The antitrust trial involving the National Football League being argued in U.S. District Court here is barely a week ond and already it has degenerated into a public display of self-flagellation by the powers of football.
The trial will be resumed Tuesday and it seems safe to predict that if it goes on for three months, as some predict, there will be no winners in the end. g
Presiding Judge Harry Pregerson foresaw this about a year ago when he was assigned the case and has pressed, and continues to press, for the two sides to reach a settlement.
The antitrust case was brought by the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission and Al Davis, managing partner of the Oakland Raiders. The plaintiffs claim that the NFL and others conspired to keep the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles to replace the Rams, who abandoned the Coliseum for Anaheim, 25 miles away.
In testimony and opening remarks, Raider counsel has made a broadbrush attack on league management and on Davis' fellow owners. The owners are portrayed as money--grubbing opportunists who would gladly sell out their loyal fans for a bigger take.
In one declaration of Davis' motivation, a plaintiff's attorney told the jurors not to worry about such emotional issues as the Raiders abandoning the loyal fans who had jammed the Oakland Coliseum for 12 straight years. The issues, said the attorney, are strictly economic.
On the witness stand, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's legendary smoothness has come across as evasiveness during the tough questioning by Raider attorney Joseph Alioto.
Meanwhile, the hyperintense Davis sits on the front bench pursing his lips, muttering to himself and shaking his head as he listens to longtime enemy Rozelle testify.
The jury of seven women and three men, its members chosen for their lack of knowledge about pro football, is getting a quick education in NFL economics.
They have been given a verbal tour of jet-set expense-account living that includes business meeting in plush resorts, such as Hawaii and Palm Springs, team owners' homes with swimming pools and tennis courts, deals worth tens of millions of dollars and lavish parties in New Orleans, Beverly Hills, New York and places in between.
Rozelle, who has been on the witness stand for six hours, has suffered repeated bouts with a faulty memory.
"I've never seen Pete have amnesia before," cracked Davis during a break in the trial.
Alioto, a tenacious and sarcastic examiner, seized on Rozelle's troubled memory, rewording questions time and again to draw the commissioner into repeated replies of "I don't recall."
One subject on which Rozelle seems to have almost an absolute mental block is money. For example, while Rozelle was able to tick off the exact seating capacities at 14 NFL stadiums, he was unable to tell the cost of a single one of those stadiums -- many of them built with public funds in the last few years.
Alioto, 62, is a subject of wisecracking by his attorney opposites.
Defense attorneys point out whenever possible that the former San Francisco mayor has at times represented both sides in professional football legal affairs -- and has been paid handsomely for his efforts.
In this case he is suing the league on behalf of the Raiders, but in another role he represents the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL in their complex legal tangles.
Topping off Alioto's complex situation is the fact that his second wife is the daughter of William H. Sullivan Jr., owner of the New England Patriots.
As the trial drags on and the mud flies, the other 27 club owners might go for an accomodation with their rebel partner, Davis. And indications of waning support for Davis have surfaced among his fellow plaintiffs, the nine members of the Coliseum commission.
Before any settlement, however, Rozelle will complete his testimony. Davis, who hangs on every word spoken in the trial with the intensity he usually reserves for his Raiders, claims he can't wait to get on the witness stand.
So it appears that any settlement also will have to await completion of Davis' testimony, which may be several weeks away.
And if there is a settlement, it probably will be worked out by Los Angeles attorney Robert Loeffler, whose services were pressed on the two sides by Judge Pregerson.
Loeffler is a brilliant negotiator who won his reputation as the trustee for Equity Funding Corp., the huge life insurance-mutual fund operation that collapsed in scandal in the mid-1970s.
Any agreement would have to include the promise of an NFL expansion club for the Coliseum. Davis would like to control such a club, but Rozelle has stated that any expansion club for this city could not include Davis as an owner.
One problem in settling with Davis, negotiators say, is that he does not like long-term commitments.
At Oakland Coliseum, he signed leases of no longer than five years. If he were to abandon his planned move to Los Angeles and stay in Oakland in exchange for getting his luxury boxes and other financial deals, authorities there surely will want more than a five-year lease from the brilliant but unpredictable Davis.