When the Oakland Raiders signed an agreement to play next season in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the National Football League suddenly found itself with more lawsuits hanging in its closet than uniforms.
Naturally the Raider's managing general partner, Al Davis, was at the center of the storm. Davis has been dueling with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle over policy for the better part of two decades.
Davis and Rozelle get along like flint and steel, and when Al announced his move without paying any attention to that part of the NFL constitution concerning franchise shifts, Pete exploded. So did Oakland fans, who have supported the Raiders with continuous sellouts for the past 11 years.
That piece of the NFL constitution that Davis ignored calls for a Three-fourths vote of the league's 28 teams before a franchise can shift to another club's territory.
The other team, in this case, is Owner Georgia Rosenbloom's Los Angeles Rams. After many years as Coliseum tenants, the Rams are taking their show 40 miles down the freeway to Anaheim Stadium, also the home park of baseball's California Angels.
There are several reasons that Davis wants to move the Raiders out of the Bay Area. High on Al's list is the fact that the commission that runs the Oakland Coliseum has been slow to give him the luxury boxes and other improvements that the L.A. Coliseum has already promised.
But the chief reason is that Davis knows that the day the Raiders settle permanently in L.A., his NFL franchise probably will increase somewhere between pay-television money that is just waiting to be had in the Los Angeles area.
One of the ways Oakland is trying to keep the Raiders is to have them con demned, much like a piece of land -- allowing the city to take over the team by a kind of curious right of eminent domain.
But there are also numerous other lawsuits and countersuits, just as bizarre, which have turned what was never really a sports story into heavy reading for someone like F. Lee Bailey.
Yet not even the Raiders were ready for the tidal wave of public response that surfaced when they recently opened ticket offices for the 1980 season in Los Angeles.
According to a Raider spokesman, one would-be purchaser dialed the ticket office 29 times before getting through, while another claimed he got busy signals for more than five hours.
Callers, who did get through were asked their names, addresses, and how many tickets they wanted to buy. Then each caller was given a code number and told to use that number in a follow-up letter confirming his ticket requests.
There are now reports that the Raiders have more than 60,000 season-ticket applicants at prices ranging from $10 to $15 a game. There is also speculation that nearly all of the L.A. Coliseum's future luxury suites (priced at between $ 30,000 and $40,000 per season) have been subscribed to, mostly by large corporations.
Where Davis, the commissioner, and the other NFL owners go from here is anybody's guess. But the first step has to be the courtroom, and getting a date there in time to solve things for next season appears impossible at this point.
Although no one in authority seems to want to come right out and say it, chances are the Raiders will have to stay in Oakland at least through the 1980 season.
Al Davis may have been dropped from Oakland's social register, but pro football fans there aren't apt to blame the Raider players for what has happened and probably will continue to support them.