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Raiders headed home 10 years ago

WHAT STANDS OUT, in retrospect, is the buzz. The incredible buzz. The mere possibility that the prodigal sons intended to return was, for many Bay Area fans, an intoxicant.

Are the Raiders coming back?

Back to Oakland?

Where they always had belonged and, most would say, never should have left?

If this is a joke, and I hope it isn't, it is not funny at all.

It was 10 years ago this week that the inconceivable became plausible. There came, on June 23, 1995, reason to believe. Oakland Coliseum president George Vukasin highlighted a morning news conference by raising the magical document over his head and waving it in glorious triumph.

Raiders boss Al Davis, at long last, had faxed over a letter-of- intent bearing his signature, officially confirming his desire to leave Los Angelesand bring the Raiders back home.

There was joy in the room, on the streets, in cars and bars and in nearly every corner of the community.

There was no small amount of indignation in the offices of the San Francisco 49ers.

This moment concluded a lengthy tug-of-war pitting Oakland, the perceived underdog, against the mighty megalopolis of Los Angeles. This newspaper featured reports almost daily -- from the Bay Area, from Los Angeles, from the Florida resort hotel where NFL meetings were held.

The longshot was a bull's-eye.

"There is nothing you can say to capture the emotion and spirit of this day," Elihu Harris, the mayor of Oakland, said at the time.

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Finally, there was every reason to believe.

The two previous months had tested the patience of thousands of Raiders fans, dozens of cities and all parties involved in the negotiations.

With local officials fearful of jinxing the deal and Raiders officials operating under greater secrecy than usual, details were scarce, and sources generally were anonymous. We kept digging anyway, occasionally striking oil with random kernels of information.

Oakland and Alameda County were offering to sell $210million in bonds to pay the Raiders and finance renovation of the existing Coliseum, increasing capacity and making it more football-friendly.

Los Angeles was offering to build a $250 million facility on the Hollywood Park racetrack site in Inglewood.

The contest featured much nail-biting and curiosity. Week after week after week were filled with animated discussion, passionate debate and no small amount of skepticism.

Could it really happen so quickly?

Could Oakland really do something Los Angeles could not do?

Where do I buy tickets?

What the hell is Al Davis up to now?

Yet the community came together for the cause. On May 26, this paper had run a full-page advertisement with the words: "You CAN go home again." Among those lending their names were 10 East Bay mayors, a score of local business titans and five former Oakland Raiders still living in the Bay Area.

On June 13, quite by accident -- it was about two hours after an A's-White Sox game -- I saw Davis, several team officials and Coliseum administrators touring the facility.

This was despite rumors that Davis, in a Southern California meeting, had dismissed Oakland.

"Forget Oakland," he supposedly said.

Oakland was battling several factors. There was the superior market size of Los Angeles, the fact that the Rams' departure would leave the region to the Raiders and, moreover, the idea that an organization would pack up and leave a city, only to pack up and return 14 years later, seemed utterly preposterous.

Yet there was Al's signature.

Then again, this was Al. And the Raiders. And, as one Coliseum attorney reminded at the time, this was not a final agreement. A letter-of-intent is not the same as signing a lease.

As if it mattered. It didn't to East Bay business executive Ed De Silva, who took the lead in conducting negotiations with Davis.

"We knew over the last month or so that we were leading the race," De Silva said. "We didn't want to screw it up. We wanted to be very receptive to every problem."

There was never a question of Davis' goal. He sought to give his team a competitive advantage -- on the field. He came to believe that was more likely in Oakland than in Los Angeles.

In the end, though, Oakland captured the Raiders on the virtue of sheer will and by promising a faster turnaround. To this day, it is evident that Oakland wanted it more.

Also evident, in retrospect, is that objectivity -- in the political and business communities as well as the media -- gave way to cheerleading. We got high on the romance of reclaiming the Raiders.

The high is gone. What we have now, 10 years later, is the hangover. With parties on all sides hoping a cure can be found.

Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at mpoole@angnewspapers.com

c2005 ANG Newspapers. Cannot be used or repurposed without prior written permission.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.


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