Gene Klein, owner of the San Diego Chargers, today said Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis is at the bottom of a "devious plot to undermine and intimidate the officials" of Sunday's American Football Conference championship game.
Ho-hum, just another day at the office for Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner. More later about Davis, deviousness, the Big Lie, dishonest journalism, conspiracy and insidious plots, all chapters in the 1980 Book of Al, for whom this has been a typical season of sadism and perversity, gallantry and courage.
Go ahead, open the book.
Sadism: The 50,000 Oakland fans cheered wildly when Raider quarterback Dan Pastorini was carried off the field with a broken leg in the season's fourth game. And after Oakland's 14-12 victory Sunday at Cleveland, Davis was treated rudely -- "assaulted," a newspaperman said -- by Raider fans welcoming the team at the airport.
Perversity: Though Oakland's stadium has been sold out for years, Davis wants to move the team to Los Angeles. To stay in Oakland, he is demanding the ransom of luxury box seats added to the stadium. To move, he is bucking the rules of the NFL. League owners voted, 22-0, against a Raider move. Los Angeles, which has promised the Raiders tall piles of money, has filed a $160 million antitrust suit against the league. Davis says he is moving to L.A., no matter what happens.
(As part of that antitrust suit, a deposition claims Pete Rozelle, the league commissioner, profited from the scalping of Super Bowl tickets. How the contents of that deposition became public, reported in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, is unknown. Everyone suspects Al Davis.)
Gallantry: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Oakland after last season's 9-7 record and the trades of Ken Stabler and Dave Casper, long the stars of the offense. But the old warhorses of the offensive line, Art Shell and Gene Upshaw, and the stork that delivers meanness, linebacker Ted Hendricks, have been the soul of an 11-5 season.
Courage: Jim Plunkett is the best story in football. When Pastorini went out, Plunkett came out of a trash can to play quarterback the way he did a decade ago as the Heisman Trophy winner at Stanford. Ruined at New England, where they wanted a savior; fired after two mediocre years with the 49ers; a third-stringer working the clipboard for two seasons with the Raiders, Plunkett replaced Pastorini and won six straight games. With Plunkett as the starter throwing long and often, the Raiders have a 10-2 record.
The son of a blind street-corner news peddler, Plunkett had risen from nothing to glory and slid down again. "I hate to admit it, but these two years doing nothing with the Raiders probably helped me," he said this summer. "I feel refreshed, I feel a new vigor. I like to think I'm back."
At New England, Plunkett was asked by Coach Chuck Fairbanks to be a scrambling quarterback. Because the offensive line was terrible, Plunkett often ran for safety. Too soon, all that running produced the inevitable result: a quarterback whose first thought was to get the hell out of there.
"We were 3-11 and I was sacked a lot," Plunkett said. "And there is some truth that I was gunshy. Fairbanks showed me on the film how I always had my feet squared up, ready to run. That was prudent a lot of times, of course. But I did it every time, and so I couldn't throw right. Then I lost confidence in the one thing I always believed I could do: Throw the football."
Come Sunday, Plunkett will be in the first championship game of his pro career. "My enthusiasm is back, I'm enjoying myself greatly," he said the other day. "Now I'm a calmer individual than I used to be. I used to get upset about so many things, whereas today I don't let everything bother me. Maybe age has something to do with that. I'm 33 now. I've been around a while."
Now, about Davis. . .
Klein doesn't like Davis, who once testified against Klein when minority partners sued the Chargers' owner.
Davis doesn't like Klein, who has been the most vocal of NFL owners opposed to the Raiders' proposed move to L.A.
Davis says Klein is worried that the Raiders would make more money in L.A. and so become a better football team. The Raiders and Chargers are in the same AFC West Division.
Klein says Davis, as an NFL owner, agreed to abide by certain rules -- including rules against moving franchises -- and now wishes to abide only by the rules of his choosing.
"A group of people are practicing the Big Lie," Klein said of Davis' contention that the Chargers are worried about competition. "It's the same thing Hitler practiced, and Mr. Goebbels. If you say a lie long enough, it begins to sound like the truth. You throw enough of the stuff against the wall, hoping some of it sticks."
During a press conference he called here this morning, Klein also suggested a connection between Davis and Mel Dursleg, sports columnist of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.
"The afternoon paper in L.A. is an Oakland Raider mouthpiece," Klein said, adding that a Durslag column Monday was part of a "devious plot to undermine and intimidate officials" of Sunday's championship game.
Klein produced the newspaper and read it aloud, pointing out the parts he suspected were planted with Durslag by Davis.
Durslag wrote: "When the pass was intercepted in the end zone, you looked immediately for a flag because this was a day on which a team suing the league for $160 million and rocking the boat with chargers of ticket scalping wasn't going to get the better."
And: "At extremely critical junctures, it got the worst of the ball-spotting. It also got nailed for a marginal interfernece call that, strangely enough, wasn't shown to the folks at home on the replay."
Klein harrumphed at that. "Now NBC is in on it," he said sarcatically. "They're part of the plot. The Big Lie."
Durslag's conclusion was that Oakland should as that the game be moved to another city, arguing "they can't get acceptable officiating within the confines of the 50 states." Failing that, the columnist said, the Raiders should "request an officiating crew from Canada."
"Is that fair, honest reporting?" Klein said. "Or is it an insidious attempt to intimidate officials in the game Sunday and cast aspersions on the NFL from top to bottom?"