"In all my travels, I have discovered that the guerrilla has a chance of winning in most places if he has a cause."
So said Al Davis back in 1970, describing to a reporter how the upstart American Football League used guerrilla tactics to undermine the strength of the powerful National Football League and force a merger.
Now, once again, the brash managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders is locked in legal combat. But this time it's a nasty civil war, with Davis on one side and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle -- apparently with the support of the other 27 team owners -- on the other side.
On Feb. 9 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, attorneys for Davis will challenge the NFL's constitutional right to block him from moving his club from Oakland to the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Rozelle, in a recent interview, described the Davis legal challenge as a threat to the existence of the league, which has become rich and powerful during his 21-year tenure as commissioner. Rozelle's favorite word in describing what Davis' wants is "anarchy."
Davis, who was not available to be interviewed for this article, has answered Rozelle's "anarchy" allegation before. He has said that he "no more favored anarchy than Pete Rozelle does and he knows it," that he "just wanted to be treated the same as Carroll Rosenbloom (the late owner of the Los Angeles Rams) and others were when they moved."
But Rozelle is quick to point out that the NFL approved moves by the Rams and other clubs to the suburbs. The Raiders, he adds, are looking to move a bit farther than the other clubs -- a distance of about 400 miles.
Confrontations between Rozelle and Davis are nothing new. In fact, Davis has been bridling under the rule of the NFL czar practically from the first day the two strong-willed men had anything to do with each other.
The public record indicates that Rozelle has come out the victor in those various clashes -- so far.
The two men have dramatically different styles.
Davis, 51, who retains the brashness of his Brooklyn youth, favors flashy clothes in white and black (the Raiders' colors). Leisure hours are spent in Las Vegas, where he is friendly with gamblers and others who law enforcers usually describe as having ties to organized crime.
In 1975, for example, he joined Rosenbloom in an unsuccessful effort to get the other NFL owners to curb Rozelle's power. Then, in 1977, Davis cast the only negative vote when the owners voted to tear up Rozelle's contract, which had three years to run, and to give him a new 10-year contract with a handsome raise. At the same time, he was forced to abort efforts to force the league to specify Rozelle's responsibilities.
Davis is the only NFL club executive who takes his team's share of the profits from the league's franchising operation, NFL Properties Inc. The other owners contribute the profits to NFL Charities -- an organization created by Pete Rozelle.
Rozelle has taken his licks at Davis, too. In 1977, Rozelle dropped Davis from the influential competition committee. And he has fined Davis for openly criticizing the quality of officiating at games.
With their long-festering feud now in the open, the two men are fighting a pretrial publicity battle. In this type of fight, Davis appears to be a taskmaster, as he and his attorneys leak what Rozelle and others familiar with the documents convincingly describe as "distortions" of pretrial depositions.
The NFL has petitioned the court to have the trial moved from Los Angeles, at least partly because of the publicity. The judge has not ruled, but he has said he might draw jurors from outside of Los Angeles County, where the coliseum is located, and Orange County, where the Rams now play in Anaheim.
A number of recent stories damaging to the NFL have been leaked to the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise, a paper in Riverside County. Rozelle and NFL General Counsel Jay Moyer say they suspect this is being done by Davis to circulate his version of his spat with the league is a suburban area where prospective jurors live.
Davis' attorney, Joseph L. Alioto Sr., denies that his client is leaking information from the depositions, claiming Rozelle is the source of all the leaks.
By contrast, Rozelle, 54, is a Los Angeles transplant who fits comfortably in the sophisticated world of Park Avenue, where he works, and Westchester County, where he lives on an estate. His estimated salary of $400,000-plus and his glamorous, expense-account life style allow him to wear finely tailored suits and maintain a year-round tan.
Like Rozelle, Davis has had startling success in the big business of professional football. Rosenbloom, the late owner of the Rams and another Rozelle critic, claimed to have given Davis a start in pro football as a scout for the Baltimore Colts when Rosenbloom owned that club.
Rosenbloom used to say that Davis' biggest contribution was to persuade him to make Lennie Moore of Penn State the Colts' first draft choice one year. Later, Davis was coach of the new AFL's San Diego team, and still later became coach and general manager of the Raiders, where he turned its $400,000 annual loss into a $100,000 profit.
Then, in April 1966, Davis was named commissioner of the American Football League, and immediately called a press conference to attack the older league.He also began to pick up NFL quarterbacks for his league.
But, in just three months, Davis was out as commissioner of the AFL and Rozelle had been chosen commissioner of the new combined league. What's more, the merger was negotiated behind Davis' back by AFL founding father Lamar Hunt, among others, and a group of powerful NFL owners.
One story at the time was that Davis was kept in the dark about the merger talks and was used by AFL owners to scare their NFL counterparts with threats of a bidding war for talent.
Whatever the true story, Davis resigned in July 1966, and observers say that, ever since, his natural antagonism has been directed at Rozelle and most of the other NFL owners.