Al Davis’s “eternal flame” planned for the stadium the Raiders intend to build in Las Vegas
  • Al Davis’s “eternal flame” planned for the stadium the Raiders intend to build in Las Vegas
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“You know, when I came into the National Football League, many of our owners owned horses, owned dog tracks, owned all the familiar habitats of gamblers and gambling. We have learned to accept this in the National Football League. We have people, as I say, who own hotels in Las Vegas, and it is not frowned upon.”

Uttering those surprisingly honest words in the early 1980s was the controversial and cunning Al Davis, now deceased, the major owner of the Oakland Raiders, who himself was involved with casino owners. When he dared to tell the truth about fellow team owners, Davis was being deposed by an attorney in a lawsuit. The subject of team owners’ gambling and disreputable associations had come up in the deposition.

Al Davis

Al Davis

On another occasion, Davis blurted candidly, “[The bookmakers] have contacts with every owner in the league.”

From the beginning of the National Football League in 1920, the team owners have been big-time gamblers, often with ties to organized crime. Team financiers were associates of mobsters such as Al Capone. But the league had managed to keep its history relatively quiet, pretending to frown on gambling. Pulling off this hypocrisy was not difficult: the media, which make a bundle from pro sports, have no interest in exposing the league’s ties to vermin.

Carroll Rosenbloom

Carroll Rosenbloom

Decades ago, Carroll Rosenbloom, a team owner, big-time gambler, and major investor in Bahamian casinos, had several bones to pick with Pete Rozelle, a Rancho Santa Fe resident who was commissioner of the National Football League for three decades. According to the book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football, by Dan E. Moldea, Rosenbloom hired a private eye to dig up dirt on Rozelle. Moldea dug up a classic quote by author David Harris: “Pete Rozelle was an exceedingly difficult person upon whom to find dirt. The commissioner didn’t run around with women, and, though he drank, it was rarely to excess. He had nothing to do with Las Vegas, and his only significant involvement with gambling was navy poker games during World War II.”

So, here was a notorious gambler, Rosenbloom, in a league run by gamblers and gangsters, trying to smear the commissioner because he had perhaps stuck his toe in Las Vegas. This was typical of pro football in the mid-1970s. Very few, particularly in the press, talked about the National Football League’s sleazy history — other than Al Davis, who let the cat out of the bag.

But times change. Look at the situation today. The Oakland Raiders, now run by Davis’s son Mark, want to move to Las Vegas, the nation’s gambling haven. Forty years ago, that would have been out of the question.

Illustration of stadium that Raiders and Chargers were going to build in L.A. area last year

Illustration of stadium that Raiders and Chargers were going to build in L.A. area last year

But that’s not all. The rendering of the stadium the Raiders want to build will feature an eternal flame devoted to — gulp — Al Davis. Last year, the Raiders wanted to build a Los Angeles–area stadium with the San Diego Chargers. (Indeed, today’s Vegas rendering and last year’s L.A. rendering are very similar.) For some time, the L.A. Chargers/Raiders stadium was to have an eternal flame devoted to Al Davis, but the idea dropped by the wayside, as did the two teams’ attempt to crack the Los Angeles market.

Rendering of the Raiders’ planned Vegas stadium

Rendering of the Raiders’ planned Vegas stadium

There may have been a reason the eternal Davis flame didn’t make it in L.A.: Davis was despised by Chargers personnel. Rosenbloom might have described the source of that animus most succinctly. Growled Rosenbloom one day, “I like Al Davis because he is a mean, conniving s.o.b. just like I am.”

Allen Glick

Allen Glick

Davis was an investor with Allen Glick, who was the developer in a big shopping center. Glick lived with his family in a posh, well-guarded La Jolla home. Beginning in the 1970s, Glick headed a company named Argent. Through acquisitions, Argent came to own Las Vegas’s Hacienda Hotel/Casino, the Stardust Resort & Casino, the Fremont Hotel and Casino, and the casino in the Marina Hotel. The purchases were financed through the Teamsters Central States pension fund, a notorious fount of Mafia money.

Many considered Glick an impotent Mafia front. Mobsters connected with Argent let Glick know that he had no power.

Tamara Rand, a prominent San Diego realtor, was very close to Glick. But in such circles, money takes precedence over friendships. Rand filed a $560,000 suit against Glick over a real estate deal. Shortly, she was murdered gangland style. Glick’s lawyer told him not to respond to the cops’ oral queries. Glick became a major target of the investigation.

Davis had plunked $5000 into Glick’s Oakland shopping center. The media reported that Davis’s $5000 had turned into $1 million. As the Rand story burgeoned, Rozelle was unhappy. How could the league conceal its dirty secrets when Tamara Rand, Allen Glick, and Al Davis were on the front page day after day? Rozelle suggested to Davis that he get out of the investment, although Rozelle didn’t force the issue. Some others involved in the deal — NFL coaches Chuck Knox, Don Shula, and John Ralston, for instance — scrambled out, but Davis refused to sever his Glick connection. As a result, he was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service.

Eventually, Glick became a cooperating witness, feeding the government information on mobsters who had skimmed an estimated $7 million to $15 million from Argent casinos. Several of the gangsters were sentenced to prison. The government claimed it was convinced that Glick was a front who didn’t know what had been going on. Glick was a lawyer, but he insisted that when he was buying the casinos, he had no idea that the Teamsters Central States fund was controlled by the Mafia. That claim elicited guffaws from many organized-crime experts, particularly lawyers. But Glick was never charged.

Davis spent much of his career in court. He sued the National Football League and won. The league sued him and won. He sued the league and lost. In one case, the judge ruled that the National Football League could not mention Davis’s gambling/mob connections in the suit, because it could be “highly prejudicial.”

Davis’s infamy burgeoned when the tiny town of Irwindale paid him $10 million to consider locating the Raiders there. Davis snatched the $10 million and blew town. Irwindale was out $20 million because of legal fees, environmental studies, and the like.

Remember: a fellow team owner called Davis “a mean, conniving s.o.b.” That testament of character is worthy of an eternal flame in the National Football League.

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Comments

MichaelValentine Sept. 21, 2016 @ 10:30 a.m.

A monument to the greedy ownership of the NFL.

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Don Bauder Sept. 21, 2016 @ 2:38 p.m.

MichaelValentine: Maybe every team should have a statue of a pickpocket -- in honor of ownership -- in front of the stadium. Best, Don Bauder

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aardvark Sept. 22, 2016 @ 11:32 a.m.

Actually, it's too bad the Chargers/Raiders "plan" didn't come to fruition in Carson, as that eternal flame could have been dedicated to both Davis (when the Raiders were home team) and Spanos (when the Chargers were home team). Two eternal flames in one!!

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Don Bauder Sept. 22, 2016 @ 12:20 p.m.

aardvark: Which Spanos? Alex,Dean, or Dean's sons? Best, Don Bauder

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aardvark Sept. 22, 2016 @ 12:32 p.m.

Don: Why not just for the whole Spanos clan?

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Don Bauder Sept. 22, 2016 @ 12:35 p.m.

aardvark: But the Raiders would scream. There would be only one statue of Al Davis. There could be six or seven statues of members of the Spanos clan. Best, Don Bauder

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aardvark Sept. 22, 2016 @ 2:34 p.m.

Don: There could be, but not if the Chargers had to pay for all of them.

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Don Bauder Sept. 22, 2016 @ 2:59 p.m.

aardvark: The Chargers would get the City of San Diego to pay for the eternal flames. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 22, 2016 @ 12:24 p.m.

Mike Murphy: What are you, some kind of heretic? Americans should worship NFL coaches, dead or alive, and Las Vegas, where they place (or placed) their bets. The NFL is based on gambling, and fans should appreciate that. Best, Don Bauder

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shirleyberan Sept. 22, 2016 @ 1:50 p.m.

The entire American culture gave it all up to Fools of Football. They're not heroes of human.ity. Stupid overpaid at risk kids f all ages. Sexist at its worst.

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Don Bauder Sept. 22, 2016 @ 3:02 p.m.

shirleyberan: I agree: sexism at its worst. But the money would roll in. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi Sept. 22, 2016 @ 9:08 p.m.

Two homeless football teams. The Raiders trying to raid Oakland's treasury and the Chargers trying to charge the taxpayers for a stadium.

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Don Bauder Sept. 23, 2016 @ 7:48 a.m.

Ponzi: Yes, one can make meaningful verbs out of proper nouns. However, there is nothing proper about the scams the Raiders and Chargers are attempting to pull off. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 23, 2016 @ 1:41 p.m.

Bob_Hudson: You have raised an excellent question. Which is more corrupt: professional athletics or politics? Best, Don Bauder

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ImJustABill Sept. 23, 2016 @ 7:22 p.m.

Voters should tell any major league sports owner(s) who ask for public funding to go to that place that a red guy with horns and a pitchfork has plenty of eternal flames for them.

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Don Bauder Sept. 24, 2016 @ 3:15 p.m.

ImJustABill: Congratulations! I wish I had thought of that. Best, Don Bauder

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SportsFan0000 Sept. 24, 2016 @ 5:12 a.m.

My guess is that Davis already has his "eternal flame" it gets very hot where he probably ended up "down there" so no need to give him a flame up here..

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ImJustABill Sept. 24, 2016 @ 10:38 a.m.

I don't know if he was all bad. Davis did some good things for minority rights and women's rights. But if I had to guess as to whether he got a thumbs up or down as he knocked on the pearly gates my guess would be the same as yours.

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Don Bauder Sept. 24, 2016 @ 3:21 p.m.

ImJustABill: Yes, I understand that he did stand up for minorities, especially if they were proficient at football. I don't know anything about his helping the feminine gender. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder Sept. 24, 2016 @ 3:18 p.m.

SportsFan0000: "Go directly to Hell. Do not pass 'Go.' Do not collect $200." Best, Don Bauder

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SportsFan0000 Sept. 25, 2016 @ 6:33 p.m.

Although it was very entertaining watching the spectacle of Al Davis sue Pete Rozelle and his Co Conspirator NFL Owners....It was like a Jerry Springer TV show to see Rozelle give Davis the Super Bowl Trophy right in the middle of a major lawsuit and major bad blood in the press between and among the parties. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving group of charlatans...

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Don Bauder Sept. 25, 2016 @ 8:24 p.m.

SportsFan0000: Yes, the whole farce had a ring of Jerry Springer. Where is Springer these days? He was considering running for president a bit ago. Best, Don Bauder

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