The Fascinating History of the NFL in Los Angeles

CH. 3- The Raiders Return to Oakland; Leave a Black Hole in L.A.

1989-1995- Raiders Again in Limbo

Between 1989 and 1995 the Raiders’ future in L.A. became uncertain despite on-field success, and a solid fanbase.  They had become the #1 team in L.A., yet the presence of the Rams out in Anaheim was still apparent.  Owner Al Davis wanted a new stadium and grew impatient with promises that had gone unfulfilled regarding upgrades to the Coliseum and luxury boxes that were made to the Raiders when they first moved to L.A.

In March of 1991 Al Davis announced that the Raiders would be returning to Oakland, and fans in the East Bay Area rejoiced.  However over the next 6 months the discussion between Al Davis and the City of Oakland regressed and in September Davis announced plans to stay in Los Angeles.  Despite this announcement and commitment to stay in L.A., the future of the Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum remained unclear.

The Rams Relocation to St. Louis

The Rams started the 1990s with 5 straight losing seasons.  By this point the Rams’ former fanbase was split between the Raiders and themselves.  Apart from the Raiders, the Rams were facing a very crowded L.A. sports scene and had to fight for fan interest. The success of the Dodgers, the excitement surrounding the Kings/ Wayne Gretzky, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim expansion in 1993, the continued success of the Lakers, and the OJ Simpson saga.

This reality, coupled with playing in Orange County, but not representing Anaheim or the OC, lead to a rapid decline in fan interest as the team became uncompetitive on the field. 

Georgia Frontiere had come to the conclusion that she wanted to relocate the team and originally tried to go to Baltimore. That move was voted down by the NFL owners, as was her next attempt to go to St. Louis.  After being the victim of the 1982 anti-trust ruling which had trumped the Rams agreement with the NFL, and resulted in the Raiders invading their former stadium; Frontiere threatened the NFL with a lawsuit.  Not wanting a repeat of what had happened with the Raiders 13 years earlier, the League allowed the team to relocate to St. Louis.

The Rams were the ultimate victims of the anti-trust lawsuits against the NFL from the early 1980s. Now 13 years later, the Rams were leaving town, pushed out of their own market, and were to become victims yet again of another extremely bold move by Al Davis. 

Unthinkably, only a few months after the Rams had relocated to St. Louis, Al Davis reached an agreement with the Alameda County Board to return the Raiders to Oakland.  Had the Rams known that Raiders would be leaving L.A., the move to St. Louis likely would not have happened, and the Los Angeles market would have been given back to its rightful tenant, the Rams.


1995- Raiders Return to Oakland

It’s my opinion that the Raiders move back to Oakland- only a few months after the Rams had announced they were leaving for St. Louis, in combination with the context of what occurred to bring the Raiders to L.A., results in one of the most audacious moves in the history of sports.  Despite being less famous and talked about than the anti-trust lawsuit of 1980-1982, this move back to the East Bay was even more controversially than the first.  

The Raiders had managed to take over sole possession of the nation’s 2nd largest media market, a place they weren’t sanctioned to be in the first place, and chose to leave.  Their departure has left the city of Los Angeles void of an NFL team for 21 years.

Amazingly, Al Davis got the best of the NFL yet again.  Despite the courts awarding Davis and the Raiders the right to move to L.A., the NFL had never officially approved the relocation- so due to legal technicalities, the NFL could not prevent the Raiders from going back to Oakland.

What’s more; because the move back to Oakland was not an official/ technical relocation, the NFL could not enforce a relocation fee.  Ironically, the Rams who announced a move to St. Louis a few months earlier, were penalized and had to pay a significant relocation fee for their departure.

It’s interesting to me that the most glamorized and talked-about part of this story is the legal victory for the Raiders in 1982. The move back to Oakland in 1995 is a surprisingly under covered part of the story.  It never made sense to me that the NFL let 2 teams leave the 2nd biggest market in the United States within a few months of each other- and now it does makes sense. 

First, they had to let the Rams leave because the Rams would have surely won a lawsuit based on the 1982 ruling (which was the #1 reason for their demise in L.A.).  Then, a few months later, the NFL did not have the power to prevent the Raiders from returning to Oakland.  They had never officially recognized the Raiders move OUT of Oakland, and due to this technicality could not prevent a move BACK to Oakland. The NFL owners and leadership must have been livid to say the least.

Due to Al Davis’ antics, the city of Los Angeles has gone 21 years without an NFL team.  All football fans in Los Angeles and Orange County would have every right to loath the owner that drove the hometown Rams out of town, and ultimately, was the man behind a 21 year period where L.A. was not home to NFL football.

History Repeats Itself

Its amazing that currently, in September of 2016, the situation with the Rams and Raiders is eerily similar to what it was in the early 1980s.

The Rams are now back in Los Angeles for the first time since 1979, and about to embark on a season playing in the Coliseum- a stadium which they called home for several decades, and one that is still not up to the standards of NFL expectations.  

The Raiders on the other hand are limbo once again, as they were in the early 1980s and early 1990s, and are toying with the hearts of their loyal fanbase in the East Bay.  Over the course of the past year, the Raiders have shown serious interest in relocating either back to Los Angeles, or more recently, the hot topic is a potential move to Las Vegas.

As a franchise and fanbase, the Rams should hate the Raiders more than any other team in the League, and do all they can to prevent the Raiders from returning to Los Angeles.  A wise man named Edmund Burke once said, “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” The new Los Angeles Rams would be wise to consider the franchise’s not-so-distant past before considering sharing the city and/or a stadium with the Raiders.

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