Let me get this straight, the Raiders are opening the season here again?
A year after they took "Los Angeles" off their merchandise and introduced their Generic Raider line, six months after announcing they were Oakland-bound, they're still around, complaining about the treachery of politicians and negotiating with all they can find from the Bay Area to the Mexican border.
Despite speculation that the team could be yanked up to Oakland at any moment, Al Davis refuses to say what he's up to. Who ever saw anything like it, a major franchise dangling over the plum Los Angeles market on a string?
The best Davis could do, after reports of an imminent move this summer, was to say: "We expect to play in Los Angeles, but anything could happen."
How would season-ticket holders feel about a four-game plan? Weekly charter flights to Oakland? A Sunday party at the old facility in El Segundo to watch the game on big-screen TV?
Of course, local Raider fans are owed more, as are Oakland fans. But granting this decency would deny Davis his lifelong penchant for playing one side against the other. Everyone will just have to wait till the moving trucks roll.
Raider inner-circle types are as much in the dark as anyone, but not all remain by their phones.
One L.A. Raider loyalist, Bud Furillo, midwife of the move south, resigned. Furillo was the man who hung a "Welcome Los Angeles Raiders" banner from the Coliseum press box at a 1979 Ram-Raider game--three years before the Raiders arrived.
Furillo sat at Davis' knee, as much as anyone could, taking into account that withdrawn style Davis inflicts upon employees. Furillo says Al used to phone him four times a week, but after Furillo became editor of Raider Weekly, it once took Davis a week to return a call. After the death of Davis' friend, Dodger scout Don McMahon, in 1987, Furillo says Davis called him late at night, and they wept like babies.
Furillo and Davis aren't as tight any more. Raider officials run on unrequited hero worship until they abandon all hope. There is no more embittered exile than an ex-Raider.
"Yeah, I think they're headed to Oakland," Furillo says. "I don't think there's any question about it.
"I've known Al since 1957. I've always appreciated his accomplishments. He did a lot. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. At the same time, there's a darker side that isn't that nice. There are silver and black sides of Al Davis, and the black has overcome the silver."
Strangely enough, Raider indecision on the grand level contrasts with progress on the field. The team looks better. The defensive front looks as if it could be a vintage striking weapon again, capable of leading a resurgence.
This could compound local unhappiness. We get four years of Davis tripping over his shoelaces. Oakland gets the rebuilt team?
An announcement is expected within days, weeks, months, for sure before the year 2000.
Davis loyalists note that three deals--with Los Angeles, Irwindale and Oakland--have already fallen apart, so he's entitled to make sure. Maybe he would have less trouble if he wasn't always trying to get the bidding as high as possible.
If he wants to go to Oakland, why doesn't he just deal with Oakland? If he wants to stay, why not just deal with Los Angeles? Is all he wants in life the best deal he can extort? Is he incapable of assuming good faith by anyone?
Dear Al, if you're going--to borrow a phrase from a famous Raider's sneaker commercials--just do it.