In The Princess Bride, Westley only had to make it through the Fire Swamp once. But San Jose Mercury reporter Tim Kawakami has to brave the danger that is the Oakland Raiders' Alameda headquarters on a regular basis, and that's much, much worse. It's not an easy job, but it's never boring. By now you've probably seen the video of Kawakami's run-in on Monday with Raiders senior executive John Herrera, which has become a viral superstar in the few short hours it's been up today. Herrera offering to punch Kawakami, and the reporter replying that he'd "love to own a piece of the franchise" has become the quote of the month so far. But what was it actually like to be in the eye of the NFL's most dysfunctional hurricane? When will Lane Kiffin actually be fired? And most importantly, just when does Al Davis arrive for work each day? I talked with Kawakami about all of this — turns out he lives just down the feeway from me — and more. Let's talk silver and black and blue, after the jump.Me: What precipitated this? Is there bad blood between you and Herrera? Tim Kawakami: Not really. But things are not going well with the organization. They have a head coach they don't like, and tensions are high. (Raiders front office personnel) are thinking about their loyalty to Al, so tempers are on edge. They can't yell at Lane Kiffin, so they yell at me. It's not surprising. But although I wasn't shocked, something of this nature rarely happens. You can never really be prepared for it." What was the basis of Herrera's argument? I wrote a column describing how a Raiders official distributed printed copies of an ESPN.com article critical of Kiffin to the press, and the question I asked Kiffin at the press conference centered around that. That's when Herrera interrupted and began yelling. I didn't mention Herrera's name in the article, but I will now. Since he started yelling in front of five cameras, I guess it''s OK to have it out there. And he did distribute it. Others blogged about it before I ever wrote it. What was Kiffin's reaction? Do you think he had anything to do with it? Not at all. You can see in the video that he has this look on his face that seems to be saying, 'See? Look everybody, this is what I have to put up with here every day.' In fact, Lane called me today to apologize for what happened. But I told him that I don't need an apology, and certainly not from him, who had nothing to do with it. What was going through your mind during the confrontation? We you angry? Not angry at all, and you can see that on the video, I think. It was like it was in slow motion, like I was in the middle of a hurricane. I was trying to be calm. The video is out there for everyone to see and judge for themselves. What's been the reaction today? Kind of crazy. I have to say that there are certain members of Raiders Nation who are not happy with me right now. Al Davis loyalists will support him to the bitter end. And hey, I salute Al. I don't agree with a lot of his decisions, but I've said before that he's accomplished more in his life than I ever will, and that's a fact. But a lot of people have written in support of the way I handled myself. Some Raiders fans have said that they were embarrassed over what happened. Just why hasn't Kiffin been fired yet? Al's still a sharp guy, and he knows football, but the energy level just isn't there the way it used to be. Things don't go at a normal speed at Raiders headquarters. Al wants to fire him, but at the same time he has to figure out what to do afterward, and he's not ready for that yet. He's got to hire someone else, and that's not an easy thing to do when you don't get to work before 4:30 p.m. each day. What? Davis doesn't get to work until 4:30? No one's ever seen him at the office before then. I KNOW that he's not there in the mornings. So he may sit at home and plot his moves until 3 a.m., because he's a night owl, but at home there's no one to talk to about it. Things get done when you're in the office in the morning working the phones, and that's hard to do on Al's schedule. By the time he gets in, the day is over. Has Davis lost it? Are we talking latter-day Howard Hughes? Al knows football. But he's also paranoid; he's into conspiracy theories about himself. He was that way when he was 40, but even more so now. And the ability to think around that gets harder as he gets older, so that effects his judgment. Also, he used to have people around him who were good at public relations. Guys like Bruce Allen, who were there during the Gruden years. Allen was a real people person and could help Al deal with the outside world. But Bruce is gone now. Al has absolutely no one around him who is good in dealing with people. It's just Al in the darkness now. So, what's the second-strangest thing that has happened to you since you began covering the Raiders? Do you know the Deng Xiaoping story? That's the infamous one, I guess. It was at the press conference announcing the hiring of Kiffin. Afterwards I was talking to Al, and remarked that I thought it was a strange hire, given that Kiffin was so young and had no head coaching experience. Al didn't like that, and said: 'I'll bet you don't even know who Deng Xiaoping was.' I was like, what? What does that have to do with anything? Al pressed it. 'Who is Deng Xiaoping?' So I thought for a minute, and said, 'Well, if I'm not mistaken, wasn't he the General Secretary of the Chinese government during the Tiananmen Square massacre?' And Al repiles, 'But what can you tell me about him other than that? See? You don't even know anything about your own culture.' I said, 'Al, I'm Japanese-American, not Chinese.' And Al said, 'Ohh, geez. I bet you're going to kill me on that now.' It all happened in front of about 20 reporters, so I didn't have to. At least it's never boring. Well, I've covered the Philadelphia Eagles with Buddy Ryan, the Los Angeles Rams with Chuck Knox, the Lakers, the 49ers, the Warriors, but nothing's been like this. Covering the Raiders is like covering boxing. You just never know what's going to jump out at you. What happened Monday just illustrates what's going on there in vivid fashion. It's a peek behind the curtain. You never really know what you're going to see.
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