Davis Puts the NFL at a Distance : Raiders’ Owner Gives Testimony for USFL in Trial
Saying that he wanted to distance himself from the illegal business practices of his colleagues, a National Football League owner Tuesday testified against the NFL. Anyone who needs more than one guess to identify the owner should be sentenced to an hour of cross-examination by the United States Football League’s feisty attorney, Harvey Myerson.
No stranger to the courtroom, the Raiders’ managing general partner, Al Davis, was a willing, and able witness for the USFL in its $1.5-billion antitrust suit against the NFL.
Obviously pleased with his league’s day in U.S. District Court, USFL Commissioner Harry Usher said he felt Davis may have been the league’s most effective witness to date in the jury trial, which is in its seventh week.
“I think the cumulative effect of all of our witnesses has been convincing, but the impressive thing about Al’s testimony is that he comes from inside the NFL,” Usher said.
Attempting to prove that the NFL has a monopoly, particularly in regard to the three major television networks, that makes it impossible for another league to compete, the USFL is expected to conclude its case today with a flair, testimony from former ABC commentator Howard Cosell.
Afterward, the NFL will begin presenting its case, which could take as long as a month. Generally optimistic, NFL owners who were in the courtroom Tuesday seemed relieved, saying they expected Davis’ testimony to be more explosive.
“I don’t think he hurt us much,” said Tex Schramm, president and part-owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
In an interview after the court adjourned, Davis said the NFL should consider itself fortunate.
“You should hear all the things I left out,” he said.
The jury may yet have that opportunity. The NFL’s attorney, former MGM-UA chairman and chief executive officer Frank Rothman, said he plans to recall Davis, perhaps as early as today but probably later.
Of the NFL’s 28 teams, the Raiders are the only one not listed as a defendant by the USFL. Even though he said he has no allegiance to the USFL, Davis said neither does he want to align with the NFL in this case.
“If they (other NFL owners) violated the antitrust law, I don’t want to be a party to it,” said Davis, who won an antitrust suit against the NFL that enabled the Raiders to move from Oakland to Los Angeles.
As for whether there has been a a violation of antitrust laws, Davis said he believes the NFL acted illegally in an effort to drive the Oakland Invaders out of business, which is where that USFL team went after the 1985 season.
“They (other NFL owners) were wrong, the whole league,” Davis said. “What they did was tremendously illegal. That is in regard to the Invaders. I don’t know about the other stuff.”
Asked what he had to gain by testifying on the USFL’s behalf, Davis said, “If they (other NFL owners) get stuck, I don’t want anybody to be able to say to me that I didn’t stand up.”
If the USFL wins full damages, each NFL team, other than the Raiders, would be liable for $55 million.
Davis, who arrived with his attorney, Joseph Alioto, and his close friend, Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder, made his stand before a courtroom Tuesday that was packed with casual observers, reporters and officials from both leagues, although NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was conspicuous by his absence.
Appearing calm and collected, addressing the jury directly on several occasions, Davis testified that he has warned NFL owners attorneys since February of 1985 that the league was violating the law.
Specifically, Davis recalled his response to a question during a pre-deposition meeting in Los Angeles last November from two NFL attorneys, Robert Fiske and Paul Tagliabue, about the NFL and the Invaders.
Davis said: “My encompassing statement was that they (NFL owners) were in illegal collaborations with the City of Oakland and the Oakland Coliseum at the very beginning of 1980 to destroy the Raiders (who were planning to move to Los Angeles) . . . and because the Invaders in Oakland became a viable alternative to the Raiders in Oakland, they destroyed the Invaders, and that I wouldn’t go along with it.
“I thought it was wrong, and I recited many incidents to them as to why I thought it was wrong . . . and that they just ought to do something about it because we are headed down a very dangerous path. We are headed into this courtroom, and it had to be taken care of before we got here.”
Davis said Oakland city and Coliseum officials inhibited the success of the Invaders, one of the USFL’s 12 original teams when the league began play in the spring of 1983. Davis charged that, in return, NFL officials said they would consider granting Oakland an expansion franchise to replace the Raiders, who moved to Los Angeles in 1982.
Davis referred to that alleged ploy as “the dangle.”
He also said Rozelle may have given the Invaders’ principle owner, Robert Taubman, reason to believe he could have an NFL team, presumably in Oakland, if the Invaders failed.
Davis recalled a conversation that Rozelle said he had with Taubman, in which Rozelle said Taubman is the kind of owner the NFL would like to have.
“I didn’t think it was proper,” Davis said. “I would think that it was some kind of enticement to let someone know that if things don’t work out for him in the other league, that we are standing ready with a franchise.
“What surprises me is that the commissioner has that right to make these statements to other owners, that we would like him in our league, when actually we had never discussed the man per se. . . . We didn’t know anything about him. At least, I didn’t.”
In earlier testimony Tuesday, the NFL’s in-house legal counsel, Jay Moyer, said the discussion between Rozelle and Taubman occurred at a party and that the commissioner was making polite conversation, not tendering a formal franchise offer.
Moyer said he previously read Davis’ charges in a newspaper article.
When he asked Rozelle about the charges, Moyer said the commissioner replied that they were “nonsense.”
Pressing Moyer to elaborate, Myerson, to whom all the courtroom is a stage, asked, “All he said was, ‘it was nonsense, it was nonsense, it was nonsense, it was nonsense, it was nonsense?’ ”
“That was not the context,” Moyer said, “but that was the substance.”
Asked by Myerson if he investigated further, Moyer said: “There were no facts. It was an opinion, a charge. I didn’t ask (Rozelle) if he dangled a franchise. I know him well enough to know he wouldn’t do that.”
Sitting by himself, on the front row of the gallery, Davis smiled.