It has been a tortuous marriage, fraught with discord. Indeed, the troubles dogging this star-crossed couple began even before vows were exchanged.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission wanted a football team, and the Oakland Raiders were willing to entertain a proposal. But the dowry--a "loan," later revealed to be a gift, of $6.75 million to the team--seemed steep at the time. While many civic leaders called this a modest price to pay to lure a professional football franchise to town, others were critical.
Ardor, however, won out over pessimism, and the engagement was sealed. On Aug. 29, 1982, the Los Angeles Raiders played their first game at the Coliseum, trouncing the Green Bay Packers, 24-3, in an exhibition game.
The debut should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, it may have been an omen: There were 13,362 no-shows at the game--and no standing ovation. Fullback Kenny King tried feebly to make the best of it: "We were expecting more fans to show up, but maybe they had other things to do."
On Monday, Oakland officials announced that the Raiders plan to leave the Southland and return to their former home on the shores of San Francisco Bay. The decision caps a decade-long battle between the defiant and ornery Raiders owner, Al Davis, and a city that could never do enough to make him feel welcome.
To be sure, there were times of glory. The Raiders made the playoffs in their first two seasons in the Coliseum, and were Super Bowl champions in 1984.
But more often the gritty team's stay in Los Angeles was clouded by acrimony, lawsuits and unrelenting verbal warfare between the intractable Davis and the often procrastinating and changeable Coliseum Commission. The lingering question is why.
Some explanations undoubtedly relate to the team's fan appeal. The Raiders of the 1980s were not faring as well as their predecessors had, and were not as popular in cosmopolitan Los Angeles as they had been in blue-collar Oakland. In their very first year in Los Angeles, the Raiders ranked 22nd out of 28 National Football League teams in attendance.
But at the heart of the conflict, it seems, was Davis' assertion that a promise that drew him to Los Angeles was never kept by those who wooed him. Davis insists that the commission pledged to substantially renovate the aging Coliseum, making it a far better stadium to view football.
While this issue was a thorny one from the start, relations truly turned sour in the spring of 1987, when then-Commission President Alexander Haagen insisted that no such promise had been made. Haagen said the team's Dec. 8, 1984, contract with the Coliseum made no reference to a renovation promise and added that no oral agreement had been struck.
A former commissioner who had been instrumental in reaching the initial deal with Davis, labor leader William Robertson, rebutted Haagen, saying the renovation promises were made. Another former commissioner, former state Sen. William Campbell, and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley also supported Davis' version of events.
Regardless of the dispute, Haagen's commission in 1987 passed a policy statement of intent to undertake renovations that year. But Haagen later said there was neither the time nor the money to do so; still later, he asserted that no bank would finance renovations without a commitment by Davis to extend his Coliseum lease beyond 1991. Davis, Haagen charged, was never willing to make such a commitment.
Such contentions angered Davis who unleashed a torrent of criticism. Once, citing commissioners' failure to keep their word, he even compared them to Adolf Hitler.
Fed up with the commission's procrastinating, Davis began shopping for a new playing site. And soon he found one in suburban Irwindale.
Irwindale, however, proved incapable of finding either the financing or the site for a new stadium. So, gradually, Davis extended his explorations to both Sacramento and Oakland, where officials seemed anxious to make him ever more extravagant offers.
Coliseum authorities responded to Davis' vow to leave by suing the team for at least $57 million for breach of contract and other alleged derelictions. Commission attorney Marshall Grossman said last week that in the wake of an Oakland move, the suit will be pursued with vigor and more counts may be added to the complaint.
In the view of some observers, the Raiders' stay in Los Angeles was cursed from the start. The $6.7-million "loan" offered to draw Davis south sparked a political furor, a furor that grew once it was revealed that Davis was not obligated to repay the funds.
"Did we have to be so generous?" City Councilman John Ferraro asked in 1982, looking back on the controversial financial enticement. "I don't mind someone driving a hard bargain . . . (but) what good is it to drive your partner to the poorhouse?"
Though they made the playoffs during their first two seasons in Los Angeles, the Raiders' success was overshadowed by the 1984 Olympics. Olympic organizers were zealous about preventing any Coliseum reconstruction that could possibly spoil it for their Games. In 1983, Davis postponed luxury box construction at the Coliseum after the Olympic Organizing Committee asked for a $50,000-a-day fine if it were not completed two months before the Games began.
By 1987, the year open conflict erupted between Davis and the commission over what to do to improve the Coliseum, the Raiders' popularity and clout were already fading. Even Mayor Bradley, while ostensibly on Davis' side, refused to commit his influence in a decisive way in the crisis that preceded the Irwindale announcement.
In recent years, mutual bad feelings have been unrelenting. Even in the last few months, when both Davis and the commissioners swallowed their pride and resumed conversations over a possible deal that would have kept the team in Los Angeles, insults continued to be exchanged behind the scenes, and the Raiders continued to be very late in paying their rent.
While anti-Davis forces say the team owner's contentiousness and inflexibility prevented fruitful negotiations, blame has also been laid at the doorstep of the Coliseum Commission. A nine-member body with three members each representing the city, the county and the state, the commission is staffed with separate attorneys from each level of government and has long been extremely slow to act. Appointments of or by different elected officials has led to frequent sharp divisions within the commission.
The Raiders, of course, are not the first team to leave the Coliseum or the adjacent Sports Arena. Over the last quarter-century, the Rams, the Kings, the Lakers and UCLA, as well as several less well-known teams, have all moved, usually blaming the commission for lack of responsiveness to their needs.
Even USC, the complex's oldest tenant, frequently has complained that the commission doesn't care as much as it should about its needs. The commission, for instance, has often thought nothing about notifying USC to play some of its home basketball games outside the Sports Arena when it believed that a more desirable event, such as a circus, was available.
Turnover of commissioners has led to inconsistency of approach. Robertson once said the situation illustrated "why the Al Davises of this world don't like to deal with politicians. When an election comes along, the new officials conveniently forget what the old officials said. They just ignore what's been promised."
There was a new round of criticism of the commission after Davis announced his move to Irwindale, and several officials, led by Bradley, suggested privatizing the Coliseum, leasing it to private managers and letting them run it in a more orderly, and hopefully, profitable way.
After long negotiations, nine months after the Irwindale announcement, the commission did retain private managers, but it stopped short of leasing the facilities to them. The managers believed that their authority had been so diluted that when they began negotiating last year with Davis, they could do little on their own. Frequently, they couldn't even get the commission to meet to give them instructions.
As of last weekend, the failure to conclude a private lease was said by the lead negotiator, Ed Snider, to be keeping him from making a solid offer--complete with a cash guarantee of performance--to Davis. In fact, it had become apparent months before that if the Coliseum was to be improved with private money, it could only be done by private managers holding a long-term ground lease.
Snider, while insisting that he had to get an OK on the lease during the weekend in order to go forward, said he did not want to be critical of the commission. One of his private management colleagues, Irving Azoff, representing MCA Inc., was not so reticent. He called the commission "the nine idiots."
IN SEARCH OF A DEAL
Oakland: Oakland is prepared to give the Raiders $59.9 million in "loans" as a franchise fee and put $53.5 million into expanding the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum to 63,500 seats from its current 50,000. In addition, the Raiders would be guaranteed by the city and county $27.8 million in ticket revenues each year through the 15-year term of the lease, and would receive other revenue guarantees totaling $130 million more. The total value of the Oakland offer has been estimated at $660 million.
Sacramento: The Sacramento offer, which lapsed Feb. 28, included a $50-million franchise fee put up by the city of Sacramento, plus a $120-million stadium to be constructed by private entrepreneurs. Details as to divisions of ticket, box and concession revenues were not revealed.
Los Angeles: The Los Angeles offer was never completed or revealed in great detail. But it included at least $70 million in initial payments and later guarantees of minimum annual payments to the Raiders, plus a $145-million Coliseum renovation, including construction of 200 luxury boxes and up to 15,000 club seats. The main Los Angeles argument was that the Raiders would be able to collect more from the sale of luxury boxes and club seats in Los Angeles than they would in Oakland or elsewhere, so that even if Los Angeles was not offering as much cash at the outset, it would come later.
Irwindale: The Irwindale offer of 1987 called for the city to make a $115-million loan to the Raiders with which they would construct a stadium that they would own and operate. The Raiders would have had to repay only $85 million of the amount, the rest being in the nature of a franchise fee to the team. In addition, Irwindale was responsible for road and site preparation of up to $35 million, making it a $150-million package.