In the wake of the death of Al Davis, I was asked by an interviewer why Oakland officials were so eager to persuade the Raiders to move back from Los Angeles. The answer was simple: The Raiders are the only major league franchise to start in Oakland.
The late 1960s were heady times for Oakland sports fans. A young A’s team was preparing for a run which would bring them three straight World Series championships. The Warriors had moved into the new Coliseum Arena after shuttling between the Cow Palace, Civic Auditorium and USF. The Raiders had been to their second Super Bowl and were in the midst of a run in which they would be in four straight league/conference championship games.
But the A’s and Warriors were transplants, from Kansas City and San Francisco. The Raiders had always been in Oakland.
By the late ’60s, they not only were winners, but a very unorthodox team, reflecting Davis’s rebellious nature, with colorful players such as Ken Stabler, Dan Birdwell and Marv Hubbard. But they also had solid citizens such as Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, Ben Davidson and Tom Keating who worked very hard at football.
The fans loved them. Raiders ticket manager George Glace had an easy job because games were sold out on a season ticket basis for 13 years, starting in 1968, and virtually all the season ticket-holders renewed automatically each year.
Then, Davis moved to Los Angeles. He claimed that the team needed more revenue, but the Raiders were fifth in the NFL in revenue. He claimed he needed luxury boxes, but he would not agree to a 15-year deal when the Coliseum presented him with a plan and instead moved the team to Los Angeles on the verbal promise of luxury boxes. The Oakland luxury boxes were built when the Haas family bought the A’s; Davis never got luxury boxes in Los Angeles.
The Raiders’ time in Los Angeles started well, with their third Super Bowl championship after the 1982 season, but the team never got the popularity Davis wanted. When I was writing “Just Win, Baby” in 1990, the Raiders were playing Kansas City in a pivotal game. They won the game and went on to the AFC championship game, but their game story was on page 5 of the Los Angeles Times. The going nowhere Rams were on page 1. The pecking order in the area had become USC, the Lakers, the Rams and the Raiders, a distant fourth.
All this time, George Vukasin, head of the Oakland Coliseum Commission, had been working to get the Raiders back, and he did, for the 1995 season.
But this was not the team that had left. The Raiders were full of lazy, overweight players — Chester McGlocklin was the poster boy. It wasn’t until Jon Gruden came in and got rid of the underproducers, most notably Jeff George for Rich Gannon, that the Raiders became winners again.
The fan base had changed, too. Gone were the solid, middle-class citizens who had rooted vociferously for their team but respected the rights of those around them. In their place were ... well, you know.