Los Angeles watching the Oakland Raiders -- in court
Los Angeles -- Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays excepted -- has awakened each morning for the past several weeks to a court trial that pits Al Davis and the L.A. Memorial Coliseum Commission against Commissioner Pete Rozelle and the National Football League.
For any Rip van Winkles in the audience, Davis wants to move his NFL Oakland Raiders franchise to Los Angeles, where he would undoubtedly make more money, especially if pay television were to become a permanent part of pro football.
Such a shift, of course, would leave Oakland without an NFL franchise, although the San Francisco 49ers are only minutes across the Bay.
The reasons that Davis and the Coliseum Commission are in the courts is because they have chosen to challenge a specific piece of the NFL Constitution. It is the one that calls for an affirmative vote from three-fourths of the league's 28 teams before a franchise can be moved.
Although his fellow owners voted against Davis, he refused to abide by the ruling and has taken his fight to the courts. But regardless of who wins, one official told me, "Too much time has gone by for the Raiders to play anywhere else in 1981 except Oakland."
If one were to ignore the exceptional personalities of those who climb regularly to the witness stand, it has been a dull trial, heavy with words, legal phrases, and protocol. There are reports that the transcript is already moving toward 6,000 pages and may reach 15,000 before baseball pitcher Gaylor Perry can get his 300th major league win.
The presiding judge, Harry Pregerson, was promoted to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals before this trial started and could have left this case for his successor had he so desired. But instead the challenge or something was too great for him.
Judge Pregerson, a decorated US Marine officer in World War II, is a man who is not without a sense of humor, who worked hard to settle this case in pretrial hearings, and who seems to have an unusually large amount of patience.
Davis and Rozelle have both been excellent witnesses. Al is a naturally combative person, who gets even more aggressive when he is pushed. Rozelle, who as NFL commissioner has been on the stand many times before in recent years concerning league business, has almost earned the right to be called a professional witness.
The 10 jurors sitting on this case, according to reports, can look forward to maybe another two months of listening to testimony that will never make a best-seller list.
During the trial, and this has to be a first, Davis hosted a party for the L.A. press and friends of the Raiders in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Those invited were greeted at the door by Raiderettes in costume (a sort of superior brand of female cheerleader), and you were asked if you would like to have your picture taken between the Oakland club's two Super Bowl trophies. These silver trophies reposed behind velvet ropes and were guarded by uniformed police.
When guests arrived at their tables, press releases were already sitting on their chairs: not unusual at a function of this kind, but unique because nowhere on the paper was the word Oakland mentioned, only the word Raiders.
Davis, at his dramatic best, arrived fashionably late between the main meal and dessert. Al stopped at a lot of tables that night, shook a banquet room full of hands, and said a lot of pleasant things to members of the news media he'd known for years.
At the end of the meal the Raiders (from Oakland) showed half of Los Angeles highlights of their 1980 championship season, which culminated with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. It was a beautifully edited piece of work by NFL Films, which made all Raider players look like Superman, employed all the standard camera tricks, and lasted 25 glorious minutes.
When Davis was asked the purpose of the party afterward, he replied: "We really weren't trying to do anything. We just wanted people to meet some of our players and get to know us as an organization. We were just trying to show the poise and pride of the Raiders."
Whether male or female, sports writer or just plain Joe Phan, everyone was gifted with a silver and black ruffled garter with a metal logo of the Raiders in the middle. My wife threw mine out with the eggshells the next morning.