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The Love Affair Is Over

This is not a subtle town. Its people drink Corona beer from the bottle and eat chili dogs. They celebrate important events by dining at Chinese restaurants in which food is ordered by the number. Sometimes they order No. 4 with the chicken chow mein, sometimes No. 11 with egg foo young. But they never order bird’s nest soup and they never use chopsticks.

I mention that by way of explaining the current bewilderment at the turn of events that may bring the Raiders back to Oakland. The people love the Raiders. That is, they loved the Raiders. Past tense. They want the Raiders back. That is, they want the Raiders back but they do not want to buy them back for $660 million, which is what the city leaders are willing to spend.

And they do not want Al Davis back, no matter what. If there were a way they could get the Raiders without Davis and without having to mortgage their souls, they’d think about it. Carefully.

I am an Oakland boy, born and raised here. I flew up the other day to ask how the people felt about the team returning to the town it left in tears eight years ago to come to Glitz City. One of them replied by asking, “Who wants a second visit from a rapist?”

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Another held up a drawing by Lou Grant, a former editorial cartoonist for the Oakland Tribune. It shows a monster emerging from the slime and muck of the bay, heading toward Oakland. The caption says, “Creature from the silver and black lagoon.” The monster is Al Davis.

Guys like the Electric Shoeshine Man feel betrayed. When the Raiders left in 1982, he said Oakland would cease to exist. He meant it. “Adios, Oakland,” was the way he put it. He would have given his manhood to keep them. But now?

“How can we spend that kind of money for a football team when we can’t even feed the people?” he said, putting a gloss on a pair of brown loafers in his shop on Webster Street. His real name is Clarence Blair. They call him the Electric Shoeshine Man because he sometimes uses a plug-in buffer.

“They wanna charge $30 a ticket for the worst seats in the house so they can pay Davis all that money. Who can afford that? Hardly anybody. This is a poor town. The stadium’s gonna be empty, and that’s a sad thing.”

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Not far away, in a saloon called Mr. B’s, Don Bankston, the Mr. B in the name, was skeptical.

“They left us once,” he was saying, “and they could leave us again. How can you trust Al Davis?”

He was seated under strings of blinking red and green lights that trailed across the ceiling. On the wall behind the bar was a T-shirt you could buy for $12. It said, “The Silver and Black are Back.”

This used to be the Cactus Room. It was Oakland’s No. 1 Raiders bar, decorated with team memorabilia. The players themselves drank here in the old days. When they left for L.A., owner Al Puncsak almost cried. “They’re taking our children,” he said. Two years later, he sold the bar. No one knows where he is.

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“Al Davis may be one hell of a businessman,” Mr. B said under the blinking lights, “but he’s got a lesson coming. You can’t buy loyalty.” He shrugged. “It was a love affair and now it’s over.”

Ex-wrestler Sammy Stein was chairman of the Moose Club committee that welcomed the Raiders into existence in 1960. He was a Raiders fan san pareil. He loved Big Ben Davidson like a son. Kenny Stabler too and the old man, George Blanda.

Now he feels that pouring out taxpayer’s money to bring the Raiders back is like trying to raise the Titanic.

“It isn’t even the same team,” he said, looking out a window of his home in the Dimond District. “Only the guys who smoke dollar cigars want them back. I won’t go see them anymore. You can’t fool the sports fans of Oakland.”

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I heard it downtown and I heard it in the neighborhoods. I heard it at a sports bar called the King’s X and I heard it at the airport. The Raiders aren’t worth $660 million. Not these Raiders. The people will get stuck with the bill. The people ought to be able to vote on it. The people are getting screwed.

Even my sister Emily is p.o.'d. She is a calm and gentle woman, almost serene. She doesn’t curse, drink gin or smoke cigars. There’s one in every family.

The only time I ever heard her swear was when Lamonica hit Biletnikoff with a 40-yard touchdown pass in the last six seconds of a game. Later, she said her rosary beads and asked forgiveness for the unseemly display.

But now she’s saying, “To hell with the Raiders. The schools need the money. Oakland kids are growing up stupid. Last year we got stuck with a $90 city tax. What will it be to pay for a damned football team?”

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Sister Emily sure has changed.


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