Raiding Raiders: It's America's New Pastime

Let's check in with the Los Angeles (but subject to change without notice) Raiders, to see how America's Team is enjoying its off-season.

First, the L.A. Coliseum Commission, which promised the Raiders it would alter the seating configuration, has changed its collective mind. A new guy is running the commission now, and he says the work can't be done.

"Sure we promised," the commission tells Davis, "but we had our fingers crossed behind our backs."

Then the U.S. Navy, which promised the Raiders the use of Napolean McCallum, has changed its mind. Last season McCallum presided over a ship's galley in the mornings, then played football afternoons and weekends. A new guy is running the Navy now, and he believes a sailor's place is in the kitchen.

Some people get their Pintos recalled, some get their toasters recalled. Al Davis gets his stadium and his running back recalled.

Davis is afraid to answer the phone these days for fear the chancellor of USC will be on the line with news that Marcus Allen is being called back to campus full-time for two years of work on a master's degree.

"It's something Marcus promised his mom," the chancellor will say.

Next, checking the latest news bulletins featuring Raider alumni , we see the following items:

--Dan Pastorini, one-time Raider quarterback, is arrested for allegedly punching out a cop in Houston. Pastorini is not even driving the car when it is stopped for speeding, but he does the punching-out anyway, launching a new career as a DH. A lady is driving the car, and a gentleman never allows a lady to punch out a cop.

--John Matuszak, massive ex-Raider lineman, is involved in an L.A. fender-bender. He punches out the driver of the other car, then splits. Maybe Tooz was just getting into character for his recent "Miami Vice" guest shot, a sensitive portrayal of a killer thug biker.

--Ken Stabler, accused of punching out his wife a while back, comes out with his autobiography. It is a deep, introspective work, the cover of which features a football helmet filled with cans of beer.

I haven't read the book (I'm waiting for the Cliff Notes), but I'm told that beer, airline stewardesses, John Matuszak and hot tubs are mentioned in the same paragraph more than once.

Not that the Raiders are hung up on projecting a strong positive image. Recently Al Davis made a trade with Green Bay to acquire a gifted receiver, James Lofton, who will soon stand trial on a sexual assault charge and faces the possibility of being given a long-term, no-cut contract with the government.

Questioned about the trade, a Raider official said, "We are aware of the legal situation."

That was good to hear, because I sure didn't want to break the news to Al Davis that his new wide receiver might be 10 years late reporting to camp.

But that's minor stuff. Davis' primary challenge these days, aside from building a team around no quarterback, is deciding where his club will play football, and where his fans will sit. Four days ago the Coliseum Commission gave the Raiders nine days to resume construction of 60 luxury suites on the stadium's rim.

"Build or else," said the commission.

"No reconfiguration, no luxury suites," the Raiders replied.

"No luxury suites, we sue," the commission said.

"Take a number," the Raiders said.

People sue Al Davis for everything but the way he combs his hair. On his payroll, he has more lawyers than football players.

I think Davis will call this bluff. It has become a poker game, and in poker games I always bet on the player whose corporate logo is a pirate with a patch over one eye and two swords sticking through his head. That's not acupuncture, baby.

Besides, in similar poker games in past years, the Coliseum Commission has lost the Lakers, Kings, Rams and UCLA Bruins. If the Raiders leave town, too, the commission will have itself a royal flush.

Jack Kent Cooke, faced with a similar situation many years ago, called the commission's clumsy bluff and built his own arena. Cooke once said of the Commission members, "Quite frankly, you are not dealing with highly intelligent people. They are not the sort of folks you would invite into your home."

Or even into Kenny Stabler's hot tub.

Nobody seems to know why the commission is giving the Raiders such a hard time, other than out of respect for tradition. Davis expected to be treated more like a hero who brought a team to our city and filled a large cultural void.

Instead, he has learned to be wary. If the mayor presents him the key to the city, Al checks to make sure the city isn't Chernobyl.

Davis and the Raiders will win this skirmish, if for no other reason, because they happen to be right.

Come Opening Day, the seats that were torn out will be back in place, at Coliseum Commission expense, and Bob Knight will be on hand to throw out the ceremonial first seat.

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