strutted in hope and good fellowship for the 1984 Olympics, the tunnel that features the Raiders' credo in two-foot letters: "Commitment to Excellence."

With Long, Millen and their pals, it ain't no tunnel of love.

Earlier this season in the tunnel, Long went after a 49ers assistant coach whose troops, he felt, had leg-whipped him. Also in this tunnel, Rod Martin spit on a Seattle lineman who evidently had done the same to him during the official mayhem.

The incident yesterday involving Raiders Long and Millen and Patriots general manager Patrick Sullivan apparently took place as they were walking toward the tunnel.

"He'd been screaming like a 17-year-old at me all game," Long said of the 33-year-old son of the Patriots' owner. "He's spineless. The Wimp of Foxboro. He's probably never worked a day in his life.

"As far as class is concerned, he's dirt poor. You can't buy class. His daddy ought to take away his Ferrari. In four years, my son is going to be 5 years old. I'm gonna send him over to kick his butt."

Long was calm as he spoke. No fire shot from his tongue. The near-peerless defensive end was as clinical as he had been in praising left tackle Holloway. Long might have been rating the latest movie he'd seen, for all the emotion he exerted.

Holloway had been a worthy warrior; Sullivan was "a little twerp."

"I guess to Howie," Sullivan laughed, "I am a little twerp."

He was reclining outside the New England dressing room, a bandage pasted above his left eye. He is 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds to Long's 6-5 and 270.

Besides, Sullivan added, "I'm a lousy fighter."

Baiting opponents from the sideline seems an undignified thing for an NFL general manager to be doing. Literally, he is supposed to be above the battle. But the Raiders and Patriots fuss as much as any teams in the league.

Owner Billy Sullivan's daughter is married to the lawyer who successfully beat the NFL in its bitter lawsuit challenging the Raiders move here from Oakland.

"Commitment to excellence. That's a slogan," Billy Sullivan said. "I sort of prefer 'Commitment to Integrity.' I'd see the scoreboard flash to a picture of Al Davis in his box, then it would show 'Commitment to Excellence.' My eyes would flash toward the field and there'd be another Raiders fumble."

"I was yelling at everybody (on the Raiders)," Patrick Sullivan insisted. "Howie, (Mike) Haynes, Sean Jones. What I told (Boston-area native) Howie after the game was that I was really tired of reading what he's been saying in the papers.

"I'm tired of him talking as though the Raiders are the only organization that has pride. We have a lot of pride, too."

Sullivan said the exchange was about to end when Millen all of a sudden butted in. He even called Long "a class guy with lots of style."

He continued: "Then he (Millen) grabbed my hair with one hand and flailed me with his helmet." Sullivan figured he was in no danger of being seriously hurt "because about 16 of our guys were near me at the time."

"I saw somebody grabbing Howie from behind, so I smacked him," Millen said. Asked if he knew it was Sullivan, Millen said he didn't.

"Now that I know, I would say it was a good hit."

It was suggested to Sullivan that he might engage in similar sideline banter with the Dolphins during the AFC title game Sunday in Miami. Which Dolphin might he concentrate on?

"Marino," he said, referring to the quarterback with no public record as a fighter.

If the Patriots' fine fortune lifts them -- glory be! -- to the Super Bowl, might light-heavyweight Sullivan work his way up in class among the Bears? To, say, Mike Singletary, presuming Chicago is there?

Sullivan laughed.

"I know my limits."

Long gives Holloway and the other Patriots players at least an even chance to overcome a two-decades slump against the Dolphins in Miami.

"If they run the way they did against us today," he said, "and play defense. And kick field goals. If they do that, I'd give them a good chance."

Holloway, who graduated from Potomac, Md.'s Winston Churchill High, was much more confident. He had neutralized one of football's fiercest defenders. Who among the Dolphins could be any tougher?

Holloway stretched to his full 6-7 and declared: "You saw the second-best game in the National Football League today; next week, you're going to see the best."