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RAIDERS RETURN TO OAKLAND : COMMENTARY : Coliseum Commission Turns L.A. Into Lost City of Sports

June 24, 1995|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is a tale of two Coliseums, one heading toward a bright future with a new pro football team, face lift and outlook. The other seems headed in the opposite direction, its hopes as bright as the extinguished torch atop its columns, its chances of attracting a team as good as those of its ancient namesake in Rome.

What happened?

How did Oakland, so long a second fiddle to neighboring San Francisco, snatch one of the NFL's most colorful and exciting teams away from the entertainment capital of the world, convincing the Raiders to move from the Los Angeles Coliseum to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum?

The easiest thing to do is blame owner Al Davis, the logical scapegoat. He's the guy who took his ball and went home Friday, moving the Raiders back to their roots.

But wait a minute. Didn't Carroll Rosenbloom, the late owner of the Rams, also flee the Coliseum for Anaheim? And didn't Jack Kent Cooke, then the owner of the Lakers, flee the Sports Arena, under the control of the same ruling body as the Coliseum, for Inglewood?

Is there a common thread? You bet. It's the Coliseum Commission, that three-headed, non-functioning conglomeration of the city, the county and the state.

Oh sure, the names and faces change. But never the outcome. If this commission had been in charge of Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers would probably be back in Brooklyn.

In the 1960s, the Lakers played in the Sports Arena. Cooke clashed with the commissioners over his contract. And while Cooke was bidding for an NHL franchise, the commissioners were backing the owner of the L.A. Blades, a minor league hockey team, who was also seeking that franchise.

Cooke threatened to go to Inglewood and build his own arena.

He recalls one official representing the commission laughing at him. Cooke went to Inglewood and built the Forum.

Goodby, Lakers.

Goodby, Kings.

When Rosenbloom received a sweetheart offer in the late 1970s from Orange County, the Coliseum Commission, having failed to secure Rosenbloom with a long-term deal, figured his team could be replaced.

Goodby, Rams.

The UCLA football team, anxious to get out from under the shadow of USC, left for the Rose Bowl in the early '80s, the Coliseum Commission failing once again to keep a client.

Goodby, Bruins.

Oh well. Davis had arrived from Oakland in 1982 and the NFL was on its way to losing its legal battle to keep the Raiders from moving, the resulting judgment leading to millions of dollars for the Coliseum's coffers. There were other expenses, but surely some funds could be used to upgrade the old structure, built in 1923, and keep it competitive with the modern stadiums being built around the country with lucrative luxury boxes.

Give Davis some luxury boxes and he would stay for the foreseeable future.

The years dragged on, however, and so did the negotiations. Some of the commissioners seemed more intent on putting Davis in his place than keeping him in their place.

Just the way they had shown Cooke and Rosenbloom.

Davis began to look around. He tried to go to Irwindale. He tried to go back to Oakland. He flirted with the idea of relocating to Sacramento.

But the Coliseum Commission wasn't about to be bullied.

Finally, 11 years after he'd arrived, Davis was going to see some actual work done to the Coliseum. In 1993, the renovation began.

One small step forward, then, on a disastrous January morning in 1994, a huge step back.

The Northridge earthquake cut through the heart of the old stadium, causing about $100 million in damage. This time, the Coliseum commissioners didn't hesitate. They stuck a shovel in the ground and immediately began rebuilding.

Of course, this time, it wasn't their money they were spending. The commissioners did not hesitate to authorize the use of federal disaster relief funds.

But all that $100 million did was put the Coliseum back where it was before, still without the boxes that would provide the revenue potential for the stadium to compete with modern facilities.

A fed-up Davis decided it was time to move. And who could blame him? He had invested all those years and was right back where he started.

So now, the commission finally decided it was time to woo one of its clients, right?

Get serious.

It announced Davis' rent was going back up to where it had been before the earthquake, and then announced it would be better off, even if he left.

So he left.

Goodby, Raiders.

And now Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers, another Sports Arena tenant, is known to be looking for a new home for his basketball team.

Soon, it could likely be, goodby Clippers.

Who knows, it might get so bad that even the unthinkable could occur. USC might start looking around and it could be, goodby Trojans.

Think any of those NFL owners interested in coming to Los Angeles want to settle down in the Coliseum and wait 13 more years for boxes to be built?

The Coliseum may be the only structure to have played host to two Olympics, but it is also the only structure to have lost two NFL teams.

Before this town runs out of teams altogether, it seems there is only one logical solution to all this: Goodby, Coliseum Commission.

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