I have been awakened by the undulations of my bedroom floor as it danced to the cruel rhythm of the Northridge earthquake. I have smelled the smoke from the Malibu fires and the South-Central riots wafting over the Santa Monica Mountains and tried to blot out the sun that seems to shine nonstop 10 months a year. I have peered through winter downpours at helicopters rescuing drivers who couldn't believe that the streets they travel every day would actually flood and turn as deadly as a water moccasin. And now I have seen Los Angeles in its first month of Sundays without the NFL since Harry Truman was president. As local disasters go, this has been about as traumatic as watching a failed starlet drag her wiggle back to Cedar Rapids.
So the City of Angels no longer has to stare at Raider teams offering conclusive proof that Martians control Al Davis's brain waves. So the Rams no longer dwell in Orange County, where Mickey Mouse proved a better draw than their Mickey Mouse football. So what?
There have always been better things to do in L.A. than watch fat men in shoulder pads lean on one another, and now those of us who live here can enjoy them without risking a frown with an NFL logo on it. We can take the time to discuss the surreal rainbow that is Johnnie Cochran's wardrobe. We can go to Venice Beach and see if the guy who juggles chain saws is still in one piece. We can compare the chili cheeseburgers at Gooey Louie's and the original Tommy's.
I suppose we can even watch the NFL on television, but that's a revolutionary concept in these parts. When the Raiders and the Rams were around to block the view, we rarely got to see both ends of national doubleheaders and regularly had our eyes glaze over at the sight of Cincinnati and Seattle boring each other to death. Now the networks, scared to offend America's second-biggest market, will make sure we get prime cuts. That was proved when Fox kicked off the 1995 season by serving up the San Francisco 49ers against the New Orleans Saints. But there's something the nets should know, and so should anyone hoping to cash in if—or should I say when?—the NFL gets its second act in Los Angeles: It's too late.
L.A. isn't Baltimore, where the Colts' faithful still get misty at the mention of Unitas throwing a down-and-out to Berry. Nor is it Green Bay, where, if not for the Packers, the most exciting thing in town would be making toilet paper. Los Angeles hasn't throbbed with passion for the NFL since the Fearsome Foursome was squashing quarterbacks and Jack Snow was running under Roman Gabriel's bombs. That was 25 years ago, when the Rams could lure 90,000 true believers into the Coliseum. They had been a hot ticket since arriving from Cleveland in 1946 to become the city's first major league team. The names from those days echo with good feeling—Tank, Deacon Dan and Crazylegs. And their quarterback married Jane Russell, one of those quaint movie stars who kept her underwear on and still didn't get mistaken for a boy. By the '90s none of that counted for much. The Rams were in the clutches of Georgia Frontiere, who ran the team like a fire sale until she flummoxed St. Louis into buying her scraps. (It was fitting that, finally freed, the team promptly went 4-0.)
Frontiere's greatest sin, however, was ceding Los Angeles to Al Davis when she hied the Rams into the shadow of Disneyland. Davis's greatest sin, in turn, was not knowing what to do with it. He had 13 years to find out, but all he did was operate the Raiders as if he were the Elvis impersonator he has always resembled instead of the NFL's master schemer. It's as if the Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII championship never happened. What I remember instead is how Davis played fast and loose with his business while his fabled long-ball offense rotted. You wanted Davis back, Oakland. You got him.
Myself, I'm partial to the idea of living in a city without pro football. I like the peace and quiet, not to mention the satisfaction of standing apart from something that enables Jacksonville—Jacksonville!—to call itself big league. But I keep reading that L.A. wants to win back the NFL by refurbishing the Rose Bowl or building a state-of-the-art stadium near Hollywood Park. Next, someone will remember the gravel pit of Irwindale that was the centerpiece of Davis's greatest L.A. debacle.
Even more chilling is the thought of who might occupy the playpen of the future. The Browns have been mentioned, but they would have no more business leaving Cleveland than the Raiders did Oakland. Then there are Houston, Seattle and Tampa Bay—all Grade D meat. And, naturally, an expansion team is waiting to happen like one more accident in the land of the fender bender. What I'm here to tell you is that Los Angeles doesn't need any of them. It could, however, use a little help getting rid of the Clippers.