The Raiders, who arrived in L.A. in 1982, have lived with an even worse facility. The 71-year-old Coliseum took a $60 million battering in the 1993 earthquake, and while the Coliseum Commission did a magnificent repair job, it so far has been unable or unwilling to provide the club seats and skyboxes that would contribute greatly to the Raiders' income. The team blames the antiquated stadium and its location in a rundown section of Los Angeles for the fact that the Raiders have had an average of more than 21,000 empty seats per home game this season. Davis has told the NFL that the Coliseum is "untenable." Left unsaid, but nonetheless quite clear, is that the Raiders can bolt anytime they want if Davis is offered a deal that he finds sufficiently enticing.
Oakland, which last tried to lure back the Raiders in 1990, will shortly try again. The last time, the city proposed to pay the team some $30 million to relocate, but Davis was skeptical that the city could deliver that kind of money. Talks between Raider and Oakland officials, which involved roughly the same financial inducement, were being held recently even as the Rams were considering their much more publicized options.
As soon as the Rams let it be known early this year that they were willing to move, a number of suitors appeared. Baltimore, from which the Colts snuck away in the middle of the night in 1984, stepped forward, guaranteeing the Rams a genuine football town. But Baltimore cannot offer a new stadium—at least not right away. The Maryland General Assembly set aside a financial package of some $160 million for a new arena adjacent to the Orioles' home at Camden Yards should the city land an NFL team. Gov. William Donald Schaefer has pushed hard for a stadium, but he will leave office in January, and it is possible that the new legislature will decide to allocate those funds elsewhere.
In any case, the league's old guard would prefer that the Rams not set up shop in Baltimore, a short commute up I-95 from the base of Jack Kent Cooke's Washington Redskins.
St. Louis seems the better fit, even given that city's lukewarm support for the Cardinals, who left for Phoenix in 1988. Earlier this month Shaw told the Times that St. Louis is the city "most capable of immediately giving us what we're looking for." That means the construction of a 70,000-seat domed stadium and plans to raise $60 million through a seat-licensing program that would cover the costs of relocating the Rams, the construction of a practice facility and the retirement of a $30 million debt that the Rams have outstanding in Anaheim.
The wild card in this high-stakes bidding is Anaheim. The city and the team have not gotten along since the Rams moved there in 1980, but some citizens are attempting, under the banner of a group called Save the Rams, to repair relations. Player agent Leigh Steinberg, who lives in Newport Beach, cochairs the organization and warns against anybody's turning the lights out in Anaheim just yet. "I remember in San Francisco," he says, "when Mayor [Frank] Jordan asked me to help keep the Giants there. The team had already had a sales agreement with Tampa. Now that was hopeless."
The Giants' move did not come to pass, and Steinberg believes it is possible that the Rams' won't either. Although it has yet to meet with Frontiere, Save the Rams has come up with a package of public and private appropriations to address the team's needs: a $70 million refurbishment of the stadium, a new practice facility, relocation of the Angels in a new ballpark next door, and the guaranteed sale of 45,000 season tickets.
Moreover, Steinberg's group would even be willing to pour some capital into the Rams in return for equity. As a matter of fact, Steinberg says, there are people in Southern California who would like a crack at 100% ownership. Certainly there is a feeling that new management could do a better job with the Rams. Attendance has sagged over the last three years (only the Tampa Bay Bucs sold fewer season tickets this year), and the move 14 years ago to a nondescript town 40 miles removed from Hollywood seems gradually to have separated the Rams not only physically but also emotionally from their glory years. "When I was in Buffalo," says linebacker Shane Conlan, "the people knew everybody's name—not just the starters', everybody's. I don't think I've been recognized twice in two years here. Maybe this is just not a football town. Maybe there's too much to do."
Still, there are franchises that thrive in Southern California, so long as they obey the principal dynamic of life there. "The Rams have acknowledged their policies of cost-cutting," says Steinberg. "They have not heavily promoted in an area where hotness is everything."
The Rams are not hot. Once the Raiders moved to Southern California, they quickly supplanted the Rams in terms of being identified with L.A. and charisma. The week before the game against the Raiders, some Rams were complaining that all they saw around L.A. were Raider billboards, skulls and a lot of Davis's COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE signs. "It's like we're the city's stepchild," says wide receiver Jesse Hester. "Everywhere you go, it's Raiders this or Raiders that." It's a matter of style. The Rams have none.