The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined without comment to hear the NFL's appeal of a lower-court ruling that the league violated antitrust law by trying to prevent the Raiders from moving from Oakland to Los Angeles. The protracted legal battle over the Raiders' 1982 shift to L.A. isn't over, however. Still unresolved are the city of Oakland's eminent-domain suit to return the Raiders to that city and the NFL's appeal of a trial court's antitrust treble-damages award of $49.2 million to the Raiders and their present landlord, the Los Angeles Coliseum. In that action the league is hoping the Supreme Court may yet overturn the antitrust ruling against it. Meanwhile, the NFL has been trying to persuade Congress to enact legislation that would allow it to make franchise relocation decisions without being subject to federal antitrust law.
As its dispute with the Raiders drags on, the damage to the NFL mounts. In seeking greener pastures in L.A. even though his team had enjoyed 12 straight years of sellouts in Oakland, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis precipitated the dispute; just because the move was legal doesn't mean it was right. But NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Davis's bitter adversary, has compounded the folly with his costly opposition to the move. The NFL's legal fees for the case have been estimated at $6 million or more, a figure that will seem like loose change if it also has to pay the $49 million-plus judgment—not to mention $11 million or so in interest and another $7 million to cover the Raiders' legal fees. Rozelle & Co. could have better used the resources and energy expended in fussing with Davis to shore up the league's declining popularity.
The really sad part of all this is that the NFL still doesn't seem to have come to grips with the implications of the Raiders' case. For one thing, the league could have easily lived with the Raiders in L.A.—as indeed it has since the club relocated there at the start of the 1982 season. Beyond that, the team's move isn't necessarily the awful precedent that Rozelle implies it is. The lower-court decision that the Supreme Court let stand last week doesn't prevent a professional league from having a say in franchise relocation; it merely holds that the NFL's specific rule that franchise moves be approved by a three-fourths vote of its 28 teams is unreasonable. The court implied that the league would be on more solid legal ground if it established objective guidelines governing relocation that took into account such factors as population, economic projections, quality of facilities, fan loyalty and "location continuity."
November 19, 1984
The league could almost certainly use such guidelines to prevent an eccentric owner from capriciously moving a team out of a major market to, say, northern Montana. And, if guidelines had been in place at the time, it's possible they could have been invoked to prevent Al Davis from abandoning Oakland—and, subsequently, Robert Irsay from taking the Colts out of Baltimore.
Instead of making a good-faith effort to adopt guidelines that might pass judicial muster, the NFL considers itself a special character that should be exempt from the antitrust laws under which other businesses operate. Contrary to what Rozelle has tried to suggest in seeking such an exemption from Congress, the republic won't topple if his league is held accountable under antitrust law. Nor, also contrary to NFL mythology, will municipal governments necessarily fare any worse. In abandoning Oakland, the Raiders thumbed their noses at the NFL, just as the Colts did in leaving Baltimore. But it should be remembered that other teams have bailed out on the nation's two largest cities—the Giants and Jets stuck it to New York and the Rams to L.A.—with the NFL's blessings.
Whatever the outcome of the struggle between Rozelle and Davis, the message to city officials is clear: They ought to think twice before mortgaging their civic birthrights to land or keep a professional sports franchise. They also should bear in mind that a marriage to a pro team is properly sealed not with a kiss but with a long-term lease. There's a lesson for the fans, too. It's O.K. to go to games, enjoy yourselves and root for the home team. But the notion that the team somehow "belongs" to you is an illusion that the case of the Los Angeles (né Oakland) Raiders ought to shatter once and for all.
At the Big Eight basketball press luncheon, Oklahoma State coach Paul Hansen mused about the impact of the school's decision, in the interest of eliminating barriers between athletes and other students, to close the Cowboys' jock dorm. Noting that all but five of his basketball players now live off campus, Hansen said, "It hasn't affected their grades. They're still bad."
CANTER ON OVER TO CANTERBURY
Harmon Killebrew Downs? Fran Tarkenton Park? Bud Grant Track? Those were among the entries in a contest to name a new pari-mutuel thoroughbred track that's scheduled to open next June in Shakopee, Minn. The judges declined to name the facility after any Minnesota sports figure and settled instead on Canterbury Downs, a name chosen for its English flavor, which suits the track's Tudor architecture, and also because canter is horsey-sounding. But some of the losers among the 56,973 entries showed ingenuity, too. Like Purple Rein, a play on Purple Rain, the hit movie (and album and single) of the Minnesota-born rock star, Prince. Or this one: The Best Little Horse House in the North.
Ballplayers and rock stars weren't the only famous people suggested by contest entrants. Others included Hubert Humphrey, Charles Lindbergh and both major-party presidential candidates; as in Minnesota on Election Day, Walter Mondale outpolled Ronald Reagan. One other suggestion was Notadome, which recognized that with the Vikings, the Twins and the University of Minnesota all playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome the new racetrack will feature the only major spectator sport in the area that's staged outdoors.
During Wisconsin home football games, the press box at Camp Randall Stadium usually contains more than its share of non-sportswriting types who commit the sin against journalistic canons of rooting shamelessly for the home team. At one point during the Badgers' 16-14 win over Ohio State on Oct. 27, press-box announcer Bud Foster admonished the box's occupants to demonstrate a little more detachment. "There's no cheering in the press box," he said. Mistakenly thinking his microphone was off, he added, "There's the end of the quarter. Now we'll have to punt against the wind."
PLIMPTON, MEET LUMPKIN
What Bill Lumpkin III, a 23-year-old sportswriter for The Gadsden (Ala.) Times, had in mind was a harmless Plimptonesque yarn. By arrangement with Gadsden High football coach Vince Dilorenzo, Lumpkin, who had been too small to play football in his own schoolboy days but had since rounded out to a well-fed 5'11" and 215 pounds, would play tailback for the Tigers in a scrimmage and write a story about the experience. Lumpkin announced his intentions in his column and waggishly described himself as "a tailback with great agility, tremendous speed and the moves of Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson." Coach Dilorenzo played along with the gag. "We're looking forward to seeing if Bill runs as well as he writes," Dilorenzo said.
"I guess that fired them up," Lumpkin now ruefully says of the mock-boastful column. The scrimmage was set up so he would run with the first-team offense against the fourth-team defense, but "practice was cut short, and somehow I ended up with the fourth-team, or meat-squad, offense against the first-team defense." After he blocked on three or four plays, Lumpkin carried the ball for the first time. It was also the last time. "We ran a sweep and I picked up seven or eight yards, and the only guy I had to beat was the cornerback," he recalls. "I figured I would just run over him. Well, he slowed me down, and I think everybody on the team got a shot at me."
Lumpkin got a yarn out of the experience, all right. He finished it after being released from the hospital, where he spent five days. Beneath a photo of himself lying on the field and being tended to by the Gadsden High trainer, Lumpkin wrote: "For that nifty eight-yard run, I ended up with three damaged ligaments in my left knee and, after an operation the next morning, a full cast on my leg that weighs a ton.... I got a chance to learn about high school football from the inside. And now I'll learn about the rehabilitation of a football knee injury."
Lumpkin noted that the player who got the biggest piece of him was tackle Zack Thornton—"I think I'll call him Mr. Thornton now"—and he told of hearing from Ray Perkins, the coach at Alabama, Lumpkin's alma mater. Perkins sent a note, Lumpkin wrote, "to remind me that my eligibility had run out."
HE'S CANADA'S CHOICE
His name is Albert, and in the TV commercial that has made him famous across Canada, he's the kid nobody wants in the pickup hockey game. Finally, the other boys say to Albert's older brother, "He's your brother." The reply, is a resigned "O.K., come on, Albert." By the end of the commercial, hapless Albert, fitted out in hockey gear from Canadian Tire, a retail chain store, has grown up to become a star. The fans chant. "Albert!...Albert!...Albert!" and the coach says, "Sure wish we had more players like Albert."
The commercial has caught the fancy of a nation. Albert T shirts and posters are on the market. Before a preseason intra-squad game, the Vancouver Canucks stitched ALBERT on the back of the sweater of rookie defenseman J.J. Daigneault, at 19 the youngest player on the team. Spectators at the game chanted "Albert!...Albert!...Albert!" Albert shooting contests are held between periods at Calgary Flame games, and calls for Albert have been heard at Canadian Football League games. During a recent Canucks game, a fan sat with a bag over his head in lament for the plight of the NHL's worst team. Written on the bag was, WE WANT ALBERT.
Albert has come to be seen as the epitome of the Canadian sports hero, a plucky guy who overcomes rejection. Nobody in Canada seems to mind that the commercial was conceived by W.B. Doner and Company, a Southfield, Mich. ad agency, or that Bill Novinski, the actor who plays little Albert, hails from Hicksville, N.Y.
THEY SAID IT
•Paul Martha, Pittsburgh Maulers president, grieving over the demise of the USFL club after one season: "I'd like to apologize to one person in particular, the man who won the name-the-team contest and got a lifetime pass."
•M.L. Carr, Boston Celtic forward-guard, asked to name the most amazing thing he ever saw teammate Larry Bird do: "Once we went out to eat and he picked up the check."
•Randall (Tex) Cobb, on whether he'd be willing to fight Larry Holmes again after taking a beating from him in 1982: "I don't think his hands could take the abuse."