John Herrera looked out his car window one recent day at the steadily falling rain and shook his head in disgust. The rapidly moving windshield wipers dispatched the constantly falling drops, but nothing could dispel the gloom within the car.
"If this stuff would just stop," said Herrera to a reporter as he looked out at the quagmire before him. Herrera, a Los Angeles Raiders official, was taking the reporter on a tour of the club's proposed training facility in Oxnard. At this point, though, the quagmire was all there was to show.
"If the weather clears," Herrera said, "we still have a chance of getting this done by the start of training camp."
That would be the middle of July. Although the weather has cleared since that bleak day in March, the outlook still remains cloudy. Rain problems have been replaced by surveying problems, irrigation problems and a lot of other problems.
"We have been over, through and around a lot of hurdles," Herrera says. "It seems like there is a different fire to put out every day. Everybody says, 'Have that facility ready for a football team in 60 days? No way.' Everybody says it's impossible to be done in time, that we are trying to do the impossible.
"We've got an army of men working seven days a week to get this done. We are attacking the skyline with a target date of July 1."
Herrera is like a marathon runner who finds a series of detour signs in front of the finish line. He hit the road in full stride in search of a new summer home for the Raiders the day Al Davis, the team's managing general partner, told him the club was going to pull up stakes at Santa Rosa, 70 miles north of Oakland, its preseason training camp for 22 years .
The Raiders continued to train there for three years after moving from Oakland, while they waged a furious legal battle to make Los Angeles their permanent home. The advantage miles were piling up for a group of weary travelers who became known as the PSA Raiders.
Finally, by January, 1985, Davis had had enough. He called in Herrera, 39, a team executive who had begun working for the Raiders as a 16-year-old gofer. Herrera has done a lot since, from public relations to scouting with the Raiders, Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Canadian Football League.
Find us a new home down here, Davis told him. He wanted someplace with the proper climate that was far enough away from Los Angeles to avoid distractions, but not so far that traveling to exhibition games would be a major hardship.
"We wanted to put our Northern California identity behind us," Herrera says.
When he finally settled on the Oxnard area two months later after looking at 150 possible sites in six weeks, his work had only begun. Negotiations with Oxnard officials lasted for another six weeks, the talks stretching up to eight or nine hours a day.
"The actual construction has been the easiest part of this whole thing," Herrera says.
Because the permanent spot the team wanted would not be ready by the start of last season's camp, Herrera made arrangements for a temporary field at a nearby site. That site was to be the location of a $30-million, 21-story office building, but Herrera, Oxnard officials and the developer reached an agreement to delay construction until after the Raiders finished camp. The Raiders got the temporary site rent free and put two football fields and a prefabricated clubhouse on the property.
Workmen were still pounding nails on those temporary facilities the first day the Raiders pounded their cleats into their new field last summer. And two days after the football players concluded camp, the workmen were back, tearing the whole thing down as preparations began for the permanent facility. The Raiders were reimbursed $173,000 by the city of Oxnard, the cost of duplicating facilities that couldn't be moved from one site to the other.
One of the requirements for any Raider camp is a nearby hotel. Last year, the team stayed at the Oxnard Hilton, about a long punt from the temporary field.
"None of the other clubs stayed in hotels until a few years ago," Herrera says. "They trained at colleges and lived in dorms. We feel this is a tough period and all the players' dedication should be focused on football. We want no negative distractions. We don't want the players washing their own clothes, taking communal showers. The environment and atmosphere at a hotel is vastly different."
The Raiders' permanent site is adjacent to the new River Ridge golf course on Vineyard Aveune in Oxnard. The practice field is next door to a still-under-construction 250-room hotel, complete with a convention center. Herrera hopes the hotel will be ready by the time the Raiders arrive. He is sure the practice fields will be.