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Raiders' motto: Just move, baby

Al Davis' favorite pro football team faxed out a statement Friday. On the letterhead, the words "Los Angeles" were nowhere to be found.

"The Raider organization has chosen to relocate to Oakland," the statement read.

Davis, a renegade even as he approaches his 66th birthday, had made it official earlier in the day by signing a letter of intent to move the team to Oakland, the franchise's home for its first 22 years.

Friday's letter of intent did not officially seal the deal. But pending approval by Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Raiders will abandon the Los Angeles metropolitan area, where they played to indifference and half-empty stadiums since 1982.

The entire legislative approval process is expected to take until mid-July, and Oakland Deputy City Manager Ezra Rapport offered a word of caution.

"In a democracy," he said, "nothing is ever unanimous. Especially in Oakland."

The league said in a statement that a special meeting the week of July 10 will "evaluate and act on all aspects of the Raiders' situation." The statement also made sure to mention that, to move, the Raiders need the approval of 23 of 30 owners.

The NFL, which had two teams in L.A. as recently as two months ago, could open the '95 season without a team in Los Angeles for the first time in a half-century. Of more importance to the league is that Los Angeles, which lost the NFC Rams to St. Louis in April, is the nation's No. 2 television market.

The NFL had tried to keep Davis from moving by offering to build a $250-million stadium at Hollywood Park for the Raiders to share with an existing or expansion NFC team, then threw in all kinds of handsome incentives, such as 10,000 tickets to sell to two Super Bowls to be played there.

Davis liked the offer from Oakland a lot better.

Davis agreed to a 16-year lease to play at the Coliseum, which will undergo an $85-million facelift that will be completed by the start of the '96 season.

The NFL could not promise Davis that the Hollywood Park stadium would be completed in time for the 1997 season opener, which raised the possibility of the Raiders playing in a suite-less Los Angeles Coliseum for three more years, not two.

Fan support also was an issue. The Raiders had 12 consecutive years of sellouts before heading south. In their 13 seasons in Los Angeles, the Raiders sold out the Coliseum 10 times.

If the deal is approved, the Raiders wouldn't be able to begin selling tickets until July 25. Their first exhibition game in Oakland would be Aug. 12 against, ironically, the St. Louis Rams.

For now, the move would be on Sundays only. At present, the Raiders plan to have the players and coaches remain in their homes in Los Angeles, practice at their field in El Segundo (near Los Angeles International Airport) during the week and fly up for games.

Ironically, the Raiders did exactly the opposite in 1983, their first season in Los Angeles. The Raiders beat Washington in Super Bowl XVIII at season's end.

The NFL could fight the move in court, but Davis has legal precedent on his side. On May 7, 1982, Davis and the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission won an antitrust suit against the NFL that enabled Davis to move the Raiders to, yes, Los Angeles.

That court case supposedly cost the NFL $50-million in legal fees. Mindful of that fiasco, commissioner Paul Tagliabue is expected to strongly encourage the ownership to approve the Raiders' transfer at the July meeting, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The San Francisco 49ers' claim of territorial rights will be rejected by the league, the Mercury News reported.

The move didn't seem to catch the league off-guard, since its schedulemakers scrupulously worked to avoid scheduling conflicts between the 49ers and the Raiders, even if they played in the same market.