Although there is talk at the Coliseum that the Raiders will decide in the next two weeks where they will play next fall, experience would seem to indicate that there will be no decision until the last possible moment, probably sometime in August.
As has happened so often, the Coliseum Commission and the team's managing partner, Al Davis, are involved in a complicated negotiation and test of wills that, according to sources on both sides, is nowhere near over.
In the last round of such proceedings, 1989-90, Davis apparently used the prospect of moving the team to Sacramento or Oakland as a foil to entice Los Angeles into making a better deal. And he got one--a series of promises, centering on a privately funded $145-million Coliseum renovation--so favorable that no one could make good on it.
When it collapsed, the Raiders reportedly got their second $10-million non-performance payment in five years. The other had come from the city of Irwindale.
The endless reports of Raider talks with Orlando, Baltimore, New Haven and, most recently, Oakland notwithstanding, those at the center of things generally believe Davis now wants to stay in Los Angeles.
Why, they ask, would any good businessman want to be one of two NFL teams in the San Francisco Bay Area when, with the Rams possibly moving elsewhere, he has a fair shot at being the one team in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest market?
So, as the Raiders have been quietly putting out, they will remain in Los Angeles but at a price--the luxury boxes Davis has always wanted, plus something to sweeten the pot, be it free rent at the Coliseum or some other cash incentive.
All the skepticism coming from Davis about the earthquake repairs at the stadium being finished on time would appear to be just a smoke screen, since the work is on schedule, and barring another big earthquake, the project manager, Don Webb, says at least 50,000 seats, and probably more, will be ready when USC plays Washington on Sept. 3.
The Raiders' first scheduled home game is eight days later.
John Ferraro, vice president of the commission, is probably stating the obvious when he says Davis can get his boxes, if only he doesn't hold out for a lot of cash on the side--cash the commission doesn't have.
"We've got to get a long-term commitment from the Raiders," Ferraro said this week. "Then we can establish the steady flow of income that will allow us to issue bonds and build the boxes."
Some speculate that this could all be done for as little as $20 million, although historic preservationists will insist that boxes not destroy the integrity of the stadium.
And, it seems clear, there will be no boxes until the stadium's repairs are complete, including a new press box and a fortified peristyle. Both were wrecked by the earthquake.
There is fear at the Coliseum that if the repair work and the boxes are intermingled, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is putting up 90% of the money, and the state, which is putting up the other 10%, might balk at paying all the repair bills.
So that probably means 1995 at the earliest for boxes.
One Coliseum commissioner said last weekend that he thought the commission almost had a deal with Davis. But Ferraro said the negotiations thus far have gone nowhere, and the Raiders said they hadn't "spent five minutes" with the optimist.
It would seem that hard negotiating lies ahead. Davis has never gone for a long-term deal with anyone, without some cash on the side.
The downside for Davis on the one hand is that he hasn't yet thought it wise to send out his season-ticket forms--his attendance was already down last year--while on the other, he appears to some in the community to be taking advantage of the earthquake to put pressure on the commissioners to come up with a better deal.
A season ticket-holder calling in Tuesday morning expressed outrage that the Raiders haven't shown more loyalty to their chosen home.
Another way to look at it, however, is that Davis, having repeatedly missed out on getting the boxes in his team's 14-year struggle to establish itself solidly in Los Angeles, is determined to do anything to achieve that goal now.
As for Oakland and the other cities, they will probably have to wait to see whether he succeeds.