COMMENTARY : Dry Your Tears, Northern California--Al Davis Said 'If' : Raiders: Fans waste no time in destroying Silver and Black mementos. But the reaction may be premature.


Reports already filtering in tell us that Raiders fans in Northern California have taken Tuesday's twist of fate in the typically understated style characteristic of the Silver and Black. They're burning their T-shirts, shredding their pennants and going at their pirate tattoos with 50-grit sandpaper. Better a scar than a grinning reminder that you-know-who has betrayed them again. There's talk some may even bathe.

Listen, except that nothing befits a Raiders fan like overreaction, the current wailing and gnashing of fangs is altogether premature.

Yes, we know you wanted the Raiders back in Oakland last week. Yes, we know you have suffered nine long years, and now that Al Davis and Spectacor have cozied up, it's going to be harder than ever to keep the embers of Raidermania glowing. Well, who can blame you, if all you can envision is the 20-year Davis-Spectacor-L.A. Coliseum partnership announced Tuesday?

But you shouldn't go cutting your Electra-glides into metal confetti yet. Despite the hoopla and smiling faces, despite Davis' contention that they'd settled a situation akin to the Middle East--a crisis a day, the owner termed it--and now they could get on with more important stuff, like winning the AFC West, despite the crestfallen looks in Oakland City Hall, all Davis really said Tuesday was, "If."

If an environmental impact study allows renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. . . .

If private financing can be found to pay for the $145-million renovation. . . .

If historical preservationists can be persuaded that reconfiguration (including addition of luxury boxes) of the 67-year-old stadium is not tantamount to painting Mount Vernon fuchsia. . . .

And if special interest groups can be persuaded not to file lawsuits at every turn. . . .

Then the NFL will retain the geography of the 1980s, the Raiders will continue to recruit Raiderettes from Hollywood casting lines, and Spectacor will have done more than simply persuade Davis to fulfill his original lease agreement in Los Angeles. Otherwise, Oakland--and, indeed, even Sacramento--could be going through this whole tap dance again in less than two years.

Two years. That's how long Spectacor has to work out the details of the agreement Davis signed. Gregg Lukenbill, the Sacramento Kings' owner and would-be football impresario, has jumped through enough bureaucratic hoops trying to do for Sacramento almost exactly what Spectacor wants to do for Los Angeles to wonder if 24 months is enough time to get it done.

Then there's the renovation itself. Start to finish, it's a three-year job, minimum, Sacramento's stadium builder says. More likely, it's a four- to six-year project.

"A lot can go wrong in four to six years," Lukenbill says. "A lot can go wrong in four to six days."

Lukenbill comes by his skepticism honestly. Besides regularly duking it out with City Hall, he has also gone 15 rounds with Davis. For now, Lukenbill ruminates.

But if there are more plain old sports fans in the Big Valley than there are unquenchable Raiders fans--a fairly safe assumption--then Tuesday could be considered a great day for Sacramento.

First, because a second NFL team in Northern California would have presented the same brand of geographical prejudice that hounds Sacramento's bid for major-league baseball.

Second, because while 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo could not have blocked the Raiders' return to Oakland--the Raiders won the right of franchise movement in court in 1984--he will lobby against a new Bay Area team from his position on the NFL's Committee on Expansion. Meanwhile, DeBartolo has said he has no opposition to the NFL setting up a shop in Sacramento. But he also has said Sacramento's best route to the NFL would be through luring an existing franchise. The teams usually mentioned are New England, where shaver magnate Victor Kiam has a running battle with the owners of Foxboro Stadium, and Tampa Bay, where the cantankerous Hugh Culverhouse Sr. has been quiet since local burghers began talking sweetly about a new stadium.

In fact, if in two years Spectacor has not knotted all the loose ends, the Raiders might be on the prowl again. By that time, the Acro Park stadium ought to be a reality, reducing Davis' previous reservations about Sacramento to your basic zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Besides, two years is long enough to forget what an awful aftertaste remained the last time we swallowed Al's vague proposals, leaving only the memory of what a good idea it was.

The same point of view should hold for Oakland.

When this back-to-Oakland stuff heated up three years ago, I wrote that Davis had too much invested in Los Angeles ever to leave. To prove the courage of my conviction, I offered that anyone holding an original copy of that column could, on the day Raiders moving vans crossed the Alameda County line, smack me in the face with a cream pie.

Recently, as a Raiders return seemed increasingly imminent, it has come to my attention that more than a delighted few of you had preserved that column in some special place. Lest you add that piece of columnist bravado to your Raiders pyre, wait. Nobody's saying I-told-you-so yet. Not with so many bureaucrats, bank presidents and activists to satisfy.

This still has a ways to go.

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