Ricky Ricardo could teach motel pitchman Tom Bodette a thing or
two about leaving the light on. Ricardo owns Ricky's Sports
Lounge & Restaurant, a working-class joint a few miles south of
the Oakland Coliseum in San Leandro, Calif. Even after the
Raiders blew town in 1982 for Los Angeles, Ricky's stayed with
its silver and black motif. For 13 years the bar has televised
every Raider game. Why the attachment?
"We were always the second-class citizens of the Bay Area -- you
know, East Bay grease," Ricardo was shouting last Friday
afternoon. "The Raiders gave us credibility and toughness we're
He had to raise his voice to be heard over the whooping of his
patrons. Three hours earlier Al Davis, the autocratic managing
general partner of the Raiders, had signed a letter of intent
with the board of directors of the Oakland-Alameda County
Coliseum (OACC), promising, in effect, to return his team to the
city of its 1960 birth. Pending approval from the Oakland City
Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors -- a pair of slam
dunks, according to insiders -- and the NFL, the Silver and Black
was coming back.
Earlier that morning 18 trucks had rumbled out of an Anaheim
parking lot, heading for St. Louis, the new home of the Rams,
who until three months ago had been based in Orange County. Just
like that, the NFL found itself without representation in the
second-largest U.S. media market, the entertainment capital of
the world. It seemed that Davis, whose successful antitrust suit
against the NFL cleared the way for him to move to Los Angeles
and cost the league $50 million in the early 1980s, had once
again left the NFL with a black eye.
July 2, 1995
But, with the notable exception of certain individuals in the
San Francisco 49er organization (which, after all, must once
again share the Bay Area with the Raiders), league officials did
not seem terribly distressed by Friday's news. Though the return
to Oakland will cause some temporary discomfort, it is likely to
help the NFL over the long haul. With the troublemaking Davis
tucked away in a market where he may finally find lasting
happiness, the league can now map out a SoCal strategy to
include two new teams and possibly two new stadiums by the end
of the century.
"You could make a case that this will be better for the league,"
said an official at NFL headquarters. The Raiders' departure,
said the source, gives the league "a chance to stabilize the
L.A. situation. It didn't work out for Al in L.A. But if it's
like it was [the first time around] in Oakland, he'll be in good
One of the two main reasons (the other, of course, being cold
cash) that Davis repledged himself to Oakland was the knowledge
that the Raiders would be playing in front of sellout crowds
composed of unconditionally loyal lunatics, such as those who
began pouring into Ricky's on Friday afternoon. "Deep in my
heart, I always believed Al wanted this to happen," said
Ricardo, in whose black ensemble and shoulder-length tresses one
could discern the sartorial and tonsorial influence of a certain
maverick NFL owner. "He just had to wait for the pieces to come
Behind Ricardo, on the bar's 8-by-10-foot television, a replay
of the Oakland Raiders' 27-10 Super Bowl XV spanking of the
Philadelphia Eagles was coming to an end. Now, on the big
screen, Davis was accepting the Vince Lombardi Trophy from
commissioner Pete Rozelle as the two men, bitter rivals since
the AFL-NFL feuds of the '60s, barely attempted to conceal their
distaste for each other. Looking into the camera while holding
the trophy, Davis said, referring to those who had recently been
released after a long captivity in Iran, "I'd like ta welcome
back da hostages ta da United States."
In addition to revealing a softer side and a grasp of current
events, Davis's reference to the Iranian hostage crisis
prefigured a hostage crisis of his own. The longer his team
played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the more Davis grew
to loathe the ancient, crumbling structure, to feel like its
prisoner. He was reportedly convinced that playing in the
67,800-seat coliseum (where the Raiders averaged 52,280
seemingly somnambulant fans a game in '94) cost his team four to
six points per game. For at least eight years he had been trying
In 1987 the Raiders conducted relocation flirtations with the
city of Carson, 12 miles south of L.A., with the Rose Bowl in
Pasadena and with the town of Irwindale, 22 miles east of the
coliseum, which offered an abandoned quarry as a stadium site
and presented Davis with a nonrefundable $10 million check. But
when the deal for a "state of the art" stadium fell through,
Davis kept the loot, leaving Irwindale (pop. 1,161) with a
yawning pit and an eight-digit hole in its budget.
In September 1989, Sacramento approved a $50 million payment to
induce the Raiders to come north; Davis said thanks but no
thanks. Then the following spring Davis announced with great
fanfare that he was bound for Oakland, whose lavish $602 million
proposal to the Raiders was predicated on projections of a
decade of sellouts. If the crowds didn't materialize, taxpayers
would have gotten stuck with the tab. When these terms became
public and a voter referendum was threatened, the deal was
torpedoed. It was then resurrected, only to again be deep-sixed
-- literally -- by Oakland Coliseum engineering problems: In
order to squeeze 13,500 more seats into the 54,616-seat stadium,
Davis had requested that the field be lowered. When workers
started digging, they hit water.
Stung by that threatened referendum, Davis became leery of
Oakland's overtures. But after the Los Angeles Coliseum was
damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Oakland officials
offered Davis the use of their coliseum for the season. The
Raiders were able to play on their home field, but Davis
appreciated the gesture. Discussions with Oakland began anew.
In addition to bestowing on Davis a $31.9 million "relocation
loan," the OACC will give the Raiders as much as $10 million to
build the team a training facility. (This season the Raiders
will continue to practice in El Segundo, which is near L.A.
International Airport, and then fly to Oakland for home games.)
The OACC also agreed to spend $85 million to gussy up the
coliseum, which is 29 years old and showing its age. The number
of luxury boxes -- of which there were zero at the L.A.
Coliseum -- will go from 53 to 175. For the duration of their
tenancy, the Raiders will get 100% of the revenue from those
suites, whose annual rental prices have not yet been set.
Even given those inducements, smart money had the Raiders
relocating across town rather than upstate. Fortified by pledges
of funding from the NFL, officials at Hollywood Park, a
racetrack near L.A.'s Great Western Forum, had planned
construction of a $250 million stadium for the Raiders. Ed De
Silva, the Oakland Coliseum board member who negotiated with
Davis, says that the terms dangled before the Raiders by
Hollywood Park were financially superior to anything Oakland
could offer. In the end, however, the refusal of Hollywood Park
chairman R.D. Hubbard to guarantee that his stadium would be
completed by the 1997 season proved a deal killer.
In his jubilant and at times gloating press conference remarks
Friday, Oakland mayor Elihu Harris praised city and county
officials for "singing in the key of we." The mayor noted that,
unlike in the 1990 proposal, this time no tax dollars had been
pledged to recover the costs of bringing home the prodigal
franchise. (The financing will come from bond issues and from
fans, who will pay up to $4,000 apiece for 10-year "seat
licenses.") Sermonized Harris, "There is no reason for anyone to
be anything other than positive about the return of the Raiders."
Failing to hit the "key of we" was 49er president Carmen Policy,
whose bellicose remarks in a Thursday interview with San
Francisco radio station KGO-AM brought to mind a lion marking
his territory. Policy accused Davis of "putting the league in
jeopardy" by leaving the NFL without a team in the L.A. market
and suggested that Davis was "afraid to accept the challenge of
the L.A. market."
Indeed, it was widely speculated around the league that by
returning to Oakland, with its sweet stadium deal and built-in
fan base, Davis was taking the easy way out. Had he stayed in
Southern California, sooner or later he would have had to beef
up his marketing staff and otherwise drag his operation into the
latter half of the 20th century. He would have had to -- and this
concept is anathema to Davis -- delegate.
But Policy was off base when he fumed, "If Al Davis ... attempts
to move without a vote, he will be sued." League sources say
that's not likely. When they meet in mid-July to consider the
matter, the NFL owners almost certainly will approve the
Raiders' northward migration. After having their heads handed to
them by Davis in civil court in 1982, league officials do not
relish another legal battle with him. A more likely scenario is
that the owners will ask Davis for a relocation fee -- perhaps a
cut from the cash he will make on the personal seat licenses.
This was the concession that owner Georgia Frontiere made to
secure approval for her Rams' escape to the Show Me State.
Expect the current NFL vacuum in Los Angeles to be filled
quickly. Expansion is just around the corner, and the Walt
Disney Company is lusting to erect a football-only facility next
to Anaheim Stadium and to plunk down beside it an entertainment
complex with an NFL theme. Sources say this expansion franchise
could emerge as early as the start of the 1997 season.
Meanwhile the NFL continues to encourage Hollywood Park to forge
ahead with its stadium, Raiders or no Raiders. Several
disgruntled owners of existing NFL teams -- the Cleveland
Browns, the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers --
would consider moving or have already threatened to move to the
310 area code. Player agent Leigh Steinberg, who has been
involved in trying to fill the L.A. void, jokingly predicts "the
biggest western migration since the Dust Bowl."
Excuse Raider defensive tackle Nolan Harrison if he can't summon
much enthusiasm for the concept of the Los Angeles Buccaneers.
"If people in L.A. wouldn't support us or the Rams," says
Harrison, "what makes you think they're going to support some
team that comes in from another city and isn't as good? They
won't. People here never understood the importance of the 12th
man, that you don't just show up for playoff games," says
Harrison. "When you get 35,000 people in a stadium that holds
70,000, it sounds like 20,000 people murmuring."
In truth, the 1994 Raiders rated more murmurs than shouts. The
Pride and Poise Boys didn't show much of either. They finished
with a 9-7 record and failed to make the playoffs. Meanwhile,
the best action took place off the field. On Oct. 16 then coach
Art Shell and quarterback Jeff Hostetler got into a shouting
match on the sideline at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium, with Shell,
who is black, allegedly hurling a racist epithet at Hostetler,
who is white (a charge both men later denied). Shell briefly
benched Hoss, and the Raiders lost to the Dolphins 20-17. The
spat summed up a season.
"We were in serious disarray," concedes Harrison. "As many
problems as the public saw, there were a lot more that went on
in private." On Feb. 2 Davis fired Shell and replaced him with
offensive line coach Mike White. Along with White, only one
assistant, defensive coordinator John Fox, remained. The next
day, from the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, wide receiver Tim Brown
blasted Davis for his refusal to let his coaches coach, going so
far as to suggest that Davis fire himself. "If Al is directing
the ship, he should accept the responsibility," Brown told the
Rather than punish his outspoken wideout, Davis seems to have
listened and learned. In a May minicamp in El Segundo, White and
new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel installed a high-tech,
un-Davislike offense. They scrapped the antiquated, bomb-reliant
passing attack so beloved by Davis and replaced it with a scheme
based on shorter quarterback drops and timing patterns. Also in
Fassel's valise: a no-huddle offense.
Coming out of minicamp the Raiders were, to borrow from Elihu
Harris, singing in the key of we. "I no longer feel how I felt
in February," Brown said last month. "There's been a great
change already. We look like a real team, with real coaches.
It's amazing how much things have changed in a short time."
"Morale is high," says Harrison, "We believe Mike's going to
Even before Davis's bombshell last week, Harrison had made no
secret of his desire to play in a city like Oakland, where fan
support is unconditional. "Thirteen years, and these people
still love their team," he says. "They're driving down to L.A.
for our home games, screaming, 'Nolan, when are you coming
home?' That's got to be some kind of miracle."
After Friday's lunch rush, two of the waitresses at Ricky's
celebrated the miracle by having their legs painted silver with
OAKLAND and RAIDERS written down them in black letters. Ricardo,
meanwhile, recounted a 1990 conversation with Davis. Having
flown to London for a Raider exhibition game against the New
Orleans Saints, he spotted Davis in a hotel lobby. After
introducing himself and identifying himself as hailing from the
East Bay, he said, "I just wanted to let you know, we're keeping
the torches burning for you."
"Keep 'em burning," said Davis.
Oakland did, and now the marquee at Ricky's reads: THE BOYS ARE