There Must Be a Lesson Here

If you will pardon the lack of euphoria in this hour of Los Angeles' triumph, we should like to interject the sobering thought that most problems connected with the football Raiders have developed after they have signed the papers.

They signed papers three years back to remain in Los Angeles, where the stadium would be renovated.

They signed papers to play in Irwindale, where a stadium would be constructed.

And they signed papers to return to Oakland, where the guarantee was made that the stadium would be full. It was guaranteed, in fact, for 15 years.

In all of the foregoing cases, a done deal turned out to be a deal distressingly undone.

So each time the Raiders become involved in a transaction, you are asked to recall the words of a distinguished American who reminded us:

"It ain't over till it's over."

At this moment, the Raiders have agreed to play in Los Angeles at a new Coliseum built from the shell of the old Coliseum.

The tab for this remodeling will be fingered mostly by Spectacor, the management firm now operating the stadium.

Spectacor was enlisted to manage the Coliseum when, over a period of 45 years, the Coliseum made it clear it couldn't manage itself.

So the three amigos--Al Davis, Spectacor and the Coliseum--enter into a deal, a nice, tidy deal, free of complications except for permits that must be delivered, environmental reports that must be favorable and blessings from preservationists who must be satisfied that not a stone is flawed in the precious structure said to embody "the glory that was Rome with the grandeur that was Greece."

The mayor of Los Angeles, a principal in the negotiations, is charged with the responsibility of chilling all beefs.

If he succeeds, and the project goes forward as planned, the Raiders, USC and all those who follow them will have benefited from a spit-and-polish facility long overdue in a village the size of Los Angeles.

It would have luxury suites, that monument to football elitists, who nibble from the buffet while blood is spilling below.

It would have club boxes. Translation: seats in the stands costing more than they should.

And the peasantry would occupy what's left, assuring, as the blueprint is drawn, sellouts for every game of both tenants.

USC is a far bigger player in the deal than many suspect. It is the senior occupant of the stadium. A football giant, it has cursed its lot for years, looking at automatic sellouts at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and the like, all encamped in fine stadiums, while USC romps about in something dated.

Consigned to a similar structure in Pasadena, UCLA would find itself well behind its cross-city neighbor if USC were able to offer luxury suites to its big-time donors and modern, comfortable seating to others.

Picturing the disparity that would develop, Spectacor always envisioned a return to its acreage by UCLA, a spokesman once explaining: "The Bruins couldn't afford to let the Trojans sneak that far ahead of them."

If the deal works at the Coliseum--and you had better believe the obstructionists haven't yet begun to fight--it will be interesting to see if fans who abandoned the Raiders will forgive them and return to the nest.

If one has a political grievance in this town, one takes it to the lawn of the Federal Building.

But football fans express their grievances by staying home, as the Raiders discovered.

Announcing earlier that they were moving to Oakland, they found season-ticket sales in L.A. plunging to 22,000, lowest in the NFL.

Crowds this year were embarrassing for exhibition games, but picked up surprisingly for the home opener with Denver last Sunday, when the Raiders drew 54,000.

Will the old fans, many of whom gave up their season seats, find it in their hearts to forgive?

A good bet would be that if the Raiders recapture their dignity on the field, they will have, in a new stadium, no trouble unloading the 65,000 spaces they figure to have.

Now, you might ask, how do folks feel in the Bay Area, having lost--at least on paper--the Raiders?

Well, you ask the San Francisco 49ers how they feel and they will tell you they never felt better. They want the Raiders in Oakland as they want Joe Montana in Vladivostok.

The Raiders always upstaged the 49ers when the two shared those precincts. Today, it is a tossup whether the 49ers or the Oakland Athletics want the Raiders back the least.

The A's own the community in Oakland, not at all concerned with the plight of old Raider fans eager to see their beloved outlaws return to the local stadium.

Whether that yet happens depends, as pointed out above, on permits, on environmentalists and on preservationists who are next to be heard from in this continuing scenario.

If you are trying to prove the folly of man, review the following:

The Coliseum has the Raiders locked up, lets them escape to Irwindale, where the deal fails. The Raiders then use Sacramento as the wedge to get a deal from Oakland, where that deal fails.

Trying to make a new deal in Los Angeles, the Raiders are rejected. They get a second deal from Oakland, whereupon Los Angeles then comes up with a deal, keeping the team where it wanted to be in the first place.

All this time, energy and expenditure into the toilet--and everyone is back where he started.

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