Al Davis, managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders, said yesterday that the St. Louis Cardinals' suit against the National Football League is "ludicrous" and done "in concert with the league to intimidate Congress and federal judges across the country" in antitrust cases.
Davis, who moved his team from Oakland to Los Angeles after winning a bitter and lengthy court battle with the league, has been a vocal opponent of Commissioner Pete Rozelle on a number of issues. "Rozelle is behind the whole thing," Davis said yesterday by phone from Los Angeles. "The guy is scurrilous and a fraud."
Davis said Rozelle stands to benefit from the Cardinals' suit because of its likely positive effect on legislation to exempt the league from antitrust laws, and on judges who might rule on cases as a result of teams trying to move.
Paul Tagliabue, an attorney for the NFL, responded to Davis' charges by saying: "That's an off-the-wall idea and completely untrue."
Cardinals Owner William V. Bidwill, through a team spokesman, declined to comment on Davis' statements.
Tuesday, the Cardinals filed suit in U.S. District Court in New York claiming that a section of the league constitution and bylaws, requiring a three-quarters vote by the teams to approve a franchise shift, violates federal antitrust laws. The suit also contends that NFL bylaws regulating franchise movement have been invalidated by the courts. When Davis moved the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982, the NFL sued to force them back and lost, and an appeals court upheld the lower court ruling that said the league had illegally blocked the Raiders' move. The $49 million damage award in the case is still under appeal and the league continues to lobby for an exemption to antitrust laws from Congress, so it can control franchise shifts.
Bidwill has mentioned the possibility of moving the Cardinals from St. Louis, especially if a new stadium is not built. In filing the suit, he said in a statement Tuesday: "I was reluctant to bring this action against the NFL as my family and I have been in this league for over 50 years. However, in light of the litigation by my landlord at Busch Stadium and threat of litigation by the NFL commissioner, I have been specifically advised by counsel that I have no other choice."
The Cardinals' landlord is the Civic Center Corp., a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch, which owns Busch Stadium. The Civic Center Corp.'s suit seeks a clarification under federal antitrust laws of the same rules dealing with franchise shifts that the Cardinals cited in their suit, and seeks to force the team to fulfill the terms of its lease, which will expire in 1996.
The lease situation is where the difference between the Cardinals and Raiders cases lies, Davis said.
"The Raiders finished their lease in Oakland and Commissioner Pete Rozelle destroyed the negotiations as they were nearing completion," Davis said. "It's entirely different because they the Cardinals have a lease."
Phoenix and New York are two cities mentioned in connection with a possible move by the Cardinals. Eddie Lynch, chairman of the Phoenix Metropolitan Sports Foundation, one of the groups trying to build a domed stadium and bring major league baseball and football to the city, told the Associated Press: "I feel Bidwill is going to move someplace. He is in a hell of a position in St. Louis, where he does not have the wherewithal to build a new stadium."
Busch Stadium is the second smallest (51,392 seats) in the NFL.