Once upon a time, there was a happy place called Oakland.
Just how many oaks this particular land had, we cannot with certainty say. What Oakland did have, according to 1980's official census, was 339,337 living residents, and what Oaklanders also had was a lifetime--they thought--membership card in the National Football League, a fact that was pleasing, according to 1980's unofficial census, to all but approximately 337 of these people.
The Raiders were theirs, skull and bones, body and soul. Time of possession: 21 years.
Then, one day, poof.
Gone for good. Gone south for the winter, like birds. Gone off to Los Angeles, a city, if one could call it that, likened by more than a few northerly natives of this great and golden state as everything you ever wanted in Gomorrah, and less.
Separation begat divorce, and there was little in the way of community property. Southern California got full custody of the football players, including holidays and weekends. All Oakland got was the house.
That, and a few memories. Scrapbook clippings with yellowing photographs of Lamonica, Blanda, Biletnikoff, Banaszak, Branch, Brown, Otto, Upshaw, Villapiano, Van Eeghen. Kodachrome slides of Madden's white belt and shoes, Davidson's handlebar, Guy's hangtime. Recollections of Dalby's durability, Stabler's stability, Shell's skill, Sistrunk's skull. Misty, water-color memories of the way things were.
Flashback, 1960: Oakland gets Minnesota's American Football League franchise, appoints Eddie Erdelatz coach. 1963: Oakland makes Al Davis head coach, beats Houston in last game of season, 52-49. 1966: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum goes up.
Football becomes part of Oakland's lifeblood.
And when somebody takes it away, when Al leaves Alameda, about all you can do is feel sorry for the loved ones left behind. Oakland transforms into an unhappy kingdom. Oakland is a football town that deserves a football team.
On the other hand, we can't help wondering if anybody in Oakland regretted having taken Minneapolis' original football team, or having taken Kansas City's baseball team, or if anybody there felt sorry for Los Angelenos when one day they awoke to discover that the nearest NFL game was a bumper-to-bumper drive from the Coliseum to another county, Orange.
So, you tell the NFL, give Oakland another football team.
Just don't give it ours.
You call the Raiders "ours" not necessarily because you deserve them, or because they deserve you. You call them "ours" because once something is yours, you don't want it to become anybody else's. Just because Oakland people feel this way does not mean that others can't.
In the case of the Raiders, what some of us did was indulge in black humor. We laughed at the idea of their leaving. We emphasized how easy it would be to proceed without them. We counted vacant seats on Sunday afternoon and underscored the final scores of a losing team that once actively billed itself as "professional sports' winningest organization."
They said they had a commitment to excellence. You said they had a commitment to avarice.
They said they were going to the gravel of Irwindale. You said this was the perfect place for a team that was clearly the pits.
They said instead it would be Sacramento or Oakland. You said: "Here's your helmet. What's your hurry?"
Everybody made it out to be a big personal thing. That Davis "owed" Oakland. That he could get a "fresh start" in Sacramento. That he had bulldozed Irwindale, then rubbed its face in the dirt. That he had been "betrayed" in Los Angeles by the people who had promised to remodel their stadium.
But it wasn't personal. It was business. It was Al Davis' business, the same way it was Bill Bidwill's business and Bob Irsay's business when they staked out new NFL territories, the same way it was the Rams' business whether they wanted to play in L.A. or Anaheim or Azusa or Cucamonga.
Over and over, we said it. This is business, not personal.
So now, now it appears that the Coliseum is not having a "Going Out of Business" sale. That the Raiders of Los Angeles are going nowhere, except maybe to the playoffs. That the Coliseum will be tailored more for football and less for spectacle. That the players won't have to become commuter husbands and fathers. That the fans here don't have to feel reduced or abandoned.
And in Oakland?
In Oakland, there is nothing left for football fans to do but wonder why they can't get back in the game. Their cars, RVs and Harleys are gassed and the barbecue grills are charcoaled. Their shoes are anything but L.A. Gear, their shirts are black and clean if not pressed, and everybody is dressed, with no place to go.
The score remains: Southern California 3 football teams, Northern California 1.
Did Oakland get a raw deal?
Does that mean we wanted the Raiders to go?