Monday, October 10, 2011

The world of professional sports lost another icon Saturday with the death of Al Davis.
Davis, the public face of the Oaklabd Raiders and briefly the commissioner of the AFL, died in his home in Oakland. A controversial character in the NFL since the early 1960s, Davis was a frequent subject of Jim Murray columns.
Let's take a look back at Jim Murray's column from June 25, 1995, about the Raiders' departure from Los Angeles.



Al Proves Them Wrong: You Can Go Home Again

   Well, goodby, Al. Turn off the lights when you leave. I'm sorry it had to come to this. Come back and see us sometime. Write if you feel like it.
   Leave the key under the mat. Don't leave mad. But take your team with you, will you?
   Sorry it didn't work out. But you know how these things are. Win a few, lose a few.
   Going back where you came from, hey? That's new! How interesting! What happens now? Do the Washington Redskins go back to Boston? That's where they started. Do the Arizona Cardinals become the Chicago Cardinals again? That's what they were before they became the St. Louis Cardinals, then the Arizona ones.
   Do the Indianapolis Colts become the Baltimore Colts again? Or do they become the Dallas Texans? You remember, that's what they were. And before that, the New York Bulldogs. Ted Collins' team. You remember, Kate Smith's manager. And husband.
   Where do the Rams go back to? Cleveland, where they originated? Anaheim, where they moved in 1980? Or Los Angeles, where they moved in 1946?
   The NFL has been a federation of Bedouins from the start. Heck, the Chicago Bears were the Decatur Staleys, if you want to go back that far. Their purpose on earth was not to go to a Super Bowl but to sell starch.
   Things haven't changed much. The goal of football today is to sell luxury boxes, right, Al?
   We in the Los Angeles area have now lost two professional teams in a span of a few months. A shocking state of affairs, Al, but no your concern, eh?
   It used to be, they would be bucking a trend. The rest of the country was trying to get to Southern California, not out of it. If you don't believe it, just look at the record: When I came to this state all those years ago, the population was a little over 8 million. Today, it's 32 million. One of the great mass migrations of history.
   You have to ask yourself, are the Dodgers next? The Lakers want out too?
   Of course, Al, you are the first one to go back to square one, your roots. And the author, Thomas Wolfe, no less, warned "You Can't Go Home Again." But what does he know?
   A lot of guys are going to say "Good riddance, Al. And take all those motorcycle gangs and tattooed ruffians with you, with their black leather jackets and jackboots."
   But the departure of a sports franchise is like a death in the family, Al. Particularly to a sportswriter with a deadline. Particularly to the hotel or restaurant industry. A TV network. A concessionaire. The limousine business. Ticket scalpers.
   On the other hand, Al, we have to ask ourselves, did we ever really have the Raiders? Or want them?
   The evidence is overwhelming. The Raiders were in Los Angeles but not of it. They weren't disliked. They were merely tolerated. You never crept into our hearts, Al. I don't know whether you ever noticed it.
   You see, every other carpetbagging team that arrived here was coming into a vacuum. We never had pro football here till the Rams arrived from Cleveland. We never had major league baseball till the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn. We never had pro basketball till the Lakers came from Minneapolis.
   The Raiders were, in a sense, interlopers. They were never truly accepted. Their fan base was modest to low. When they contested for the title in a playoff game, 90,000 showed up. When they played Tampa Bay, 30,000 came.
   Their image was hardly reassuring, Al. A police presence had to be beefed up for Raider games. Raider paraphernalia all across the country came to be the costume of the scafflaw. Every hooligan in the country caught beating his brother or holding up a 7-Eleven seemed to be wearing a Raider jacket. A Raider end zone fan once kicked into a coma fellow spectator incautious enough to wear a Pittsburgh Steeler jacket. That was embarrassing for laid-back Los Angeles. Not our style.
   The Raiders could hardly be held accountable for fan behavior, Al, but look at it this way: The reality was, the Raiders kept a light in the window for on-field renegades too. Raider lineups were so full of guys who had been thrown off other teams, guys whose very sanity was suspect, that rival coach Chuck Noll, no less, referred to your Raiders a the "criminal element" of the league. He thought they belonged not in Oakland but in Folsom.
   To leave Los Angeles bereft is one thing for the Raiders, quite another for the league. I mean, resentment of and dislike for Los Angeles was a powerful motivator for ticket sales in other communities. To shout "Beat L.A.!" is one thing. To say "Beat St. Louis!" or "Beat Oakland!" does not have quite the same ring. Like, who cares? "Beat L.A!" means "Make my day!"
   The league — and the networks — will not long want the 20 million people south of the Tehachapis to be unrepresented in the scheme of things. We'll get a team, whether we want one or not.
   Too bad it had to turn out this way. Nobody's fault, really. I'm glad Oakland is willing to take you back. Shows great forbearance on their part. Still, I'd kind of watch my back if I were you. Cut the cards, if you know what I mean.
   But, what am I telling you? Nobody messes with Al Davis, right? Not unless they want to find themselves out in the cold, wondering what happened to their pants.
   You might want to tell Oakland.

* Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times

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