Would L.A.'s football dream turn into a nightmare if the Oakland Raiders… (Matthew Emmons / U.S. Presswire )
I hate to interrupt the ticker-tape hug between city officials and AEG in the wake of Tuesday's agreement to build a downtown football stadium and bring the NFL back to Los Angeles, but ...
There is a group out there who could ruin all of this.
There is a group who could show up at Farmers Field dressed in havoc, bearing chaos and portending dread.
They are not neighborhood protesters, they are the sort that neighborhoods protest against. They are not environmentalists or economists, but, quite the opposite, they tear up the grass and take your money.
Hey, Oakland Raiders, if you are reading this, can you heed but one word from one man who was among many who celebrated in the summer of 1995 when you finally dragged your hack-and-silver act out of town?
Don't. Don't come back. Don't even think about coming back. Don't.
You are not welcome here, you are not wanted here, and if you can't see that, then you've been wearing that patch over both eyes.
I don't care how many Southland fans fill the local airport on autumn Sunday mornings for the legendary peanut-fight-filled Southwest Airlines caravans to Oakland. I don't care that, even with silver spikes occasionally sticking out of their heads, they are mostly good folks and tenacious supporters.
When it comes to the Los Angeles sports landscape, they are in the vast minority. This may still feel like a Raiders town, but, with a gleaming new stadium and dignified new hopes, this is a town that can no longer support the Raiders.
The NFL is thrilled that Tuesday's agreement appears to pave the way for the eventual return of two teams here. The NFL is excited that the clear leading candidate for the first slot is the San Diego Chargers, a team with Los Angeles roots and a decent south Orange County and Inland Empire fan base.
But the NFL is also quietly worried that the eternal opportunists known as the Raiders are circling and swooping and waiting for a chance to dive in and make a mess of everything.
What happens if, after a year of negotiating a difficult deal that will require concessions on both sides, AEG cannot come to an agreement with the Chargers? What if nobody on the minuscule list of other possible teams — Jacksonville, St. Louis, Buffalo, Minnesota — is prepared to move that soon?
What if Tim Leiweke finds himself with the money and approval to build a stadium but nobody is available to play there? When all hope is lost, when the only other option is the destruction of a dream, when the night is blackest and the fears are greatest … it's Raiders time!
Al Davis, who never wanted to leave Los Angeles in the first place and has always envisioned a joyful return, would suddenly look like Jerry Jones. Leiweke might suddenly feel he has no choice or, worse yet, be filled with the lofty notion that he could actually rebrand the Raiders. The league could attempt to block the move, but when has anybody truly stopped the Raiders from doing anything?
Here they come, and there it goes, Farmers Field becomes the Black Hole and in five years the NFL is failing here again.
The league is smart to be afraid, very afraid.
"The NFL will be the biggest thing in Los Angeles when it starts, it will be jumping off a huge springboard," said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm that has had numerous dealings with NFL teams. "But the real fear at the very highest levels of the league is that it could go downhill fast."
Because Ganis works with so many teams, he was reluctant to cite specific names, but his message was clear.
"If the situation is not managed well, there is going to be a real problem," he said. "You have to get the right team, the right economics, the right marketing plan and, if not, history has shown that even the great initial elevation will not be enough to save the situation."
The Raiders are Los Angeles' only professional football team to win a Super Bowl, in 1983, the highlight of their 13-year stay here. But the lowlights were many, with gangs adopting their colors and thugs roaming their stands and crazy Coliseum tailgate parties that once included the cooking of a dog.
The atmosphere got so ugly, "Raider Fan" became a euphemism for every rogue and rascal in town. Somebody cut you off in traffic? Raider Fan. Somebody talking too loud in the movie theater? Raider Fan. The recent spate of violence at Dodger Stadium? Who else? Everybody blamed it on Raider Fan.
The moniker is often unfair, of course, because 95% of Raiders fans are just good football fans who simply like to wear foreboding colors. But perception became reality, and the Raiders did little to distance themselves from it.
If they came back to Los Angeles, there is no reason to believe the Raiders would change their colors — literally or figuratively. But it is the possibility of their return that has the NFL holding its breath, even as AEG was letting out a sigh.
"A successful team in Los Angeles is not a slam dunk by any means, and everyone knows why," Ganis said. "Implementation is key, it's got to be managed properly, the team will need to be among the league's top revenue producers to break even, every aspect of the business operation has to work well."
And for that to happen, the Los Angeles Raiders can never again happen.
Just don't, baby.