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The clever maverick was charming and cunning, crafty at hiding his weaknesses, but better at finding and exploiting yours. (D. Ross Cameron/The Oakland Tribune)
THE CLEVER maverick was charming and cunning, crafty at hiding his weaknesses, but better at finding and exploiting yours. He was the kingpin of sports.

Al Davis disregarded all, taking what he desired, because nothing was more important than wielding power. It's a gangster mentality.

But even the mightiest gangster can lose his way, and at age 78 Al is acting out like a shark lost in the desert. Disoriented, weakened, in dire need of rescue but summarily rejecting it while attacking without impunity.

Coming after the curious rehire of Tom Walsh, the blaming of Art Shell for not drafting Matt Leinart, the JaMarcus Russell contract fiasco, the bizarre Rob Ryan turnaround and the odd dispatching of the owner's son to investigate the possibility of a stadium at Camp Parks in Dublin, this preposterous game of chicken with coach Lane Kiffin is but Al's latest and nuttiest turn.

How long will the NFL remain silent witness to such disorder and dysfunction from one of its members?

The league has stepped in to provide support or advice for owners, even going so far as to make specific requests. It has in recent years imposed on Mike Brown in Cincinnati. On Bill Bidwell in Arizona. It is there, now, for Atlanta's Arthur Blank.

Given the state of the Raiders, the biggest nationaljoke out of Oakland since Ebonics, it's time the league ponders its options.

Surely Al's transparent megalomania, which compels him to banish or punish all but the most shameless minions, has led to concerns in the league office about his capacity to properly and sanely run a franchise.


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One NFL source who has worked closely with the Raiders and other teams implies the league might not be able to force its will on an organization but is savvy enough to find ways to address problem owners and franchises.

Which, he says, happened with the Cardinals. Bidwell, notoriously cheap, made little pretense of competing, staying well under the salary cap and pocketing the additional revenue.

This annoyed other owners, notably Dallas' Jerry Jones and New England's Bob Kraft. As they sweated to massage the cap and maintain quality teams, Bidwell sat on his butt and got an equal share of the revenue they produced.

Pressure to correct this imbalance resulted in a salary floor, requiring teams to spend a minimum percentage of the cap, as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Insofar as Bidwell's son, Michael, already had generated enough momentum to construct a new stadium — which this week hosts the first of what shall be many Super Bowls in Arizona — Bidwell was nudged into the 21st century.

The value of the product is raised. Everybody wins.

Why not, then, take a closer look at the Raiders?

Fans, by the thousands, are being turned off; the vast majority I know or hear from are fed up. They see a Kiffin being toyed with and the threat of Russell being ruined. Many promise not to spent another cent on their favorite team. At this rate, the Raiders are inviting blackouts of home games.

While some owners don't mind if Al torpedoes his chances to win, messing with the overall profits is another matter. And the Raiders are, as one source puts it, positioning themselves to get their general share, without directly contributing.

"It wouldn't be unfair," the source said, "for an owner to ask a simple question: 'Why are they entitled to run things so poorly and still get 1/32nd of the revenue?'"

But there's other ammo, additional incentive for the league to act.

Team employees are growing increasingly stressed and demoralized. One ex-employee describes her departure two years ago as "an escape." Another says he remained for nearly a decade, leaving after the 2006 season, largely because he enjoyed the status of being associated with an NFL team.

"Things were not the same after (senior executive) Bruce Allen left," he says of the man who was the NFL's executive of the year in 2002 and left for Tampa Bay a year later. "It went downhill from there. It's terrible."

Raiders alumni, once among the proudest groups in the NFL, have become scarce. Much of this is fallout from Al dismissing Shell without the slightest sign of holding himself accountable. Some former Raiders feel alienated, while others simply don't want to watch Davis, someone they admire, destroy himself and his surroundings. 

For Al's clever edge is gone, and he's beyond eccentric. He's a gangster gone mad, blind to the purpose of winning, snapping at shadows.

Because it's Al and the Raiders — and because it's Oakland — many in the NFL office may cackle over the raging self-destruction within the franchise most describe as, um, unique.

But money is, well, not to be messed with.

"Consider this," says a third former Raiders employee. "The league wants to put a team in L. A., but they wouldn't dare do it while Al is still running a franchise.

"So they might not do anything. They might just stand by, let it blow up and move in. That might give them an opening to take the team out."

Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at

mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.