On Sunday evening, shortly before the kickoff of his Raiders' first game as the home team in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Managing General Partner Al Davis, dressed in living black and white, climbed the stadium stairs with deliberation, savoring the moment. This was Al's story, and he enjoys making news. He had smiles for the deferential applause, but no magnanimity for the NFL, not before or after the heretofore Oakland Raiders pounded the Green Bay Packers 24-3.
There were 40,906 on hand, and 13,362 no-shows—most of whom were still waiting for the postman to show up with their tickets. The fans in the Coliseum didn't exactly cheer like kin on the dock as the Raiders took the field in their familiar black uniforms. "There are problems," Davis admitted. "This isn't the way you want life to run. This whole business is a totally difficult thing for the organization." Joseph Alioto, Davis' lawyer, said, "It's been a long pilgrimage, and it's not over yet."
Indeed not. Legal, logistical and plain maddening difficulties lie ahead. Davis still must fight off the eminent domain suit filed by the City of Oakland and the NFL's attempts to cancel the Raiders' move through a Congressional antitrust exemption or through the courts. The Raider ticket and business offices are in chaos, caused in part by irate L.A. fans hungry for season tickets. Make that good season tickets. The Raiders' computer operators are learning on the job, and making mistakes; the practice site is 400 miles from the home stadium; two Coliseums—L.A. and Oakland—are lined and ready for play; and the players are wondering where they should live, and losing sleep over the price of real estate in Southern California. What you've got is one transplanted NFL team destined to be known, at least for the time being, as the Oakland, er, Los Angeles Raiders.
The Raider opening act would have been a dreadful flop if not for the win, and the homecoming of the one true Los Angeles Raider, Running Back Marcus Allen, the 1981 Heisman Trophy winner from USC. Allen is the symbolic break with Oakland Raider football, the new signature of Los Angeles Raider football—and not bad at all as potential superstars go. "The guys asked me what it would be like here," Allen said after ripping through the Packers for 41 yards on nine carries. "I tried to tell them. It made me feel good, them coming to me. They kidded me, saying, 'We're going to Marcus' backyard.' Did I ask them what the atmosphere at the Oakland Coliseum had been like? No, it never came up."
The word around the league is that Davis drafted Allen only because he would help the Raiders at the box office. A truly superior running back hasn't been a Raider tradition. The Raiders—in Oakland, anyway—always sent the fullback between the tackles, hoping to take the opponent's mind off the ball, which was in the air far downfield. In Oakland, the Raider halfback was essentially a third tackle protecting the passer. "Well, Marcus has opened our eyes," Davis insisted. "We draft to win. We live to win. We think Marcus isn't the type who needs another top back with him. He needs the ball. And we've got some other runners. For the first time, we've got some numbers." At any rate, the Raiders' front-office staff has grown from 10 to 13 full-time employees.
Davis first invaded L.A. in March of 1980, renting office space at the University Hilton. The Raiders had begun to solicit season-ticket holders two months before that. They received 34,950 orders in 10 days, and more than 61,000 by the time Global Van Lines emptied their Oakland offices in mid-March. The vans were approaching L.A. when a court injunction forced them and the Raiders to return to Oakland. The year 1980 turned out to be a Super Bowl year for the Raiders. The L.A. fans on the waiting list waited. So did Global.
For two years the Raiders waged legal war with the NFL, and on May 7, 1982 they finally won a court decision permitting them to move their operations from Oakland to L.A. Setting up shop at the University Hilton again, the Raiders bought a computer, five terminals and accompanying software from MDS Qantel, a company that supplies the needs of 10 other NFL teams. But, in the rush to process an avalanche of ticket requests, the computer was blanked out a few times by the inexperienced operators.
"This room is my home," Al LoCasale, Davis' right hand, said early last week while waving a sweaty palm around his command post on the 10th floor of the Hilton. Downstairs, the phones rang like crazy. "We're trying to do in five weeks what usually takes six months." The pace was too much. On Friday, LoCasale, suffering from exhaustion and weakened by walking pneumonia, was admitted to a hospital.
The Raiders have never had much of a public-relations department; Davis has always been his own p.r. man. The organization ran smoothly in Oakland, mainly by refusing to publicly relate, especially with much of the Bay Area media. What was needed last week was an explanation from the Raiders about the lack of quality seating available at the L.A. Coliseum; fewer than 30,000 of the 92,516 seats are between the goalposts. The people who waited 24 months for the elusive, low-lying, 40-yard-line ducat screamed for heads.
"We'll lose some people," Davis admitted. One season-ticket holder received his packet of tickets in the mail, opened it—and found that each of his four seats was located in a different section. "They're upset with us. It's status with a lot of people, and they're hurt. They thought they'd get better." Davis promised that ticket locations would be changed for those disgruntled fans who were persistent enough in bugging the club's ticket office. The Raiders' ticket men must have loved hearing that.