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| Spin of the Day

Al Davis Holds Court, Rather Than Go There

January 23, 1998|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — His team was 4-12 this season and no factor in the Super Bowl race for yet another year.

The rumors of his imminent move back to the city he deserted three seasons ago proved to be no more than the delusional dreams of an out-of-touch L.A. politician.

Yet Oakland Raider owner Al Davis can still arrive at a Super Bowl--something his team won't do in the foreseeable future--and put his own spin of the day on the proceedings.

When NFL owners gathered Thursday at the San Diego Marriott to approve their ridiculously rich television deal--$17.6 billion over the next eight years--it was Davis who emerged to the largest gathering of cameras and reporters.

He didn't really say anything, changed the subject at any mention of a possible shift back to L.A. and preferred to not even divulge the name of his new coach.

It was later revealed in Oakland to be Jon Gruden, the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator.

But Davis kept reporters laughing, kept them hovering and kept them spellbound.

Earlier, when trays of food had been wheeled into the meeting room to feed the owners, Davis motioned for reporters to enter as well.

"Hey, we can afford it," he yelled. "Come on in and eat."

Although he wouldn't discuss the speculation over a Raider return to Los Angeles, Davis had a little fun when a woman named Ruth Herzberg, who told Davis she is a Raider season-ticket holder, wormed her way into the circle of reporters to ask for an autograph.

The Raider owner obliged, but, while signing, looked up at her and said with a grin, "Wait until you hear we are moving."

Showing that the old Raider days of fear and intimidation don't even work in hotel lobbies these days, Herzberg snapped back, "That's OK. We have another team across the bay."

Davis said he thought the expansion fee for the new team in Cleveland, expected to begin play in 1999, will be $500 million. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers paid $140 million each to join the NFL only three years ago.

Asked why he thought Los Angeles hadn't been able to attract a team in the three seasons since he left, Davis responded, "Because of the L.A. writers."

That was a joke. Presumably.

Although the future of pro football in Los Angeles wasn't discussed at the meeting, several owners said the huge infusion of television money has not made them so arrogant that they will now turn their collective backs on the second-largest market in the nation.

Said New England Patriot owner Bob Kraft: "I think that maybe the solution is for the NFL to build a stadium of its own in Los Angeles, and then go out and get the best owner we can find to run a team there."

An established team or an expansion club?

"If it was an established team, you'd see the New England Patriots out there," Kraft replied.

Kraft has had his problems trying to get a stadium built in his neighborhood, but don't look for him to be touring the L.A. Coliseum in the near future.

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the gathering occurred before it began. It was that Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones, looking for someone to replace former coach Barry Switzer, drove to the hotel with George Seifert.

It was the second meeting between Jones and Seifert, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the San Francisco 49ers.

But Jones said that, before he chooses a new coach, he will talk with Sherm Lewis, offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, within 24 hours after Sunday's Super Bowl between the Packers and the Denver Broncos.

Asked how his ride with Seifert was, Jones replied, "It went nice."

If Jones is seriously considering Lewis, a respected, 55-year-old member of the coaching community who has been too long overlooked for a head-coaching job, that's fine and admirable.

And if Jones decides that Seifert's experience and record of accomplishment make him a preferable candidate, that's understandable.

But if Jones is simply going through the motions with Lewis, trying to make himself look good, trying to draw some of the spotlight to himself in a year when his team finished out of the running for a playoff slot, then Jones should be ashamed of himself.

Oh, yes, finally, the main order of business Thursday. The owners were asked to approve the television contract that will increase their salary cap from $41.45 million this season to $53 million-$55 million next year.

Did they vote yes?

Duhhh.

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