If justice prevails, the courts will drop-kick Al Davis back to Oakland before that infamous raider does a dime's worth of business in Los Angeles. If reason prevails, the National Football League then will award to L.A. an expansion franchise committed to hiring George Allen as coach.
The spicy pro football drama this offseason is that Davis is trying to ruin the NFL. Again. Devotees of athletic back-stabbing surely recall the first time, April 8, 1966, when he was named commissioner of the American Football League.
In its war with the NFL, the AFL needed a cunning and bold leader, two descriptions that fit Davis like that ever-present sneer. By signing some top NFL quaterbacks to AFL contracts once their agreements expired, he was as influential as anyone in forcing the merger two months later.
Like Gerald Ford, Davis would have accepted an honest and sincere groundswell of support to lead his party. But the owners went for image and continuity, namely Pete Rozelle, in that postmerger election for commissioner -- and Davis went back to running as successful and entertaining a team as any in sport.
And to fighting Rozelle.
Raiders is a wonderfully appropriate name for Al Davis' team. Devious enough so even that threat makes the opposition cringe, they have been the NFL's mavericks longer than anyone. Now they want to leave a territory awash with gold for the mother lode.
They want to move from Oakland to Los Angeles. Or perhaps the tense is wrong. According to Davis, they already have moved to L.A., having signed an agreement nearly two weeks ago to play next season in the Coliseum.
Gang tackling, his fellow owners said Monday that Davis and his team will stay put. Presumably, vans hauling blocking sleds, microphones shaped like light bulbs and other vital Raiders tools are humming toward L.A., for Davis promised to begin shifting operations today.
But shifty Al might not be able to shift. For the first time in his sporting life, Davis might lose a big off-the-field game. He is up against a seemingly impregnable defense, concocted by the strangest football strategist imaginable -- the commissioner of baseball.
Yes, Bowie Kuhn has set the trap that the Nfl owners ought to be able to spring on Davis. He did it three years ago when a court agreed he had the right to keep Charley Finley from a custom more common to baseball than Davis' is to football.
Finley tried to trade Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to Boston, for $1 million each, and Vida Blue to the Yankees, for $1.5 million, just before the baseball trading deadline.
Kuhn voided the deal, "in the best interest of baseball."
A few decades after the Emancipation Proclamation, baseball began selling and trading men without their consent. Kuhn said this one wasn't proper -- and a Chicago judge supported him.
The judge ruled that Kuhn had that right because the baseball owners -- Finley included -- gave it to him, in Article 1, Section 2 of the major league agreement.
What he said was that owners must agree to abide by the rules they create, regardless of how stifling they might seem to a real-world businessman. cIt is a mighty precedent, for the NFL owners have a rule they just exercised Monday to nail Davis to Oakland.
The rule says that an owner must rec eive 21 votes from his 28 peers to move a franchise. Twenty-two teams voted against Davis, with five abstentions. Pouting, Davis said he will move, anyway, adding: "I just want to be treated the same as (the late) Carroll Rosenbloom."
He will argue that the owners changed the unanimous-consent rule to three-fourths to accommodate Rosenbloom's move to Anaheim, which left the L.A. territory vacant. Besides, he adds, the vote to change that unanimous-consent rule required unanimous consent itself -- and Davis abstained.
So the new rule isn't hustler's handshake. And Davis specifically recalls saying to Rozelle when it passed: "I reserve the right to move the Oakland Raiders anytime I want."
The owners will argue that Rosenbloom's transfer of the Rams was within their 75-mile territorial limit -- and thus no different from the Cowboys' shift to Irving, Tex, and the Giants' shift to the Jersey swamps. c
Undoubtedly, Davis will offer the candy-store principle of business, that a man has the right to relocate somewhere more profitable regardless of how loyal his customers have been.
And Raider fans have been as loyal as any. In each of the last 10 years, the team has sold more than 50,000 season tickets.
Apologists for L.A. argue that sports -- and especially the NFL -- is rife with franchise shifters. In 1937, the Redskins switched from Boston to Washington the year after they won the NFL eastern Conference title.
Three of L.A.'s major sports teams had drifted west, the Rams from Cleveland, Dodgers from Brooklyn and the Lakers from Minneapolis. Why not let the Raiders ramble southward?
The reason is that all the other franchise movers had the blessing of the other owners. It was a conspiracy of outlaws. This is a conspiracy against a Raider.
It ought to hold up in court.
When the legal game ends, Davis should be penalized several hundred miles for illegal use of power and told not to leave Oakland until the town gives him just cause. That having been accomplished, the NFL still owes L.A. a team -- and it should immediately expand.
There should be a law that makes a league replace a team that has left a town that has offered reasonable support. Two more teams will not dilute the NFL much more -- and the most recent expansion teams, Tampa Bay and Seattle, clearly are competitive.
The ownership of the new L.A. franchise must be made to realize there is no better choice to lead it than the exile in nearby Palos Verdes, Allen. No one could make it a winner more quickly.
Like Davis, Allen has some traits that make rooting against him easy. Like Davis, he also is a man who makes himself -- and his league -- impossible to ignore.