Al Davis would've never, ever, ever given up a home date for an international game.
I understand the reasons why the Raiders just agreed to do exactly that next season — along with Atlanta and Jacksonville, the Raiders will "host" a game in London in 2014, the NFL announced, which means all three teams will have only seven true home games in 2014.
The NFL usually guarantees the "home" teams the equivalent of the money from a regular home sellout, so teams (like the Raiders) that aren't sure they actually can get sellouts are more likely to accept the cash guarantee and take the home designation in London.
Therefore, the teams that usually lose the dates are the weaker teams, or at least the ones with the weakest ticket bases, and giving up the home game further weakens the base and the cycle goes on. You don't want to be in that cycle, but sometimes the cash is the cash.
Al — even in the worst ticket-selling days of Raiders history in Oakland — would've never given up a home date for a cash guarantee, because to Al winning the game was always paramount and nothing else was close.
And it's always better and easier to do that on home turf, not flying thousands of miles to play in a soccer stadium just to make sure the NFL's international branding is sufficient.
I would presume Al Davis knew that even beyond the factors involving one game, losing a home game and adding immense extra travel in the middle of an already taxing season would put a toll on his team that probably could be measured in extra losses.
(And Al already knew and was incredibly proud of the fact that the Raiders were an international brand all themselves, wherever they played.)
The Raiders didn't play well at all in Al's final years, but it would've been worse if he had agreed to give up a home date in any one of them, which the NFL knew better than to even ask.
I've followed this closely since 2010, when the 49ers gave up a home date to "host" in London and Jed York swore to me that there was no proof that giving up a home date could hurt a team's chances—and he implied that it actually could help.
That was provably wrong then... and now.
The 49ers went to London and beat Denver that year, but went 6-10 in Mike Singletary's last season (of course if the trip helped lead to his firing, you could argue that it helped the 49ers, I realize) and that was just more facts pumped into the pattern.
In 2011, Tampa Bay was the "host" in London and finished the season 4-12.
Add in St. Louis' 7-8-1 record last season, while "hosting" a game in London, and here's the stark record of teams that gave up a home date for an international game in the season they did it:
—Teams that give up a home date for an international game have gone on to post a combined 34-72-1 record in those seasons.
(Hey, good luck to Minnesota and Jacksonville, the two London "hosts" this year, and their coaching staffs this year!)
It is, as I've always pointed out, partly self-fulfilling, because the teams that accept losing a home date are traditionally the weaker
teams—you never see Dallas, the NY Giants, Seattle, Washington or New England even asked to give up a home date.
You do see stronger teams go to London as ROAD teams, but that's a different case:
-It's a road game, so you're getting on a plane, anyway, just traveling to Europe, instead, and you still have all 8 home dates.
Powerful owners feel like they're doing their service to the league by taking a road trip to London, NOT by surrendering a home date.
(New England has been the road team in London twice, the NY Giants once, the 49ers are this year.
(The 49ers accepted the designed "host" role in 2010, partly because John York was head of the NFL International Committee back
then and needed to take one for the league and probably partly because the 49ers didn't know any better back then. You think Jim Harbaugh would sign off on losing a home game ever? Zero chance. Same situation/approach as Al D, I'm sure.)
No, it's the weaker teams take the deal to lose a date and take the cash. Then they find their seasons destabilized by having to take the long extra trip in the middle of a season.
Things unravel, players get fatigued, they don't have that one more home game that could turn the tide.
The Rams actually were a huge over-performer against this model by going 7-8-1, but some of that is explained by the arrival of Jeff Fisher — a strong first-year coach who A) wasn't going to let things get destabilized and B) wasn't going to get fired no matter what, so an exhausted locker room couldn't/wouldn't turn on him.
By the way, one of the first things Fisher did in St. Louis was get the Rams out of an agreement to host in London for two more years. Jeff is no dummy.