Shabby Coliseum face lift, rowdy fans give Raiders games dangerous image

PRO FOOTBALL

January 16, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

It's hard to believe Al Davis had to win a lawsuit to move hi Oakland Raiders into the Los Angeles Coliseum. The way it turned out, he would have been better off losing that case.

The crowd at the Raiders' playoff game against the Denver Broncos last Sunday resembled a rock concert more than a football game.

These weren't your usual laid-back L.A. fans who arrive late and leave early. These were boisterous fans who were into the game and cheered loudly for the Raiders. It was the kind of crowd the Rams never attract in Anaheim.

The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to the "scruffy and menacing Hell's Angels alumni throng of 65,314 who turned out for the affair in spiked leather collars, matching wristbands and enough tattoos to outfit a Navy."

A Chicago Tribune columnist wrote: "It has taken the Raiders 11 years to find an audience in Los Angeles. Maybe it took that long for the audience to get out on parole. . . . The Raiders have become a participation sport. They are the Rocky Horror Show of Football. . . . This place has become the dark alley that strangers avoid."

Unfortunately for the Raiders, the perception has become reality. A couple of disc jockeys on a Los Angeles radio station the next morning were saying that you "can't bring a family to that environment."

Once a large segment of the population gets the idea it's not safe or pleasant to go to games, a sports team has problems. The Coliseum has no luxury boxes or club seats, but even if it did, it would have trouble attracting the high rollers who buy those kinds of tickets.

Then there's the look of the Coliseum. It's in South Central Los Angeles, the scene of riots after the Rodney King verdict, and its recent $15 million renovation turned into a fiasco.

They lowered the field, took out the running track and added another section of seats. But since they pushed the field closer to one end zone and put temporary bleachers behind the other end zone to get the fans closer, they left a section of dirt behind the temporary end zone where the field was lowered, but wasn't filled in with seats. It gives the place an ugly, unfinished look. They also put a tarp over thousands of seats to cut the capacity. Charming, it's not.

Even with a reduced capacity, there aren't enough young people willing to buy tickets. Even for last week's playoff game against the Broncos, NBC-TV had to buy the last 1,000 tickets to assure a sellout.

All this leaves Davis in an untenable situation. He can't stay in the Coliseum on a long-term basis, although he'll probably wait for the Rams to decide on their future first. But his options may be limited because he appears to want to stay on the West Coast.

Loose lips

One owner said last week that he didn't want to talk about possible franchise moves because the league office had sent out a directive telling clubs not to discuss the subject.

That's an indication the league thinks it's likely teams will move. If it didn't think so, it wouldn't be concerned about it.

Baltimore's problem is that it's unlikely any team is going tcommit to moving before the Feb. 15 deadline set in the General Assembly.

All this is likely to work to the advantage of St. Louis. Since it has a domed stadium under construction, it has no deadline.

Even if the New England Patriots don't move to St. Louis -- anthe talk in New England recently is the owner James Busch Orthwein will sell to the owner of Foxboro Stadium, Robert Kraft, and he'll keep them there -- the Missouri city has the advantage of knowing it will have a stadium waiting for a team to move no matter how long it takes.

The empty suits in the league office are whispering in the ears of the St. Louis people that the Rams are serious about moving and the league wouldn't even oppose a Rams move to St. Louis.

All in the family

In the Bob Irsay family, people don't live happily ever after.

Irsay, who has been called a "devil on earth" by his mother and was accused by family members of getting his start in business by swindling his father, demoted his son last week.

He brought in Bill Tobin, the former Chicago Bears player personnel director, as the director of football operations. Tobin will run the team instead of Irsay's son, Jimmy, who's still the general manager.

It's easy to understand why Bob Irsay wasn't happy with the way his son has been running the team.

Over the years, Jim Irsay made three costly deals -- trading four No. 1 picks, two seconds and three Pro Bowl players (Cornelius Bennett, Andre Rison and Chris Hinton) for Eric Dickerson, Fredd Young and Jeff George.

All the Colts have to show for that is George, who is falling out of favor.

But Tobin isn't ending the pattern of nepotism that has been the club's trademark. Tobin fired the defensive staff and hired his brother, Vince Tobin, the former Bears defensive coordinator, to be the new defensive coordinator.

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