OAKLAND -- For the first afternoon in more than eight years, there was no hope at Ricky's, the Oakland sports bar and headquarters for Raiders nostalgia. On the walls, there are pictures of virtually every player who ever wore a Raiders uniform. George Blanda's jersey is encased. While the Raiders had ditched Oakland for Los Angeles before the 1982 season, you could always catch their games on one of Ricky's eight satellite feeds.
As time passed, some of the hard feelings softened. The owner, Ricky Riccardo Jr. (really), took down the Al Davis dartboard with a zillion holes in it. He removed the Al Davis toilet paper from the bathrooms. As it became obvious a few years ago that Davis, the team's managing partner, was contemplating a move back to Oakland, the people who run Ricky's even set up a chair with Davis's name on it, telling anyone who walked in that the Oakland residents bore no ill will.
L.A.? Just a fling, right? Yes, we were jilted, Oakland said, but the Raiders don't really love L.A. They'll be back.
Last spring, Oakland screamed, "Told you so." Davis announced the team would move back to Oakland. Alameda County got all spruced up, bought the ring and readied the chapel. The Raiders were coming back home. Well, maybe. Well, maybe not. L.A. put its best offer on the table, and Oakland couldn't match it, at least not quick enough.
And now, they know it for sure. The Raiders aren't coming back. They'll be playing in the Coliseum. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. "You get your emotions mixed up with dollars and cents, and you get your heart broken every time," Riccardo said Wednesday. Stood up, left at the altar. Ditched once, and now twice.
When the news came, Ricky's took down the "Welcome Home Raiders" banner that had been up since spring. Riccardo remounted his Al Davis dartboard and found several rolls of leftover toilet tissue. The empty chair that had been waiting for him? A card with the words "No Show" had been placed on the arm. To call the mood in Ricky's (and in much of Oakland) like a funeral Wednesday would not be an overstatement. President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night was a by-the-way here.
Davis, a hero here through the 1970s when the silver and black posted the best won-lost record in the league, was not a popular fellow here Wednesday. Forget all those wishy-washy, slow-to-commit politicians. Davis was the villain again.
Oakland Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse wrote, "If this means that Al Davis will be 400 miles south of us, that should be just enough distance for Oakland to escape the smell . . . The added pollution is L.A.'s problem." There were a lot of people walking around town saying similar things, far less diplomatically.
Just off the 880 freeway at an exit called Hesperian, three men earlier had burned some Raiders memorabilia. It's time to work for an expansion team, they're saying here. Hey, there are other fish in the sea, right? To hell with the Raiders, it's over.
But is it? Doesn't all the trouble start once the Raiders have entered into an agreement? Are we certain the Raiders are set to stay in the L.A. Coliseum for 20 years? Did you know that Al Davis used the words, "I'm hoping we move forward . . . Anything is possible . . . I'm uncomfortable right now," during his announcement Tuesday afternoon? Are we so certain all the permits, the environmental reports and preservationists' permission are forthcoming? Let's see, the Raiders had agreed to play in Irwindale, Calif., pending one of those environmental studies. Davis had agreed to play in Oakland. Now, he's agreed to play in Los Angeles.
A quick review of the headlines: "$50 Million for Raiders OKd by Sacramento." Or "Davis Approves a Return to Oakland by Raiders in '92." Or "Raiders Sign Pact to Build Stadium on Irwindale Site." And "Davis to Coliseum: Make Me An Offer."
What we know is that the Raiders are staying to play in a community where more than 80 percent of the people, according to a Los Angeles Times poll, couldn't care less if the team moves. They are staying to play where they could win a Super Bowl and still not sell out regular season games. Meanwhile, Davis is saying no to a scorned lover which has left the light on for eight years, which delivered 12 consecutive years of sold-out games, which appeared ready to mortgage its future to end this painful separation.
Maybe the story hasn't ended quite yet, but don't tell that to anyone in Oakland right now. Here, they seem to have given up on a happy ending. Ricky Riccardo Jr. got a dustcloth out for a wreath that had gone up on the wall in '82, and the marquee outside had a new greeting for those who drove down Hesperian Boulevard:
"Rest In Peace Oakland Raiders."