SAN FRANCISCO — When the pickings grew slim in the Ritz-Carlton lobby, when the news coming out of the NFL owners meetings got a little dry—the old extra point succeeded 99.5 percent of the time, but the new extra point is expected to succeed a mere 95 percent of the time!—it was Dr. Death to the rescue.
An articulate, face-painted activist from whose silver helmet sprung a row of faux (one hopes) knives, the good doctor was busy Tuesday organizing disparate groups of protesters on the sidewalk outside the hotel. At one point during an oft-contentious session with local reporters, Raiders owner Mark Davis was forced to raise his voice to be heard over this chant from outside:
“L.A. Rams! Save our Bolts! Stay in Oakland!”
This punchy, multi-purpose plea, advocating for the interests of three groups of fans on the sidewalk, had been kick started by Dr. Death.
“We’re here to tell Mark, We support you, but we also absolutely want answers,” Death told me. “He’s spending 50 million dollars on land in Carson.” Indeed, the Raiders and Chargers completed a deal earlier that morning for 157 acres on a former landfill just off the 405 in that city.
“He hired Carmen Policy to help him get it done in Carson,” Dr. Death went on. “Why hasn’t he hired anyone to help him get it done in Oakland?”
The answer to one burning question did come into sharper focus at these meetings: Commissioner Roger Goodell sounded distinctly disinclined to grant the NFLPA’s request that he recuse himself as arbitrator in Tom Brady’s Deflategate appeal.
“One of the primary responsibilities for the commissioner is to protect the integrity of the game,” he intoned. “That's my job.” The possessive pronoun would seem to bode ill for Brady.
Far more muddled is the state of the Race to L.A., the scramble for the Chargers, Raiders and Rams to relocate in the Los Angeles basin, where the NFL hasn’t had a presence since 1994.
The league is eager to plant a franchise—perhaps two!—in this, the nation’s second-largest television market. Bolting to a big lead was Stan Kroenke, the mustachioed real estate billionaire and Rams owner, who announced plans last January to erect an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood. In recent months, the Raiders and Chargers have linked arms by agreeing to share a stadium, and charged back to close the gap. Last month they made a splash by unveiling plans for $1.7 billion venue with a peristyle “intentionally reminiscent of the one at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
While no one is sure which team or teams will be changing addresses, the NFL’s return to L.A. has taken on an air of inevitability. In his remarks Wednesday, Goodell expressed near wonderment at the notion of not one but two tracts of land being “entitled”—which is to say, backhoe-ready. The question is not if a team will make the move, Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters. “It’s how many.”
That said, the Race To L.A. news that came out of these meetings tended to cloud, rather than clarify the picture. Yes, Kroenke’s proposal is formidable and fully formed. But the city of St. Louis is scrambling to keep the Rams from returning to their ancestral homeland. Goodell went out of his way to praise the efforts of the St. Louis Stadium Task Force, devoted to erecting a gleaming new downtown venue on the city’s riverfront.
Nor is the city of San Diego willing to go gentle into that good night. Better late than never, it released a proposal on the eve of the owners meetings outlining a new $1.1 billion stadium to be funded with a creative amalgam of contributions ranging from the NFL and taxpayers to surcharges on tickets and parking.
Last, and unquestionably least, among the home markets scrambling to keep their teams: Oakland, the efforts of which to produce a stadium proposal have left the NFL underwhelmed. NFL executive VP Eric Grubman, charged with overseeing the league’s return to the City of Angels, expressed frustration with Oakland. He’s visited numerous times over the last four years, each time hearing promises that a proposal is “right around the corner.”
“I've heard that for three or four years and it hasn't been produced,” Grubman went on. “No results have been produced. That, to me, is going backward.”
More alarming to Dr. Death, no doubt, was the fact that Mark Davis shares the NFL’s pessimism and frustration. “I want to be able to keep the Raiders in Oakland, if I can,” the owner insisted. “But we have to be able to financially compete, to get players.” As became clear during free agency, Oakland’s less-than-ideal stadium has become a drag on the franchise, “a big component of what the free agents thought about coming to play for the Raiders,” Davis lamented. “And we have to bring that up to date.”
Did the club’s tattered infrastructure make him angry? “It doesn’t make me mad,” he replied. “Jealous, maybe.”
A confrontational TV talking head asked him to answer for the recent hiring of Policy, the ex-49er president, who was retained by the Chargers and Raiders to spearhead their joint proposal.
Furrowing his brow under that courageous, trademark bowl cut, Davis made no apologies for bringing Policy on board. “I’m working in Oakland, trying to get something done in Oakland. And we have a parallel path going on in Los Angeles, in case we can’t get something done.”
What about the fans, he was asked, as “Stay in Oakland!” wafted into the lobby.
“I love the Raiders fans,” Davis declared. “They’re the greatest fans in the world.”
Certainly, they are the fans who’d be most helpful in collecting a debt, or recommending a bail bondsman. Come 2016, they may also be out of luck.