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With Al Davis, issues went beyond black and white

It’s hard to think of Al Davis wearing anything but his all white or all black track suits and carrying a white towel.

Years ago a group of reporters were waiting in the lobby of a Chicago hotel for NFL owners to emerge from one of their meetings. Several important issues were up for discussion.

When Davis came out he was immediately surrounded, no one saying anything, as is often the case when the media sits back a little intimidated waiting for someone else to begin the questioning.

An unmistakable voice from the back of the pack belonging to the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Jerry Magee broke the silence.

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“Al.”

“Jer.”

“Al, why do you always carry a towel wherever you go?”

“Glad you asked, Jer. I wear white a lot, as you know, and I use it so I don’t spill on myself.”

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“Thanks, Al.”

“Thanks Jer,” and he was gone, the interview over with Davis finally coming clean with everyone.

I GO back to a story Redondo Beach attorney Tony Capozzola tells about the time Davis registered under an assumed name at the Bonaventure Hotel here in Los Angeles.

Capozzola was there with football coach George Allen, Davis joined by famed attorney Joe Alioto, everyone together to talk about the death of Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom.

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Capozzola and Davis suspected Rosenbloom had been murdered rather than drowning in Florida, and each agreed to hire a private investigator.

“I remember Al saying, ‘If somebody did something to my friend I want to know about it,’” Capozzola says.

Independently, Capozzola says, the investigators came across the same person of interest in Detroit, a hit man who knew something about doing harm to someone in water.

A scheduled meeting never took place, and the investigation ran out of steam.

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Capozzola still has his suspicions, but I’m more intrigued about the part of the story that has Davis checking into a Los Angeles hotel under an assumed name.

I just can’t picture this guy in an all-white running suit with a Raiders emblem on his white jacket telling the hotel clerk, “Bob Smith checking in.”

NOW WHENEVER I see someone eating a hot dog with yellow mustard, I think of Al.

Davis invited me to join him in the ballroom of a fancy hotel, site of another NFL owners meeting. The room was off limits to the media, but he said to come inside so he could tell me all about Marcus Allen, O.J. Simpson and Nicole Simpson.

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He said he knew the whole story, Marcus this and Marcus that, and it’d be the big break I needed.

Davis was wearing all white, of course, and eating a juicy hot dog with yellow mustard pasted across it.

As he talked with the hot dog in his mouth, spitting at times, I noticed with amazement none of the yellow mustard landed on his white outfit.

“How symbolic,” I wrote at the time for The Sporting News, that like the Raiders’ failings, none of the blame ever sticks to him.

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Fast forward to years later, and Davis is talking about moving his Raiders back to L.A. He calls sports editor Bill Dwyre to find out what support the The Times might provide.

Dwyre suggests Davis sit down for an interview, Davis agrees and Dwyre tells him I’ll be doing it, or no interview.

When I arrive in Oakland, a limo is waiting with a pair of Raiderettes inside and a message from Davis: He can’t get that hot dog out of his mind, so the interview is canceled.

As for the rest of the evening, the limo and the Raiderettes, I’m not sure how they spent it.

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WHEN I think of the Raiders, I think of Al’s paranoia and how he believed the NFL was always out to get him. I have no doubt when the Raiders went to Super Bowl 37 that Al believed the NFL arranged to have Jon Gruden coaching the other team and Marcus Allen voted into the Hall of Fame the day before the big game.

WHEN I think of Al, I think of a late-night coffee shop in some hotel at yet another NFL meeting and a glimpse of someone seldom seen. He was sitting by himself, the only way to ever really talk to him.

If you walked up to him and there was someone else there, he might say, “And you are who?” to put you in your place in front of the third party.

But alone, he was different, and on this night he did not object when I sat down because I immediately mentioned the passing of someone he knew.

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It rattled him. Later whenever we would talk, I would almost always begin by mentioning someone who had recently died. Death unnerved him and seemed to take him off his game.

Mention someone’s death and he would drop the tough-guy routine, while revealing compassion and genuine sympathy.

I remember him attending Jim Murray’s funeral. I wasn’t surprised.

WHEN I think about the sports maverick and all that bluster, I marvel at his genius and how it went sour — delusion replacing innovation.

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It reminds me of the movie “A River Runs Through It,” and a scene near the end. The kids have grown up, one of them has been killed and there is a flashback to a time when the youngsters were together — filled with fun and hope. Life as good as it gets.

How many of us have thought about freezing a moment in time, thinking how good it is, maybe even a little irritated because there’s no going back.

That’s how I think of Al Davis in his later years, the greatness of the Raiders something so personal to him, but gone, and Al wanting so badly for everything to be just as it was.

It’s kind of sad.

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t.j.simers@latimes.com


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