Columns & Blogs

What’ll it be for NFL owners, money or soul?

Former NFL players Ronnie Lott, right, and Marcus Allen speak at a media conference Tuesday in Oakland. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has approved a $1.3 billion stadium project that might keep the Raiders in Oakland.
Former NFL players Ronnie Lott, right, and Marcus Allen speak at a media conference Tuesday in Oakland. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has approved a $1.3 billion stadium project that might keep the Raiders in Oakland. The Associated Press

Raiders fans need to prepare themselves. The next several weeks are going to be tough. The team? No problem. It’ll make the playoffs, probably get at least one game at home, maybe two. Maybe the Raiders will win one or two – or more. The Excruciation of the Nation, rather, lies in its team’s destination.

The seemingly billions in silver and black around the globe know where the soul of the team belongs, and that’s in Oakland. The billions in greenback, however, oftentimes exercise disproportionate influence in the affairs of state and football and where teams play their home games. It is that consideration that needs to be checked over the next month or so if the Raiders can be kept in their ancestral home rather than jostled hither and yon according to the whims of mammon.

Of course Jerry Jones wants the Raiders to move to Las Vegas. It’ll mean more money for his Dallas Cowboys. Another owner, the Colts’ Jim Irsay, was quoted Wednesday as saying there “just isn’t any opportunity” in Oakland, which is nuts. Maybe those two will convince 22 more of their fellow owners to jump in bed with them and approve the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, even if they all have to pay higher room taxes to sleep there. Nevada imposed a $750 million hit on Las Vegas tourists as the state’s contribution to a Las Vegas stadium. Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, made richer by the minute off the weakness of his fellow human beings, is in for $650 million. Raiders owner Mark Davis has pledged $500 million – as if he had anything to do with the accumulation of his riches.

On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors lent their support to open negotiations on a $1.3 billion deal to build the Raiders a 55,000-seat stadium at their current Coliseum BART stop. The plan was put together by Ronnie Lott and his business partners, Marcus Allen and Rodney Peete, in association with the Fortress Investment Group of New York, after months of meetings with city and county officials, the league and even the Raiders. The approval represented a minimum requirement for Oakland to stay in the game, ahead of franchise discussions scheduled for Wednesday’s NFL owners meeting in Irving, Texas.

In spite of Tuesday’s votes, everything appears to be lining up Las Vegas. The NFL’s executive vice president in charge of torturing cities trying to retain their old team or acquire a new one, Eric Grubman, signaled a shift toward the desert on Tuesday in his comments to USA Today. He told the paper, “I don’t think there’s been any progress that suggests a breakthrough anytime soon,” on the Oakland front. He doesn’t like it that “third parties” will come between the Raiders and the city and the county. That’ll be good to know, once Adelson steps in to assert control over the Las Vegas stadium, maybe to put slot machines on the concourses. Will it upset Grubman when Nevada works out the details of its stadium deal with Adelson instead of with the sharecropper who happens to own the Raiders?

The good news for Oakland still is that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appears to want the team to stay where it is, the reason being that there is still plenty of money to be made there, and that is what the league is all about.

It was a beautiful thing to see Tuesday, one Pro Football Hall of Famer, Allen, sitting next to another, Lott, with 16-year veteran NFL quarterback Peete sitting next to him. Raiders and USC Trojans fans for sure loved it. Peete’s wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete, and one of Oakland’s favorite sons, MC Hammer, added to the day’s aura of celebrity.

Right there among them, during the day session at the county administration building, was former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. In his last hours in office, K.J. offered himself to the meeting as a lifelong Raiders fan and proof as to why Oakland should not give up on its chances to keep the beloved team. In his talk to the Board of Supervisors, Johnson reminded them and the East Bay of his experience when uncertainty plagued the future of the professional basketball team in his hometown. The Kings had been given up for gone a few years ago, to a billionaire in Seattle as opposed to one in Las Vegas. K.J. got a stop on Steve Ballmer, however, and he told Oakland on Tuesday it was negotiating from a position of strength, that it had the home-field advantage in keeping the Raiders.

“I know the odds are steep,” Johnson said in an interview later. “But as long as there’s time on the clock, anything is possible.”

County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who abstained in her vote, asked one of the most important questions Tuesday when she wondered about the Raiders’ intentions. It would be kind of dumb, she suggested, for Oakland to send out invitations to a wedding “and not have the groom, or bride, show up.”

For now, Davis is locked into his marriage of convenience with Las Vegas. Expect him to go ahead and apply for the relocation sometime in January – or February, if the Raiders make it to the Super Bowl. Then we’ll see if Goodell can get his owners to do the right thing. If they want Oakland, they’ll get a deal done in the time it takes Rodney Hudson to snap the ball to Derek Carr. It’ll be a nice test for the owners, and for Davis, to see what’s more important to them – money or soul.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

  Comments