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Raiders Are Going, Going, All but Gone

The Raiders are going to leave Los Angeles. You know it in your skull. You can feel it in your crossbones. Oakland is probably going to get them back. Sacramento has a shot. Irwindale is fading fast. The L.A. Coliseum might as well start talking to the Rams. It’s all over but the routing.

Denials and uncertainty abound, and Al Davis is nothing if not unpredictable. He could fool us all. But every early-warning indicator, as the weather casters say, tells you that something is blowing in the wind. That the Raiders are outta here. That they are going back to Oakland, where--gulp, sorry to say this--they probably belong.

Oakland did nothing to deserve losing its team. Baltimore and St. Louis fans stopped coming to the stadium; they refused to pay good money to subsidize bad teams. Oakland, however, usually had good teams, and sold every seat, regardless. Oakland got blind-sided. It was the toughest home-field loss in National Football League history.

The word out of the Bay Area was that on Monday, face-to-face talks between team, city, Alameda County and Oakland Coliseum officials would commence. Al Davis was not in Oxnard at training camp Monday morning, but neither was he in Oakland, near as we could tell. Of course it’s hard to figure out where the Raiders are, on any given day.

They were going to go to Irwindale, you may remember, but that gravel pit down the block from the Miller brewery still sits empty, two years later, and the proposed stadium site itself has been moved to another location near the 605 freeway. The Irwindale office leased by the Raiders once was staffed by as many as five people; now it’s down to two.

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Is Irwindale out of the picture?

No, says John Herrera, the Raider senior executive who still occupies the office there.

Are Irwindale officials anxious about losing the Raiders?

“If they’re not, they ought to be,” Herrera said Monday, “Time is going by. Other people are clearly interested. It has to be unsettling to them.”

Environmental-impact studies and needed improvements entered into the Irwindale bid. The $10 million forked over to the Raiders, just to place Irwindale into the picture, is non-refundable. Irwindale might not be able to tell its assets from a hole in the ground.

The L.A. Coliseum had every chance to hang onto its NFL team. The Raiders volunteered to spring for the luxury boxes they desired, but only if the Coliseum would sink money into repairs, fix up the washrooms, take care of the basics, make the Raiders feel at home.

To this day, the L.A. stadium commission has not given up the quest to keep its team, but these people would seem to be hundreds of days late and millions of dollars short. They might stand a better chance of appealing to Georgia Frontiere to bring the Rams back where they arguably belong, not that Orange County hasn’t wholeheartedly supported them. But she never did rename them the California Rams, you may have noticed.

Since the Raiders can’t or don’t sell out the Coliseum, ticket revenue and television advertising each is affected. Prices are affected because tickets are not hard to find. Blackouts in America’s second-largest market are commonplace because TV is loath to interfere with games that aren’t SRO. The Raiders might be loved in Los Angeles, but they are not as hungrily desired as they would be elsewhere.

Sacramento supposedly has resumed construction on a football stadium at the Arco Sports Complex, with the Raiders the would-be tenants. Davis might enjoy breaking new ground. The Oakland folks would have far better access by automobile than they have now, and Sacramento fans by themselves undoubtedly would pack the place, same as they do for pro basketball’s Kings.

Anybody else out there want the Raiders? Anybody from out of state?

“Oh, you know, exploratory calls now and then,” Herrera said. “Periphery interest. Nothing serious.”

Good thing. The situation is complicated enough without anybody from Maryland or Missouri or someplace else getting into it.

Raider officials and players remain undecided as to whether they should purchase new homes--and, if so, where. Near Oxnard? Near the other campsite in El Segundo? Near a rumored future campsite in Northridge? In the foothills that surround Irwindale? Upstate somewhere?

Coach Mike Shanahan, putting the usual question of NFL job security aside, reportedly went ahead and bought expensive new South Bay digs. Good confidence builder.

The Raiders can and will move if they must. Davis doesn’t require Pete Rozelle’s permission anymore. The thought of Los Angeles not being represented is not a pleasant one, no matter what the Rams call themselves, but the Raiders are free to come and go as they please, and this franchise comes and goes with the best of them.

Should they leave? That’s their business.

Will they leave? Yes, that’s our guess. We can picture the moving vans, making their way along the coastline. We advise Los Angeles football fans to watch and enjoy the Raiders this season, because they might never pass this way again.


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