Somewhere in that Black Hole in the sky, Al Davis is cursing and trying to call his lawyer. He surely is outraged that the Raiders, once his lifeblood and creation, are getting no financial help or direction from city and county fathers in the East Bay, where an eroding O.co Coliseum has forced his son, Mark, to target familiar turf in Los Angeles as a home base.
Al also must be disgusted that the NFL's most influential owner, Robert Kraft, stood down and ate the whopping penalties accompanying the league's opinion that the New England Patriots — winners of four Super Bowls this century — are cheaters and liars. Rather than challenge the commissioner in court, Kraft first excoriated Roger Goodell's decision in a Sports Illustrated interview, then flip-flopped and swore off any appeal attempt for the good of the 32-team membership. Which is a cowardly way of hoping the Patriots' image problem disappears by running away from it, not possible when the tarnish is permanent in sports infamy.
The old man wouldn't have tolerated either situation, particularly when both dramas were going down just across the Bay Bridge at the Ritz-Carlton. Davis would have used these owners' meetings as a center stage to announce he was fighting the commissioner and suing the City of Oakland and Alameda County, or vice versa. Instead, Mark Davis used the occasion to feebly appear at a please-don't-leave rally by Raiders fans outside the hotel.
“Stay in Oak-land. Stay in Oak-land,” they chanted.
“Let the people at the city and county know what you want done,” Davis told them. “You've got a willing partner here. But you've got to do it quick, man, that's all I've got to say.”
“Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Mark,” they chanted.
“Hey, listen, you guys are the best,” Davis said. “I'm trying all I can do to keep this team in Oakland, OK? I don't know what to do, I really don't know. We're trying. I'm not trying to divide any fan base. Every time I talk to anybody, I'm trying to stay in Oakland. That's my No. 1 choice, but we can't do this forever. I really appreciate you all, I really do.”
Not exactly “Just win, baby.”
Unless a miracle happens June 21, when city and county officials claim they'll present Davis with a so-far-dubious financing plan, the Raiders are good as gone. And really, they should return to southern California, as anyone who cares about this once-legendary, now-woeful franchise would mercifully conclude. Mark Davis is said to be the least moneyed of the NFL's sacred group of owners, comprised largely of billionaires. Even with his $300-million investment and a $200-million league loan, he'll need another half-billion dollars and a land pledge that hasn't surfaced for months and years in Oakland. So why would it surface now, all of a sudden? The stall only is delaying the inevitable:
Ladies and gentlemen, gang-bangers and bikers, Darth Vaders and state prison parolees, welcome back your L.A. Raiders — complete with a flame honoring Al Davis inside a cauldron at a proposed $1.7 billion stadium that seems way too glamorous for this operation.
They would share the stadium with the Chargers, unless the city of San Diego fast-tracks plans for a new stadium, whereupon the Raiders might wind up in an Inglewood stadium proposed by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke. At least there are hints of plans by local governments in St. Louis and San Diego to keep their teams. Oakland has no plan, making the Raiders the most probable of the three teams to leave. If you don't believe me, hear out the NFL chief in charge of the Los Angeles relocation project.
“I have been to Oakland many times over the last four or five years. Each time I've gone there, I've heard that the promise is right around the corner of a master development of that parcel that will include substantial proceeds from a developer, a third party, fourth party or multiple party developers,” executive vice president Eric Grubman said. “I've heard that, and it hasn't been produced. We now have lost all that time, the time has shrunk. No results have been produced. That, to me, is going backward, because the time has shrunk but the probability hasn't gone up.”
All Davis wants is what other NFL owners receive in the most prospering league in American sports history: contemporary digs in which new revenue streams, including personal seat licenses and decks of gaudy suites, can be reaped. As long as the Raiders are in the Coliseum, they'll be an NFL bottom-feeder, no matter what kind of connection Derek Carr — assuming his injured ring finger isn't a lingering issue — makes with gifted rookie receiver Amari Cooper. A stadium defines a franchise, and if all doors are shut in Oakland, Davis is urged to find a better life in southern California. His father once did so and won his third Super Bowl there. Know this: Never again will the Raiders win a championship, or come close, while playing in the mausoleum.
He isn't going to sell the team. “I'm going to remain controlling owner,” Davis said. “The Raiders, they were my father's life. It means a lot to me to perpetuate his legacy and bring this organization back to greatness.”
Nor will he share Levi's Stadium with the 49ers, who built the place, branded it in team colors and would control most revenue streams, making Davis nothing more than an Airbnb renter who would drape silver and black banners every home game over Jed York's red and metallic golf. “It's just as far for me to get to Santa Clara as it would be for me to fly to L.A.,” Davis said. “So if we're going to move the team, let's get something that's going to be for the Raiders.”
In his wildest pipedreams, Davis wants a two-stadium complex for his team and the A's. “Selfishly, we'd like to have that land all to ourselves, but we'd like the A's to stay, we'd like the Raiders to stay,” Davis said. “We'd like to build a baseball and a football stadium, maintain the parking that we have so we have a game-day experience with tailgating and everything else. But I don't want to build a football stadium in the corner of a parking lot, leave the current Coliseum standing, build a beautiful new stadium and then be in a construction zone for the next three or four years while they tear down the Coliseum where it stands and build a new baseball stadium.”
Within that statement, Davis sounds like a man who has found reason to slip down an escape hatch and never return. His best option is a 50-50 split in Carson, and with the NFL now saying it might expedite the application process and approve a franchise move to L.A. by year's end, yes, I can envision the Raiders playing in the Rose Bowl or their old home — the L.A. Memorial Coliseum — as early as the 2016 season. “We're significantly farther than we have been on any relocation in the recent past,” Goodell said.
If Davis really wanted to keep the team in Oakland, he'd sell the Raiders to a bigger-bucks group that would pony up more financing. Because of his inability or unwilligness to put up more of his own money, he's sabotaging his own wishes. NFL stadiums manage to get built in most markets thanks to the league's power and popularity. It's not happening in Oakland, where the city is strapped and facing too many other issues to keep the Raiders and A's. By vowing to remain the controlling owner, Davis won't be getting many calls from people wanting to invest millions without receiving any clout. He would have heard from them by now.
Where oh where is John Madden, for instance, with his video game riches?
“One thing for certain is there's going to be an NFL team in Los Angeles in the next couple of years,” Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said. “That's exciting. The question isn't if, but how many, I guess.”
Despite relentless scandals that engulf the league in a perpetual swirling crisis, Goodell left San Francisco with his power reaffirmed. He looked weak and hapless in his handling of the Ray Rice case, but he proved he could rebuke a close friend and ardent supporter with his pounding of Kraft and the Patriots. Conspiracy theorists say Kraft will benefit in the future — with a reduction or reversal of Tom Brady's four-game suspension — as a direct result of dropping his appeal threat. I say this is on the up-and-up, with Kraft adopting one of life's great fallbacks when encountering trouble: Out of sight, out of mind, as Brady catches all the heat from this point on with his continued appeal through the NFL Players' Association. Plus, Kraft was nudged to reverse paths and turtle by his fellow owners.
After all, isn't Brady guilty? And isn't tampering with footballs against the rules that protect the sport's competitive integrity, especially when the footballs were doctored via sneaky, deceitful tactics involving low-level lackeys? If the Patriots weren't guilty, why did Kraft suspend the guy who called himself the “deflator'' and the guy who provided the needle and texted Brady?
“I know a lot of Patriot fans are going to be disappointed in the decision,” Kraft said. “But I hope they trust my judgment and know that I really feel, at this point in time, that taking this off the agenda is the best thing for the New England Patriots, our fans and the NFL. I hope you all can respect that.”
Certainly, Goodell loved it. It saves him a massive headache in a job that has become the most scrutinized and thankless in sports. “The decision that Robert made was his decision,” he said. “This was his initiative and something he wanted to do. I certainly admire the step he took.”
Regardless of public howling and screams for his hide, Goodell does what he wants and gets what he wants. If he wants the Raiders in L.A., it will happen. In the meantime, if you're a silver-and-black nostalgist, you might want to buy tickets for Christmas Eve night against, yep, the Chargers.
Looks like the Raiders' last home date in Oakland. What will be the more memorable image that day: smeared facepaint from all the tears in the Black Hole, or Al Davis' attempt to litigate from his grave?