Monday, September 26, 2011

Are you ready for some football in Los Angeles?
Summer has gone out with style. Autumn means cooler nights, leaves changing colours and football. Everywhere except maybe Los Angeles. But that could be changing. The wheels are in motion to to build a stadium in downtown Los Angeles.  But L.A. still doesn't have a team. Debates are rampant as to whether it'll be the San Diego Chargers or the Minnesota Vikings. Who do you think it will be?
Let's take a look back at Jim Murray's column from Oct. 1, 1981 about the state of football in Los Angeles.


Tom Bradley's Switch Is Only the Latest Strange Twist

   In the winter of 1965-66, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, the governing body that runs the two principal municipal sports facilities in L.A., made a serious mistake.
   It bet its wad on a dear, old customer, Dan Reeves, to get the National Hockey League franchise in this city. In the process, it made an enemy of another of its tenants, Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the basketball franchise here.
   The commissioners didn't even hedge the bet. They lost it all. Jack Kent Cooke had been a Canadian, and the NHL is as Canadian as saying "oot" for "out." Cooke got the franchise and, feeling harassed by the Coliseum Commission, he packed up both his franchises, basketball and hockey, and built his own arena in Inglewood.
   This left the Sports Arena dark and indebted, and placed the burden of supporting its bond payments on the neighboring Coliseum.
   The Coliseum Commission vowed not to make that mistake again. It didn't. It made other ones.
   Dan Reeves died and Carroll Rosenbloom bought the Coliseum-tenant Rams. Like all carpetbaggers, Rosenbloom came in with his hat in his hand and wiping his feet and tugging his forelock. But, like all carpetbaggers, it wasn't long before he was complaining about the silverware and the noise his hosts made eating.
   This time, when their tenant threatened to move to the suburbs, the commissioners didn't laugh. But, neither could they come up with what he wanted — multimillion-dollar improvements, including luxury boxes around the rim of the stadium. Rosenbloom moved to the suburbs and, like Cooke, he continued to identify his team as "Los Angeles" to attract his audience from that city. This was a bit of audacity for a man who was, like Cooke, effectively withdrawing money from the treasury of L.A. taxpayers.
   Like any landlord with an abandoned building, the Coliseum Commission set out to find a tenant. It found one. The Oakland Raiders.
   At that time, Tom Bradley was mayor of Los Angeles, He was a symbolic, if not titular, head of the Coliseum Commission, some of whom were his appointees. Naturally, having the Oakland Raiders would mean a financial bonanza for the City of the Angels. Cabs would roll, hotel rooms would be full, rents would accrue, hot-dogs would be sold. And Tom Bradley would give the savior, Al Davis, managing general partner of the Raiders, the keys to the city, right? I mean, he's given them to people who have done a lot less for L.A., hasn't he?
   The league wouldn't let the Raiders come to L.A. Outraged, the Coliseum Commission and the Raiders sued. I mean, who ever heard of a landlord being restrained from renting his vacant building by a conspiracy of owners of rival businesses?
   The antitrust trial ended with a hung jury. The American jurisprudence system is weighted like that, like a handicap horse race so everything will always come out a tie or its equivalent. But, Mayor Tom Bradley came out enthusiastically on the side of the plaintiffs, his commission and the Raiders.
   But that was "Mayor" Tom Bradley. On the eve of the retrial, Tom Bradley the candidate for governor emerged. A different persona. All of a sudden, he needed votes north of the Tehachapis. All of a sudden, hizzoner was telling an audience in the shadow of the Oakland Coliseum, "We want to leave your Raiders alone." He was climbing into bed with a lieutenant-governor candidate, Leo McCarthy, whose constituency is Northern California.
   The guy you saw flying out of the sled was Al Davis. The crowd you saw going into the L.A. Coliseum was seagulls.
   Tom Bradley has approached the NFL and Commissioner Pete Rozelle about getting "an expansion team for L.A." But Rozelle has had since 1978, when Rosenbloom announced he would move the Rams to L.A., to provide an expansion team or a promise of one. Rozelle wants to put an expansion team in Birmingham or Indianapolis, someplace they'll say "Thanks, Pete" and name a park after him or give him a ticker-tape parade, not a town that will growl, "What took you so long?"
   As recently as the last Super Bowl the commissioner was asked, "If Oakland is barred from moving to Los Angeles will L.A. get an expansion franchise?" And the commissioner answered, "No." He was also heard to say that the owners would regard a move like that as tantamount to "a reward for defying the league."
   L.A. sports fans, abandoned by the Kings, the Lakers and the Rams, all of whom came here as foundlings on the doorstep and were nourished to thriving health and affluence by their adopted city, now find their mayor running out on them, too. The mayor has said he will recommend that a condition of a new franchise be that the commissioner must agree that Al Davis will be a part of it. Now, that's really funny. At least, the mayor hasn't lost his sense of humor.
   Deserted by its home teams, are L.A. residents now asked to subsidize Tom Bradley's gubernatorial campaign by giving up the Raiders? And, tell me, Dear Abby, if hizzoner goes on to run for President, will they ask us to give the Dodgers and Giants back, too?

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

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