Ricky Ricardo could teach motel pitchman Tom Bodette a thing or two about leaving the light on. Ricardo owns Ricky's Sports Lounge & Restaurant, a working-class joint a few miles south of the Oakland Coliseum in San Leandro, Calif. Even after the Raiders blew town in 1982 for Los Angeles, Ricky's stayed with its silver and black motif. For 13 years the bar has televised every Raider game. Why the attachment?
"We were always the second-class citizens of the Bay Area—you know, East Bay grease," Ricardo was shouting last Friday afternoon. "The Raiders gave us credibility and toughness we're proud of."
He had to raise his voice to be heard over the whooping of his patrons. Three hours earlier Al Davis, the autocratic managing general partner of the Raiders, had signed a letter of intent with the board of directors of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (OACC), promising, in effect, to return his team to the city of its 1960 birth. Pending approval from the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors—a pair of slam dunks, according to insiders—and the NFL, the Silver and Black was coming back.
Earlier that morning 18 trucks had rumbled out of an Anaheim parking lot, heading for St. Louis, the new home of the Rams, who until three months ago had been based in Orange County. Just like that, the NFL found itself without representation in the second-largest U.S. media market, the entertainment capital of the world. It seemed that Davis, whose successful antitrust suit against the NFL cleared the way for him to move to Los Angeles and cost the league $50 million in the early 1980s, had once again left the NFL with a black eye.
But, with the notable exception of certain individuals in the San Francisco 49er organization (which, after all, must once again share the Bay Area with the Raiders), league officials did not seem terribly distressed by Friday's news. Though the return to Oakland will cause some temporary discomfort, it is likely to help the NFL over the long haul. With the troublemaking Davis tucked away in a market where he may finally find lasting happiness, the league can now map out a SoCal strategy to include two new teams and possibly two new stadiums by the end of the century.
"You could make a case that this will be better for the league," said an official at NFL headquarters. The Raiders' departure, said the source, gives the league "a chance to stabilize the L.A. situation. It didn't work out for Al in L.A. But if it's like it was [the first time around] in Oakland, he'll be in good shape."
One of the two main reasons (the other, of course, being cold cash) that Davis repledged himself to Oakland was the knowledge that the Raiders would be playing in front of sellout crowds composed of unconditionally loyal lunatics, such as those who began pouring into Ricky's on Friday afternoon. "Deep in my heart, I always believed Al wanted this to happen," said Ricardo, in whose black ensemble and shoulder-length tresses one could discern the sartorial and tonsorial influence of a certain maverick NFL owner. "He just had to wait for the pieces to come together."
Behind Ricardo, on the bar's 8-by-10-foot television, a replay of the Oakland Raiders' 27-10 Super Bowl XV spanking of the Philadelphia Eagles was coming to an end. Now, on the big screen, Davis was accepting the Vince Lombardi Trophy from commissioner Pete Rozelle as the two men, bitter rivals since the AFL-NFL feuds of the '60s, barely attempted to conceal their distaste for each other. Looking into the camera while holding the trophy, Davis said, referring to those who had recently been released after a long captivity in Iran, "I'd like ta welcome back da hostages ta da United States."
In addition to revealing a softer side and a grasp of current events, Davis's reference to the Iranian hostage crisis prefigured a hostage crisis of his own. The longer his team played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the more Davis grew to loathe the ancient, crumbling structure, to feel like its prisoner. He was reportedly convinced that playing in the 67,800-seat coliseum (where the Raiders averaged 52,280 seemingly somnambulant fans a game in '94) cost his team four to six points per game. For at least eight years he had been trying to escape.
In 1987 the Raiders conducted relocation flirtations with the city of Carson, 12 miles south of L.A., with the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and with the town of Irwindale, 22 miles east of the coliseum, which offered an abandoned quarry as a stadium site and presented Davis with a nonrefundable $10 million check. But when the deal for a "state of the art" stadium fell through, Davis kept the loot, leaving Irwindale (pop. 1,161) with a yawning pit and an eight-digit hole in its budget.