Who would have thought that Al Davis, the cool, savvy and much-celebrated wizard behind the success of the old Raiders—the man who won three Super Bowls and beat Pete Rozelle in court after moving the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982—would end up acting like some back-room ward heeler.
Look at him now. There's Al, with his DA haircut and gold chains, whispering in reporters' ears as he peddles his team to both L.A. and Oakland. A wag suggested not long ago that the Raiders ought to play this season on an aircraft carrier—Nimitz-class, no doubt, with parking at $25 a car on the hangar deck. Davis could thus move the Raiders' home games from port to port, up and down the West Coast. A fitting end to such a season would have the Raiders playing out the schedule in the Sea of Cortes, off Mexico, with Davis threatening to hold the last crowd hostage unless the U.S. Navy built him a domed flattop with soaring skyboxes port and starboard, a flag-draped owners' box on the bridge and Taco Bells fore and aft. He could call it Carrier Dome West.
With the exception of Colts owner Robert Irsay, who in 1984 literally spirited his team away in the dead of night from Baltimore to Indianapolis, there is no owner, in any sport, who has operated with a more unseemly disregard for his constituents than Davis has. Since last year, he has been threatening to leave Los Angeles for the Raiders' old home in Oakland, obviously hoping to force the L.A. Memorial Coliseum to sweeten its deal to keep the Raiders playing there. And that's just what the Coliseum did: Davis has lately been pondering a Coliseum offer that will pay him $10 million in cash, forgive an equal amount in lawsuits and expenses, and make more than $100 million in stadium improvements, including the installation of 204 luxury boxes. Meanwhile, Davis has been carrying on his courtship of Oakland. This two-timing has left fans in both cities wondering whether they will have the Raiders—and how much it will eventually cost them if they do.
Earlier this year, in a moment of lunacy, the city fathers of troubled, cash-poor Oakland offered Davis $602 million over 15 years to bring the Raiders home again. Davis reached for the money, but just before he could get it in his grasp, indignant Oaklanders gathered enough signatures on a petition to put the city's preposterous offer before the voters in a binding referendum. Before the citizenry could flock to the polls, Oakland officials meekly withdrew their offer. Davis is now contemplating a considerably smaller Oakland gambit to lure him back: $31.9 million in cash and at least $60.5 million in improvements to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Davis has been trying for years to get the Raiders out of the L.A. Coliseum, with its vast acreage of seats that make the disappointing crowds—the Raiders have drawn an average of 45,307 to home games the past three seasons—appear even smaller. That lousy attendance may have had something to do with the fact that the once indomitable black-and-silver has not had a winning season since 1985. As a result of the poor crowds, Davis has entertained all kinds of offers. In 1989, Sacramento reportedly promised him $50 million up front and a $100 million stadium with 72,000 seats, but Davis let the March 1 deadline pass without making a decision. Three years ago, the San Gabriel Valley community of Irwindale, a burg of 17 gravel pits and 1,038 people, gave Davis a nonrefundable deposit of $10 million as an incentive to move the Raiders there. When the town's proposal fell through for lack of financing and a suitable site, Davis kept the cash and never once looked back, leaving the play to bigger cities.
As this NFL season begins, the two cities are still twisting indelicately in the wind while Davis sits silent and his fellow NFL owners appear paralyzed by the spectacle. They have obviously seen too much of Davis in court to want to meet him there again.
For years, Davis was the consummate antihero, a rugged individualist who flouted convention and defied authority while creating one of the most feared and admired teams in the league's history. His Raiders were a football Foreign Legion of castoffs, retreads and renegades whom he turned into true believers—not only in themselves but in each other. "Just win, baby," he used to tell the troops. There were times when Davis was able to advertise his franchise, justifiably, as a Commitment to Excellence.
Off the field, those days have gone the way of the dodo. Where there was once vision, there is now the slick veneer of opportunism. Where there was once devotion to football, there is a hunger for skyboxes. As for Raider fans in either city, they can obviously go to hell. Or maybe bowling. What Davis represents now is at best a failure of commitment and at worst a commitment to cynicism. And as for that old Raider pride, on which was built those championship teams?
Just forget it, baby.