Just Lose, Baby!

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May 28, 2001
Just Lose, Baby!
By Dave Sabo

Admit it. You want to feel sorry, for Al Davis don’t you? Yeah, I know he’s a complete and utter tool, but this latest episode was just sad. You want to feel sorry for him, but…

I’ll come back to that.

After a six-week (five weeks and six days longer than necessary) trial in which Al Davis and the Raiders tried to shake down the NFL for $1.2 billion (yes, that’s billion; with a “B”), an LA jury deliberated for 22 days (21 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes longer than necessary) before coming back with a verdict of “Are You Freakin’ Kidding Us!?” Unfortunately, Davis wasn’t in court to also be physically thrown out on his silver and black, warm-up-suited ass.

Davis and the Raiders argued that the NFL intentionally torpedoed a deal on a Hollywood Park stadium thus forcing the Raiders to move back to Oakland after the ’95 season. Yes, the same Oakland that Davis and the Raiders sued the NFL to leave in 1982, marking the pinnacle of Al Davis’ efforts to do anything and everything possible to embarrass the League and show everyone that nobody pushed him around.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

In 1982, two years removed from a Super Bowl championship and playing in the decrepit and undersized Oakland-Alameda County Mausoleum, Al Davis packed up the Raiders and moved them to Los Angeles. The NFL, noticing that “Raider Nation” regularly filled the stadium to overflowing, sued to block the move. Courts initially ruled in favor of the NFL, but Davis and the Raiders won on appeal and finalized the move. In 1983, the League was forced to pay the Raiders $35 million in damages from the suit. Al Davis, who had been a thorn in the side of the NFL since his days as AFL commissioner, once again had thumbed his nose at both his fellow owners and the League itself. He truly had it all at this point. And he immediately began throwing it away.

There were problems in Los Angeles from the start. The Raiders played in the equally decrepit and horribly oversized Los Angeles Coliseum. Crowds were relatively sparse and, much like today, requests for public funding of a new stadium were met with outright hostility. Money was found to make minor improvements to the structure, but without a major renovation, the Raiders were stuck in a woefully inadequate facility that dated back to the 20’s.

On the field, things continued to go well well. For awhile. In 1984, the Raiders won a third Super Bowl and still instilled the fear that came along with going up against the dreaded “Silver and Black.”  But, it wouldn’t last. After two first-round playoff exits following their Super Bowl win, Davis and the Raiders would finish no higher than third in the AFC West in eight out of the next 10 years.

During that time, Davis, emboldened by his crushing of the NFL in the courtroom, took every opportunity to take any sort of shot he could at the League and, subsequently, his fellow owners. He took to abstaining from all votes at owners meetings and then releasing to the media the exact results of the voting, a stunt that still infuriates the League to this day. In 1986, he testified on behalf of the USFL in their antitrust suit against the NFL.

By the early ‘90’s, with his team struggling on the field and languishing at the box office, Davis began courting other cities. Looking to strike a sweetheart deal, he was met by indifference and outright derision by city officials from coast to coast. Except in, you guessed it, Oakland. Wanting to avoid the indignity of having to crawl back to the city he left in the lurch, he again tried to work out a deal with officials in LA. The result was a minor $15 million renovation of the Coliseum and a feasibility study on the possibility of building him a new home.

Then, the Northridge earthquake struck in ’94, causing major structural damage to the Coliseum.  At the same time, Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia “The Tart” Frontiere threatened to move to St. Louis. Davis saw an opportunity and used this turn of events to demand a new stadium, lest LA be left NFL-less. Los Angeles officials crossed him up, though. A $93 million Coliseum renovation and repair project squashed any hope of a publicly-financed stadium. Unbelievably, Davis then went to the NFL and his fellow owners and demanded that the League build him a stadium!!!  Even more unbelievably, the league started negotiating!!! Soon a deal was structured to allow a second team (the NFL was looking to try and keep the Rams in town, too) to share the stadium to be built in Hollywood Park. 

So, there was Al Davis, the scourge of the NFL, a little battered from events in LA, but poised to move into a new playpen provided him by the same group of men he’s dedicated his life to battling, both on the field and in the board and courtroom.

And then, in typical rebel fashion, he moved back to Oakland.

While he’d been negotiating with the NFL to stay in LA, he was also negotiating with the City of Oakland. In what’s turned out to be one of the worst financial decisions in the history of the NFL, he chose $63 million in up-front payments and, arguably, the worst renovation project in the history of professional sports over a league-funded state-of-the-art showplace which he could have had all to himself. He totally misjudged Frontiere, who left for St. Louis shortly after he lit out for Oakland.

My guess is that he knew he had made a horrible mistake the first time he set eyes upon the monstrosity that HNTB had constructed beyond the center field fence of the since re-christened Network Associates Coliseum (AKA Network Atrocious Mausoleum). Boasting five levels (two for “luxury” boxes); the new deck that was built has some of the worst seats in football. Fans in the upper deck are issued flashlights to warn off planes arriving and departing from near-by Oakland International.

Realizing that he’d just turned a bad stadium into a horrible stadium, Davis came up with yet another brilliant idea. Personal Seat Licenses! Already faced with a skeptical fan base that he’d turned his back on once before, he ensured that the Raiders would have the NFL’s smallest season tickets base by alienating them further.  es, the wheels were coming off around him. Attendance was in the toilet, his team was mediocre and he had managed to turn himself into a laughingstock. 

It was at this point, when Al Davis was the target of league-wide laughter, that his story turned sad. And by “sad” I mean pathetic and embarrassing.

Reaching back into his past days of glory, Davis figured he’d just sue the league again. Like the retired superstar who can’t see he’s lost it, he took the NFL to court.

And got his ass handed to him.

His argument was utterly ludicrous. He tried to get a court to believe that because the NFL wanted to let a second team play in a stadium that they were going to build, he was forced to move to Oakland (and receive $63 million free and clear along with a high dollar [albeit lousy] stadium renovation). Now, the NFL desperately wants a team in Los Angeles, but they’d slit their own throats before they’d let Davis move back. Knowing this, Davis came up with the theory that he and the Raiders “owned” the LA market.  Thus, leaving the door open for Bill Bidwell and the Cardinals to claim they still “owned” the Chicago market. Riiiiiiiiiiiight. The fact that a court even entertained this argument leads me to believe that the NFL might possibly have actually petitioned the court to hear the case rather than have it thrown out so that when Davis lost, it would be that much more devastating to his credibility.

Well, lose he did, and now Al Davis and the Raiders are stuck in a bad stadium in a small city with a shallow revenue stream. Oh, he won’t lose any money. Nobody really does in the NFL (except for complete morons like Art Modell). But, he won’t be making scratch hand-over-fist the way he could have in a new building as the only game in town back in LA. And while he’ll blame it all on the big, bad NFL, he’s got nobody to blame but himself. He’s persona non-grata, a “lying creep,” and the butt of the worst joke in sports.

And it’s not over yet. He currently has a suit pending against the league for “mismanagement of merchandise sales” which means he’s decided that he doesn’t want to share any of that money from the mid-‘80’s when every gangbanger in America was sportin’ Raider gear (would Public Enemy and NWA get a cut if, by some miracle, a court actually buys his BS and he wins?)  And he filed a counter-suit against both Oakland and Alameda County after they both sued when he tried to break his lease at the Mausoleum.

So, the man who whupped the NFL has been reduced to tilting at windmills and blaming the League (or the city or county) for his current woes. He’s the drunk at the party that’s puked down the front of his shirt, but still thinks he’s got a shot at the hot girl over in the corner. You’ve seen it happen before. And you do feel sorry for him. But you’re kinda disgusted, too.

Dave Sabo currently resides in Laurel, MD,  armpit of the Mid-Atlantic. He is desperately trying to find a job back home in Texas.  And we mean, DESPERATELY. He’s applying for jobs in College Station, for Cripe’s sake! While we’ve found he lacks any “skills,” per say, please contact him if you’ve got any sort of archival position available. Resume upon request. Al Davis Al Davis Return to Houston Pro Football If you have a question, comment or suggestion, contact Dave Catch up on past installments of The Armchair Quarterback