“The Pirates Leave The Bay” By Ger Sayers
With the professional football team known as The Raiders boarding their ship once more to depart from the port city of Oakland, join me, Vault Dwellers, and we’ll take a brief look at the history behind the scenes of the team’s operations, owners, power grabs and the restlessness engrained in the organisation.
The Raiders Have Existed Since 1960. But Before We Had The Raiders, We Had The Vikings. The Minnesota Vikings….Well Not Exactly.
Even before the team had played a down of football, the moving vans were on the road. The American Football League had been founded in 1959 and held its first draft of players on November 22nd. Eight cities had been picked to host teams. The teams that came from this league, you will no doubt recognize as some of the best and worst of NFL teams. The Boston (now New England) Patriots, The Buffalo Bills, The New York Jets, The Houston Oilers (now
Texans), The Miami Dolphins, The Cincinnati Bengals, The Dallas Texans (now The Kansas City Chiefs), The Denver Broncos, The Los Angeles Chargers and an unnamed Minnesota team.
At some point after drafting part of its squad to compete in the league’s first season, the Minnesota ownership took up an offer from the National Football League to become an expansion team for the 1961 NFL season. It was at this point, LA Chargers owner, Barron Hilton (grandfather to Paris for anyone who’s interested) threatened to withdraw his team unless another West Coast team was set up in order for the Chargers to have some sort of local rivals.
After some very brief investigation work by AFL’s top brass, the Oakland Señores became the eighth team in the inaugural season. Now, while I personally love this name, it didn’t last long. It was the winner, believe it or not, to a “Name The Team” contest. After facing joke after joke and whispers of vote rigging, the team chose the third place entry, The Raiders, as it’s official, less amazing name. Even less amazing that no one seemed to point out that Oakland didn’t have a stadium capable of hosting its new team. This small oversight lead The Raiders to their first two moves. Season one took place between Kezar Stadium and Candlestick Park. Season two was in Candlestick Park only. Both of which were in San Francisco. San Francisco Señores, anyone?
Did You Know It’s Only The Year 106 According To The North Korean Calendar?
January 18th, 1963, The Raider Nation had witnessed the birth of its new king, Al Davis. Davis, a former college and LA Chargers coach as well as a brief spell as a Baltimore Colts freelance scout, was named as the team’s new Head Coach. He was in fact, the youngest head coach at the tender age of 33.
He wasted no time in purging out the old front office staff and players before installing his own. He rallied his troops under propaganda slogans such as “Commitment To Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby!” which was hung from the walls in the building. The game day cry of “We Go To War!” being among the iconic greatest hits from the white clothed general.
He brought a new offensive system which he called “The Vertical Game”. A similar system had brought early success to the LA Chargers, but Davis’ own twist on the concept left it designed to blow opponents out of the water. Davis’ arguably biggest mark on his team besides himself was that he had overseen the creation of a new uniform, the now infamous Black And Silver colour scheme.
Under Davis, kitted out in the Silver And Black and finally in their first proper home in Oakland, The Frank Youell Field, The Raiders recorded their first winning season, 10-4.
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
Davis coached The Raiders for three seasons but his number was called for a new role as the second Commissioner of the AFL. First Commissioner, Joe Foss, resigned due to the team owners’ opinion he wasn’t up for a fight with the NFL over who had footballing superiority in America.
Davis was brought in as a Street Fighter of a Commissioner, willing to take the fight to the more established league. Someone who they thought could out-box the NFL but would turn things into a straight up brawl if needs be. The owners knew he was capable of this as Al Davis had do it to them with dodgy dealings and by finding loopholes in the rules and exploiting in them in order to sign some of the best talent in the league. They knew once they got in the battle for survival, their local enemy could be their national hero. This is where Davis would get his dislike for the NFL head office.
What Does A Fighter Do When There Is No Fight?
Tit for tat exchanges over players’ contracts between leagues led to increases in player salaries in both leagues. Davis’ style, like a true pirate king, was take no prisoners. Fearing that these sort of business dealings could ruin everyone, NFL team owner, Tex Schramm, held secret meetings with AFL team owners behind Davis’ back. This would eventually lead to the June 8th 1966 NFL-AFL Merger announcement.
Davis, brought in as the bare knuckle brute of a Commissioner to save the AFL from the bullies in the NFL, now found himself jobless after a few months in the role. One of the conditions attached to the merger, the office of AFL commissioner was now closed. Davis refused to take up the newly created role of AFL President due to the feeling that he had been sold out by the owners of the AFL teams by not allowing him to be part of the negotiations of the merge. He also detested the idea that he would have to be a subservient to NFL bossman, Pete Rozelle.
A Time For Peace and Prosperity…Well Prosperity Anyway
Davis returned to Oakland in July ‘66. He bought a 10% part of The Raiders from F. Wayne Valley and Ed McGah and set up a holding company, A.D. Football Inc. As part of this, he also became Head of Football Operations. From here he would work his way to almost god-like
powers over the team.
While Valley headed to the 1972 Olympic Games in Germany, Davis had his lawyers draw up a new partnership agreement which gave him complete control over all The Raiders operations, football and business interests. McGah, being a fan of Davis signed the agreement. Valley was stripped of this power within the team in his absence. Valley sued when he returned only to find that no law had been broken and since the agreement already had the two out of three signatures it needed to be binding, he hadn’t a leg to stand on. He sold his interest in the club in 1976.
From that point onwards, not a signal partner except Davis would have ANY say in operations for the organisation. Davis now had full control over the team and all decisions made went through him until his death in 2011.
Well, What Do You Do Besides Football?
Al Davis didn’t come from big business. He wasn’t a property magnet or investment legend. He didn’t dig up gold or pump for oil. Realistically, he was someone who had a BA in English, coached football for a bit and made a smash and grab for the club while one of his business partners, and the guy who actually gave him his Head Coaching gig, was out of the country. He hadn’t got the money to pump into teams like some other owners could so he needed to make it through his team.
The 70’s was the time to be The Raiders. Success on the field led to rings on fingers and life was good for all involved but not good enough. A few teams had started to renovate or rebuild stadiums. Soldier Field in Chicago, Schaefer Stadium in New England, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas, Rich Stadium in Buffalo had all been built in the era of Raider glory and Minnesota’s Metrodome was getting ready to open in 1982. Davis wanted his as it was one of the only income sources he had to further the team and his ambitions for it.
Before the 1980 season, Davis failed in getting the city of Oakland to remodel The Oakland Coliseum, which had been the Raiders home since ‘66. Ground number four for those keeping score. He namely wanted luxury boxes added to the stadium which had become a great source of income for teams who had them. When it was rejected, he decided he would move the team to LA. Que the long winded legal battles which Davis is now remembered for.
First battle Davis had was convincing two thirds of the NFL team owners to agree to the move.
When the motion was defeated 22-0 with five owners not voting, Davis decided to drive on with the move anyway. The NFL took out an injunction to stop him. Davis counteracted this by launching a Antitrust lawsuit as well as joining in another Antitrust lawsuit taken out by the LA Coliseum who had lost the business of The Rams in ‘79. The first suit was declared a mistrial, due to the jury unable to reach a verdict, however, the second trial sided with Davis and the LA Coliseum saying that the NFL’s attempts to stop the move violated The Sherman Antitrust Act by “unreasonably prohibiting competitive movement of teams”. Raider Nation was on the move again and the Los Angeles Raiders where born.
From “Black Sunday” to Back Friday
January 22nd 1984, The Raiders destroyed the 3-point favorites, The Redskins, 38-9 in Super Bowl XVII. This, after only two seasons in LA, was the highlight of their entire existence in Los Angeles.
While The Raider brand was the hottest thing going, in no small part to a little known Gangster Rap outfit called “N.W.A.” using the black and silver colour scheme along with the eye patch wearing, Randolph Scott look alike logo, the team couldn’t be any colder on the field. ‘84 and ‘85 were good seasons but ultimately ended before a Super Bowl. Fights between Davis and MVP running back, Marcus Allen, a league wide player strike, and poor win records, all started to affect attendance at games. In a stadium that struggled to fill its 90,000 plus seats, even when The Raiders were at the height of their powers, Davis started house hunting again around 1986.
Davis wasn’t happy with LA Coliseum management either. No luxury boxes had been built and upgrades promised if he moved the team there were never carried out. Coupled to the fact the stadium was in a sketchy part of town, Davis was looking for a new home somewhere in LA.
You’ll see a few of these names popping up now and then over the next thirty or so years. Sites proposed included one near Hollywood Park Racecourse, a horse racing track, and a site in the city of Carson, which has the International Printing Museum. In August 1987, the winner of the search was Irwindale, who paid a $10 million good faith deposit to Davis to move his team there. The site was a disused quarry. Fitting that is was a big hole, just like where Irwindale $10 million used to sit, and empty, like Davis’ promise to move the team there.
When Irwindale fell apart, Davis opened talks with an old flame, Oakland, in 1989 but couldn’t reach a deal. On September 11th, 1990, Davis announced a deal to stay in LA. Davis even got $10 million of debt he owed to the Coliseum written off and another “faith” payment of $10million. Stories of Sacramento offering $50 million in “faith” and a $100 million stadium was batted around with Davis turning his nose up when the city wanted part ownership. California officials were just throwing millions in cash about at this point as if it was going out of fashion to a man shown to be dishonest at the best of times.
The final proof of how much of a shady bloke Davis was came in 1995. In May of that year, league owners approved to support a $200 million deal for the Hollywood Park Stadium project to go ahead. Davis had what he wanted. He had his LA home and all would be right for The LA Raiders…except it wasn’t. At least not in his eyes. Davis shunned the deal. A clause in the deal stated that a second team, one from the NFC, would also be calling the stadium home. Davis didn’t want to split his crowning achievement with nobody, mainly because it would involve splitting revenue.
On June 23rd, 1995, a Friday, Davis signed the letter of intent to move the team back to
You Can’t Teach Stupid, But You Sure Can Elect It To Public Office!
Davis brought the team back to Oakland and with that, public money was granted to help address some of the issues Davis had with the Oakland Coliseum. This manifested itself into Mount Davis. It was the third level section of seating designed to increase the capacity of the stadium, all dropped on top of a couple rows of, you guessed it, luxury boxes. All paid by the county and city where the stadium stands.
The Mount Davis name came from the fact the structure blocks the once glorious view of the Oakland Hills from the stadium. People involved with the deal famously said The Raiders would have “sellouts” for years. In 2006, the entire third deck of the stadium, which included Mount Davis, was completely covered for baseball games in order to reduce a number of seats in the ground. These covers were removed for football but in 2013, 11,000 of the seats Al Davis fought for, got covered to avoid TV blackouts of games since ticket sales were so bad.
Death Of The King
The Raiders can be summed up as no hopers for a Super Bowl from 1995 until 2000, then three years of contendership. They lost in the Playoffs twice to the eventual Super Bowl champions, The Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and The New England Patriots 2001. In 2002, a decision by Davis to allow Head Coach, Jon Gruden, to go to The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bit them so hard, you can still see the teeth marks.
Tampa had won the NFC. Oakland had won the AFC. The 2002 Super “Pirate” Bowl was on and it was a massacre for the men flying the red flag from Florida. It’s claimed Gruden was almost able to call The Raider offensive plays before The Raiders did. They had changed very little from the system he had placed in them. Five interceptions and a 48-21 final score, those stories may be true.
Al Davis died in 2011. In the years between his team last appearance in a Super Bowl and his death, he would never see a winning season again. Two 8-8 seasons was the best they could pull together. Poor returns from drafted players, trades for players who turned in subpar performers, throwing away future draft picks for said players and inflated contracts all crippled the once great club. So much had been spent trying to insure short term success by Davis, possibly out of desperation to see his team win something before his passing, had all led to nothing. What would be next for the now headless Raiders?
Bowl Cut, Dodge Caravan and Nokia Phone = Success
Mark Davis didn’t appear to be groomed by his father to become the new leader of Raider Nation in the event of Davis Snr’s demise. He never got involved in running day to day operations probably because he wasn’t allowed to by his father. He once got involved in the football side of the team, albeit against his father. In 1980, aged 25, Junior represented Raider wide receiver, Cliff Branch, in contract talks with Senior. Mark done such a good job, Branch is still being paid. Once the deal was signed, Al kicked his son out of the family home.
Mark did, however, work for the team in the retail side of the business at some point but details are very few and far between on what he actually did. Mark didn’t know the football side of running a football team so he brought in John Madden and Jon Wolf for advice. They both recommend he bring in Reggie McKenzie as GM. So he did and gave him the power over the football side of the family business. With new GM in place to fill half of the work load done by his father, he began working on the money making half himself.
New Davis, Old Habits
The lease was scheduled to be up on the Oakland Coliseum in 2016 and just like his father, Mark wanted his own stadium. Oakland was still the only city to have both a baseball and football team in the one venue. Chats took place for The Raiders to share Levi Stadium with the 49ers. Once the 49ers started the process on their own, Mark looked for other suitors.
First to woo was Oakland themselves in 2012. Mayor at the time, Jean Quan, wanted to build Coliseum City. A site in which football, baseball and basketball would all have their own arena and stadiums. This never got off the planning stages, possibly since none of the teams were involved at any point in the process.
2013 brought a trip to The Concord Naval Weapons Station in Concord, California. Many people will know this place because The Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters, used the site on a few episodes dealing with car myths. It’s also name checked in 1996’s The Rock starring Sir Sean Connery. The disused military base never went further than the visit.
2014 brought a meeting with the city of San Antonio, Texas. Mark never disclosed whether or not he would consider moving to the city but plans got far enough for people to know that the Alamodome would house The Raiders until a new stadium could be built. Nothing came of this meeting in the long run.
The Battle For LA
An alliance between The Raiders and Chargers was launched in 2015 and the idea of football in Carson was brought to life. It was announced they would build a stadium with $1.7 billion in private funds. Both teams wanted new stadiums in their home markets but if this wasn’t going to happen, Carson was the ticket to a new stadium for both teams.
Around 2014, Rams fans in St. Louis had been hearing rumours their team may be heading back to LA, back to an area the NFL had already tried to put a stadium for a certain upset owner, Hollywood Park. Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, bought land near the site of the old racecourse. A Walmart was to be built on the site but NFL owners must declare if they buy land big enough to build stadiums on, hence the rumours. A year passed before news about the site came up. The announcement came that Kroenke was to build a stadium on the site with intentions of moving The Rams there.
Three teams, two stadiums. NFL owners held a meeting at the beginning of 2016 to decide what was to happen. The outcome, St. Louis was to lose The Rams and they would return to LA. first playing in the LA Coliseum then moving to Hollywood Park once finished. The second part was The Chargers got first refusal to move to the site with The Rams. If they did not decide to move or if they could hammer out a deal with San Diego, The Raiders could take up residency in Hollywood Park. This killed Carson where it stood. Without NFL approval or money, it couldn’t go ahead. It also left The Raiders on a holding pattern until The Chargers decided. The Chargers decided to move on 12th of January 2017. The dream of a return to LA for The Raiders was dead.
And From Out Of Nowhere…
Mark Davis had a meeting in Las Vegas with casino juggernaut, Sheldon Adelson in January 2016. The plan was hatched to build a $2.3 billion stadium in Las Vegas. With the money pledged to carry out the project, including Las Vegas bringing in extra money to cover the cost by increasing room tax in hotels, the Carson Stadium plan was rejigged and relaunched for the desert.
Oakland had one last trick though. In May 2016, former NFL player Ronnie Lott teamed up with the city of Oakland to provide a deal to keep Oakland the home of The Raiders. With his backers, the Fortress Investment Group, public money and land from Oakland, the NFL and The Raiders contributions, a $1.3 billion stadium site where the Coliseum stood was proposed.
By this stage, Mark Davis had enough of Oakland. After a disagreement over the rent costs and his feeling the stadium project wasn’t a credible option, he no longer wanted to deal with the city until the Las Vegas project had run its course.
And Here We Are, The Present Day
With both proposals on the table, on March 27th, 2017, the owners had to vote once more on the faith of The Raiders. By 31-1, a Davis final won the right to move his team without courtroom battles. Mark has said he hopes his team can bring one more Super Bowl to the Bay before the team leave for Vegas and after an outstanding season, 12-4, in which only horror injuries to key players at the worst times stopped them from possibly having a serious march for The Lombardi Trophy, they could just do that and give Oakland one last happy memory.
They will play out the 2017 and 2018 season as the Oakland Raiders. Then they will move to a temporary location in Nevada in 2019 prior the opening of their new stadium, and hopefully final stop for this organisation, in 2020. In doing so, Mark Davis will do something his father could not, find a suitable home for one football’s most iconic team. And isn’t one upping your parents something we all strive to do?
- Sources: NBCBayArea.com
- ESPN.com SportsLogoHistory.com
- ESPNclassic.com NYTimes.com
- ESPN.com/doubletruck SFGate.com
- WashingtonPost.com Bill Plaschke
- Raiders.com NFL.com
- Wikipedia.org ESPN 30 for 30 “Straight Outta LA”
- LATimes.com NFL Network The Time Line “Last Days In LA”
- SI.com NFL Network A Football Life “Al Davis”
“The Pirates Leave The Bay” By Ger Sayers