With Super Bowl settled, comes another showdown
Any team that reaches the Super Bowl is presumably firmly entrenched. Not so with the Oakland Raiders, who hope to move their operation lock, stock, and barrel to Los Angeles before the 1981 National Football League season.Skip to next paragraph
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The planned action has infuriated Oakland fans, much as Walter O'Malley's decision to transfer the Brooklyn dodgers to Los Angeles angered New Yorkers in 1958.
The League, which also opposes the idea, blocked the Raiders' attempted move last year and is now the target of an antitrust suit brought by the franchise.
All this controversy was overshadowed, of course, by the buildup to the Super Bowl itself, but now that Sunday's championship game between Oakland and Philadelphia is out of the way, attention has turned to next month's impending court proceedings, which could make that battle seem a mere skirmish.
As Al Davis, Oakland's maverick owner, sees things, prosperity by the bay doesn't mean that greener financial pastures do not lie elsewhere. So when the Rams moved from Los Angeles proper to their current home in Anaheim some 40 miles away, he launched his attempt to switch the Raider franchise to L.A.
"To compete in the '80s," he explained, "we need more income than we can generate in Oakland now. I don't want an apologist team. I want a winner."
What's at stake, Davis feels, is his right -- or that of any owner -- to pack up and relocate, even if this flies in the face of league rules and community outrage.
The league philosophy, on the other hand, has always been strength through unity.At his Super Bowl press conference, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle warned against teams acting as autonomous businesses.
"What makes the individual teams successful is their membership in the league ," he said. "If you didn't belong to a league, and just had teams arranging scrimmages against one another, you couldn't expect many people to watch. But you can't have a league unless everybody is willing to abide by mutually agreed-upon rules."
The rule in this case is the NFL dictum that no franchise can move without the consent of the other league owners -- something Davis hasn't received. Furthermore, Oakland's managing general partner is well aware that such consent may never be forthcoming. In the last 35 years only one team, the Cardinals in 1960, has resettled in another metropolitan area, and their departure to St. Louis still left the Bears in Chicago.
But Davis, of course, can argue that if the Raiders did move, there would still be a team -- the San Francisco Giants -- in the Bay Area. And in one of the ironies of the current situation, he can point to the fact that the current Los Angeles Rams themselves came about via a franchise shift in 1946, when the Cleveland Rams, who had won the NFL title the previous year, obtained the required consent and became the league's pioneer West Coast team.
Basically, however, franchise shifts in today's pro football economy appear unnecessary. The sport's limited schedule (eight regular season home games per team) creates a demand for tickets, making it unlikely that any NFL team will go begging for in-stadium fans, as sometimes happens in other sports.
This may partly explain why the Raiders have virtually sold out the 55,000 -seat Oakland Alameda Coliseum the past 12 seasons, while the baseball A's struggle to draw crowds. Producing winning teams all those years obviously has been a factor, too.