Our Reasons Why The Silver And Black Should Not (And Will Not) Come Back To L.A.
Marcus Allen’s MVP performance led the Los Angeles Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XVIII. It was the pinnacle of the Raiders’ 13 years in Southern California.
As speculation on the NFL’s future in Los Angeles continues to intensify, the discussion inevitably includes reflections on the NFL’s past here, which is filled with many highs and lows. While we at Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams have made it emphatically clear the myriad reasons why the Rams are far and away the team best suited to restoring the league’s fortunes in the Southland, when we have been at regional sporting events promoting our cause there always seems to be at least one dead-ender in Silver and Black who has to spout off (usually in a really nasal squeal) “Rayyyy-ders…”. As we have come to expect, it’s a half-hearted gesture that belies the lukewarm-at-best enthusiasm we see for the Raiders from Southern California citizens we have encountered at our many rallies.
When Al Davis moved the Raiders from Oakland in the summer of 1982, he brought plenty of baggage too. Often, the size of that baggage, in the form of an endless legal battle with the NFL, would overshadow the team’s notable accomplishments in Los Angeles.
In their first season playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Raiders tied for the best record in the NFL, winning eight of nine games during that strike-marred year of 1982, the first of four straight playoff appearances. The next year, led by USC Heisman Trophy-winning running back Marcus Allen, the Raiders rolled to a stunning 38-9 blowout victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, the franchise’s third world championship in eight seasons.
It would be seven years before the Raiders would win again in the postseason, and by then the franchise’s complexion had drastically changed. While seven playoff appearances and a Super Bowl win from 1982 to 1994 are no small accomplishments, those alone do not precipitate a hearty welcome for the Raiders should they look south once again. Here are some of the reasons why the Silver and Black won’t be back in Los Angeles:
Al Davis was still a formidable figure in the 1980s when he forced his team’s move to Los Angeles down the NFL’s throat. But toward the end of his life, the Raiders owner had become the league’s laughingstock (and all apparently without a wardrobe change).
*SILVER, BLACK, BUT NO GOLD – Much has changed since Al Davis held dictatorial reign over the Raiders as head coach and then later as president of the general partnership and the de facto general manager of his team. While the elder Davis was one of pro football’s most influential figures, by the early part of this century, he had ceased to be relevant, and his chaotic micromanaging of the franchise has had repercussions that are still plaguing the Raiders nearly three years after his death in 2011.
Al Davis was also a throwback in the fact that the Raiders were his life and his fortune. Unlike most every other owner in the NFL today, his widow Carol and his son Mark do not have any other significant business interests other than the Raiders franchise. Consider the fact that Forbes most recently ranked the Raiders 28th out of 32 teams in franchise value ($970 million in 2014). Of that, the Davis Family only owns 50 percent of the team, while also controlling the voting interest of another 20 percent.
Simply put, Mark Davis is not in a position to partner with any of the prospective stadium builders in Los Angeles such as Ed Roski with Grand Crossing in City of Industry or Philip Anschutz and Farmers Field in downtown Los Angeles. At most, he could sell off no more than 20 percent of his family’s interest before they would lose control in the Raiders. Any potential stadium partner would require a larger percentage to make it worth their while.
Al Davis was in a rare good mood as he spoke with L.A. media about planned renovations to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that ultimately never came to pass, no thanks to his erstwhile partners with the infamous Coliseum Commission.
*STADIUM, WHAT STADIUM? – Throughout their 13 years in Los Angeles, the Raiders were never able to find an acceptable long-term solution to their stadium issues, though not all of their problems were self-inflicted. The infamous Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, whose obstinacy forced the Rams to move out of L.A. and to Anaheim in the first place, made many promises to lure Davis and the Raiders south, yet continually failed to deliver. Al Davis then looked elsewhere, and found a willing partner in the San Gabriel Valley community of Irwindale, which agreed to a stadium deal in 1987 that included a $10 million signing bonus. But the project ran into several legal and environmental roadblocks and ultimately fell apart, with Davis keeping the $10 million for himself.
Eight years later and with the Coliseum situation still not improving, Oakland was aggressively courting the Raiders to return. With the Rams already heading out of town, the NFL turned its efforts to keep the Raiders in Southern California, and the focus quickly turned to Hollywood Park in Inglewood. But a brokered deal that brought the league together with Davis and racetrack CEO R.D. Hubbard fell apart at the 11th hour, and the Raiders returned to their home in time for the 1995 season.
In short, the Raiders never found success in resolving their stadium issues when they were here from 1982 to 1994, and the never-ending shenanigans would make any potential partners or investors very leery of buying in to it. They’ve seen how Los Angeles, Irwindale, and Inglewood all got burned in the process of dealing with the Raiders.
With the Raiders’ financial situation as explained previously, they are in no position to initiate a project of that magnitude from scratch at Hollywood Park, which has recently closed in preparation for a major redevelopment. Oh, and the proposed Hollywood Park stadium site once considered by the Raiders? It’s now the personal property of one Enos Stanley Kroenke.
As hip hop rose to prominence in American pop culture during the 80s and 90s (led by the supergroup N.W.A.), the Los Angeles Raiders never benefited positively from their association with gangsta rap.
*ANYBODY BUT THE RAIDERS… – Mention the Raiders to Angelenos, and the reactions are usually ones of rapidly shaking heads, sour grimaces, and eye rolling. “Not the Raiders!” “Anyone but the Raiders!” Speaking to LAPD cops recently at USC’s spring game, a veteran of the force said emphatically, “I’ll retire before I ever patrol another Raider game!”
Instead of the outlaw brand that they had inherited from their days in Oakland, by the late 1980’s, the classic Silver and Black was now the preferred apparel worn prominently by gang members in Southern California. Raider games at the Coliseum were often the site of brawls within the crowd. This infamously carried over to Anaheim Stadium in a 1994 game when the Rams and Raiders faced off in their final ‘Battle of Los Angeles.’
It is certainly possible that such activity was in reality less than generally believed, but perception is everything, and at that point the Los Angeles Raiders were, and still are, negatively associated with a criminal element. Whether that is an outrageous racial or ethnic stereotype is beside the point: it is that association that literally colors any discussion of whether the Raiders would ever make a return to Southern California. Despite Mark Davis’ claims that the Raiders would be well supported were they to return, the response would be lukewarm at best, and dangerous at worst.
Though the results haven’t been so good on the field, Oakland still remains a memorable venue, with the creative costumes becoming a longtime Raider tradition.
*YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN – Since 1995, the Silver & Black has found a welcome home at the Oakland Coliseum, with the Black Hole and the many creative costumes worn by die-hard Raider fans a trademark that is as iconic as the team itself. While attendance has dropped to the lowest average figure in the league, that fact is directly attributable to the lackluster product on the field and a facility that is long past its prime.
True, there are die-hards from Los Angeles, but many from that small but dedicated cadre of supporters regularly makes the weekend road trip or a coastal flight for games. L.A. greats like Marcus Allen and Tim Brown are regularly welcomed by fans in Oakland.
The city is facing a difficult dilemma regarding each of its major professional sports franchises. The NBA’s Golden State Warriors are already preparing to move across the bay to a new arena after their lease expires at Oracle Arena, and the Athletics have for years been trying to leave Oakland for San Jose, but have been blocked by the San Francisco Giants and Major League Baseball.
Only the Raiders have made significant efforts to stay, which have included a lease extension to allow development negotiations on a project called Coliseum City that would make a new Raiders stadium a centerpiece of an extensive redevelopment plan. However, the outcome remains uncertain as the A’s lease situation complicates the status of the O.co Coliseum (which Davis and the Raiders want to build a new facility on).
But Raider fans in Oakland have reciprocated the franchise’s efforts and have mobilized a grassroots campaign to keep the team in Oakland. Led by some of the more prominent fans, they have fought against a potential lease agreement with the Athletics that would put the Raiders at a severe disadvantage. On Draft Day, those fans held a rally in front of Raiders headquarters and presented a petition that was accepted in person by Mark Davis himself, who has repeatedly expressed his desire to remain in Oakland. Said Davis in an interview with CSNBayArea.com, “Until we can find out if Oakland is real, then I’m still staying in Oakland. If we can get something done in Oakland, I will stay in Oakland.”
Oakland fans love their Raiders, and the feeling is mutual (as demonstrated when Mark Davis came out personally at a draft day rally in May).
*LIKE FATHER, NOT LIKE SON – Al Davis never missed an opportunity to stick his thumb in the eye of the NFL when it suited him, beginning from his brief tenure as the last commissioner of the AFL in which his bold declaration of open warfare forced the inevitable merger (which was conducted behind his back and without his consent). Davis’ fellow owners were unilaterally opposed to him moving to Los Angeles, but Davis won the right to move after a bitter court battle. And by the time he left the Hollywood Park deal on the table and returned the Raiders to Oakland, the NFL simply rubberstamped the move and didn’t even bother trying to collect a relocation fee.
In contrast, Mark Davis has no such clout or reputation among NFL owners. Without the ability to intimidate other owners to get his way, and without allies who would oblige him, the younger Davis doesn’t have the resources that a protracted fight with the league would require. The NFL has made it pretty clear that they would prefer to keep the Raiders in the Bay Area, to the point that they have openly suggested that Oakland team up with the San Francisco 49ers in the new Levi’s Stadium that has opened in Santa Clara in time for this season.
In any case, Davis doesn’t have the freedom to take drastic measures, as his father was often wont to do. Whichever stadium situation Mark Davis finds his team in, he will need league assistance to do it. And the NFL has shown no disposition to do the Raiders organization any favors when it comes to a potential move.
Even adding to the speculation the most recent developments that have the Oakland A’s baseball club signing off on a 10-year lease agreement to stay in Oakland (albeit with several caveats) and the Raiders exploring a potential move to San Antonio (with Sacramento, Concord, and Portland, Oregon also listed as potential suitors), there is not likely to be much sympathy for the Davis family’s plight. On principle, the Raiders have abstained from any vote on franchise moves, whether it pertains to their own interests or not. Should Mark Davis want to move his Raiders, it’s questionable that he would find any support from any quarter in the league as it stands today.
Since taking over for his father, Mark Davis has struggled to put his own stamp on the Raider organization.
Of course, the Super Bowl XVIII victory and the highlight moments provided by memorable players like Marcus Allen, Howie Long, Tim Brown and Bo Jackson are part of Southern California’s sports legacy, and it’s fair to acknowledge them as such. But while it’s undeniable that the Raiders made their mark (some would say stain) on the L.A. sports scene, the experience is not one it appears any party is at all eager to repeat.
The Raiders had their share of success, but were never fully embraced during their 13 years in Los Angeles. Much of that had to do with Al Davis, who disdained the local promotional work that is crucial to the success of major professional sports franchises in Southern California.
As the late, great Raider tight end Todd Christenson said, “Los Angeles isn’t a great sports town; it’s a great entertainment town,” while noting the most successful sports teams during that period, the Dodgers and the Lakers, were very aggressive in promoting themselves throughout the Southern California region in a way that the Raiders (as well as the Rams in their later years) did not.
From the O’Malley family and now the Guggenheim partners with the Dodgers, and Jack Kent Cooke and later Dr. Jerry Buss with the Lakers, when an owner is perceived to be building towards success, fans will be there to follow. Those characteristics were emulated by Los Angeles Rams owners Dan Reeves and Carroll Rosenbloom, and fans rewarded them with constant support.
Barring the extremely unlikely event that the Davis family would simply cash out and sell their interest in the Raiders franchise, the prospects for a second move south are not promising for the Silver & Black. Now that the Athletics have made their commitment to Oakland for the next 10 years, it’s time for that city to finalize plans to keep the Raiders where they belong, which is not in L.A.
While Oakland undeniably has issues with regard to fan support, that is inexorably tied to the deteriorating stadium situation as well as the overall decline of the Raiders on the field. Still and all, the Raiders’ identity is Oakland, and no matter where the Raiders end up playing (be it Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, or Santa Clara), that association will remain forever.
There was no more vivid demonstration of Oakland’s devotion to the Raiders than in the 1989 preseason, when the Houston Oilers agreed to give up one of their home games and ‘hosted’ the Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. The game sold out in less than three hours, and the festive and enthusiastic crowd of 55,000-plus welcomed the Raiders back on a warm August night in which the “Autumn Wind” was in full force. A halftime ceremony feted the then six-living Raider Hall of Famers, and the festive atmosphere rendered the final result (a 23-21 Oilers win) even less relevant than the fourth preseason game that it actually was.
Perhaps the best case was made from one of the best Raider players that the Los Angeles years produced. Born and raised in L.A. (where he prepped at Dominguez High School in Compton), Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Townsend saw no comparison between the fan support for the Raiders in Oakland versus that he which he was accustomed to down south: “L.A. fans couldn’t hold a candle to Oakland’s fans. They’ve been in this game since they bought the tickets. That’s why it’s so hard to lose,” said Townsend, who played for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1983 through 1993.
Is this what the NFL has in mind when it talks about returning the league to Los Angeles?
And there was no more vivid demonstration of why the Raiders are not the team to make the NFL’s return to Los Angeles a successful one. Earlier this month, Oakland traveled down to Oxnard for two days of scrimmaging with the Dallas Cowboys. The first day didn’t pass without a brawl between players that escalated when a Raiders fan took a swing with a helmet at a Cowboys player during the melee while Silver and Black backers enthusiastically cheered from behind a chain link fence. In addition, dozens of police officers were deployed on site, and it would be a regular occurrence if the Raiders were once again a permanent presence in Southern California.
There has been much talk about the NFL wanting two teams in Los Angeles, and while the area certainly has the population base to support multiple teams, as it does with the NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB, the continuous suggestion of a second NFL team in the market allows L.A. to still be used as leverage in the Stadium Game. L.A. will remain a possibility for the Raiders until a deal is made to keep them in Oakland. For the owner who actually moves his team to L.A. first, having a second pro football team will not be a deal breaker or a requirement, especially if you are an owner who already owns a significant parcel of land on which to build a stadium, and have the means to afford and construct that stadium by yourself. If you were that owner, why would you want to share the nation’s No. 2 media market with another franchise that would only provide unwelcome and unnecessary competition?
Yes, although the Oakland Raiders are a national brand, and would have some support wherever they go, the fact is that in spite of the measure of success they had in Los Angeles, the Raiders were always strangers here. It would be even stranger to see them try to return, as if they could expect a different result.