Rumors haunt Raiders


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Jan 22, 2006
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Rumors haunt Raiders
- Nancy Gay
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Not a week goes by without whispers of one of the ailing NFL franchises in California pulling up roots to head for the fertile ground of the Los Angeles market. So this latest load of fertilizer spreading around NFL circles is no different.

As NFL owners concluded a two-day meeting in Denver on Tuesday to discuss filling the vacant and valuable L.A. market, the Raiders again are rumored as a candidate to become one of the two teams the league would like to place in Southern California.

Ideally, the NFL wants a gleaming expansion team in place first, either downtown in an extensively refurbished Los Angeles Coliseum or in a new stadium in Anaheim.

Then, as the long-standing rumor goes, a distressed franchise -- the Saints, the Chargers, the 49ers or the Raiders, all of whom play in archaic stadiums -- would be trucked to Los Angeles.

Now, a new twist on the L.A. Story: This fantasy tale involves former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo and team president Carmen Policy taking over the NFL team in Oakland and reclaiming the title "Los Angeles Raiders'' somewhere down south.

Sports Illustrated is publishing a story today in which DeBartolo intimates to senior writer Michael Silver -- who was an invitee to a lavish three-day Super Bowl reunion Eddie D. threw in Las Vegas in March -- that the Raiders' lack of attendance and the "declining" health of Raiders owner Al Davis makes the franchise vulnerable for a takeover.

According to the SI article, DeBartolo, 59, already has taken a crack at buying the Tampa Bay Bucs from Malcolm Glazer and was rebuffed. Glazer is recovering from two recent strokes.

The reunited DeBartolo-Policy team, the article says, also has explored moving in on the Saints, who play in a hurricane-ravaged city that's struggling to provide residents with clean drinking water, much less luxury boxes.

Now the duo is homing in on Davis. The DeBartolo-Policy interest, Sports Illustrated writes, "is piqued by whispers that Davis, 76, is ill. He has been using a walker because of a leg ailment and did not show up at February's scouting combine or a recent minicamp."

"For Al Davis to miss the combine, that's unusual,'' DeBartolo said in the story.

Granted, DeBartolo has rebuilt his billion-dollar fortune in real-estate development. But this SI article makes him and Policy look like two vultures, swooping in on distressed NFL properties and so-called ailing owners.

Sports Illustrated, in all fairness, did contact Raiders CEO Amy Trask for comment. Unfortunately, Trask says, the magazine omitted much of what she had to say in response.

But not this.

"This is not a story about the Oakland Raiders being sold. This is not a story about the team relocating,'' Trask said Tuesday as she left Denver. "This is a story about two gentlemen, Eddie DeBartolo and Carmen Policy, who clearly are drinking too much of Carmen's recently bottled wine.''

Policy's 10-acre vineyard in Napa County and his longtime dream of being a vintner might be bearing fruit.

Trask -- who speaks publicly only with Davis' specific blessing -- says Eddie and Carmen's dream of owning the Raiders is pure fantasy.

"The only look those two are going to get at this team is if they want to watch it on television,'' said Trask, adding emphatically that the Raiders are not for sale.

Now or, apparently, upon Davis' death.

"Al Davis currently has, and will continue to have, total control of the Raiders,'' she said, emphasizing the words "total control."

"And that will continue in perpetuity.''

Meaning, Davis has a succession plan firmly in place.

Trask was not specific, but it's believed in team circles that Davis would bequeath his stake in the Raiders either to his wife, Carol, or his son, Mark, who is becoming a daily fixture at the team's Alameda facility.

And what of the rumors about Davis' health?

The man does appear frail. When he was first spotted using a walker at training camp last summer, it prompted speculation that Davis is battling a debilitating illness such as Parkinson's.

True, he did not attend the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which set tongues wagging farther. He also did not attend the team's minicamp the week after the NFL Draft.

"The rumors about his health are false. Al is as healthy and as vital as ever,'' Trask said. "First of all, he had no reason to attend the combine when we had people in place there and he could watch the workouts on the NFL Network.

"Second, he has not gone to the May minicamp for the last five or six years, at least. So why is that an issue all of a sudden?''

And those rumors of the Raiders conducting secret visits to vacant land in Sacramento, scouting potential stadium sites? More hooey, Trask said.

The Raiders' secretive nature, the type of public-relations camouflage that could make Opus Dei look like it's open for membership, makes them a bull's-eye for gossip.

But if DeBartolo is openly speculating about an owner's health in a national magazine as a means of getting a foothold back into the NFL, then the league strongly should consider whether it wants that type of person in its fold.

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