When the NFL owners met in Houston last week to discuss relocation, there were three organizations vying for the vacant Los Angeles market. In the end, the owners voted to allow Stan Kroenke to abandon St. Louis and gave Chargers owner Alex Spanos first right to be co-tenant of the yet-to-be-built California Dreamin’ sports palace.
Left out in the cold was Raiders owner Mark Davis. As a result, a familiar name to local sports fans – former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs – may be back in the saddle of being inside the velvet rope of the NFL world.
McCombs, a native of San Antonio, has made it a mission to get his hometown acknowledged as viable NFL city. He never threatened to move the Minnesota Vikings to become the San Antonio Vikings, but the San Antonio Raiders?
That may be another story.
As things played out during the recent owners meetings, where the St. Louis Rams were approved to immediately move to Los Angeles and the San Diego Chargers were given preference, the Oakland Raiders were effectively left homeless.
They don’t have a current deal with O.co Coliseum, a dinosaur facility that doubles rents to the NFL and MLB. If Alameda County wants to play hardball as landlord, McCombs is prepared to offer the Raiders a home in the Lone Star State. As he sees it, a long-term stadium deal doesn’t currently look like it’s in the offing.
“It looks like they’re not going to get one, unfortunately,” McCombs said. “I’ve spent a lot of time with Mark Davis and with his president (Marc Badain). We have it queued up here in San Antonio with the city and the county. We’re in a real honeymoon now because the Spurs are just everything that you could expect out of any sports franchise. Our people have reason to believe the importance of what major league sports is to the community.”
McCombs made it clear that, with NFL expansion not currently on the horizon, a disgruntled owner spurned could be the best last chance for San Antonio to get the opportunity to seek its inclusion in the 32-member fraternity of NFL cities.
If Davis and Raiders Nation need a landing spot, it could be done quickly.
Incredibly quickly, with the potential to hit the ground running with an in-place game plan.
“If Mark gives us the word, we could have papers finalized in 48 hours with probably the best deal anybody could get anywhere,” McCombs said. “We play the first five years in the Alamodome, which is plenty, plenty good. During that time, we build a new stadium in between here and Austin and it will work like a clock. We’ve got to get them to agree to go for it.”
To most of the football fans, San Antonio doesn’t strike them as a natural fit for the NFL, but when The Shield was doing its due diligence on expansion to Los Angeles a decade ago, San Antonio was viewed as a viable candidate – with the Alamodome as a viable short-term alternative with the promise of state-of-the-art accommodations waiting in the wings.
McCombs wasn’t oblivious to that conversation. If the Raiders become a franchise free agent, he is ready, willing and able to help facilitate laying out a welcome mat for the Raiders.
“I think that is pretty well settled with the powers that be that you don’t have to tell us any more about the market in San Antonio,” McCombs said. “You’ve got to show us a direct path to a new stadium. I think we have all that put together, except the location. We have one of three spots – you can take your choice. I think it still will come down, but it’s not done ‘til it’s done.”
The topic of Los Angeles relocation has been in play from the time McCombs got his NFL owners letter jacket, back in 1998. It should have been done years ago, but political in-fighting got the best of viable previous candidates.
“The first league meeting I went to after I had been approved, the L.A. issue was on the table,” McCombs said. “It was the big reason for the meeting. The two groups that came, both were totally capable of doing that. They spent their time cutting each other up instead of one of them stepping aside. It got lost in the shuffle and, since then, it’s been about the same.”
McCombs holds no ill will toward Rams owner Stan Kroenke. While McCombs differed from Kroenke in his willingness to understand the loyalty to a fan base, the Los Angeles market is compelling.
“The NFL definitely needs a player in L.A., in my opinion,” McCombs said. “It’s one of the great markets in the world. I don’t know why they wouldn’t go ahead and make a move. Now they’ve finally got it, it appears to me. I’m sure the Chargers will find a way to get in there also. Of course, that means Stan is going to move his team out of St. Louis. With all due respect, St. Louis is not any L.A.”
If the Raiders feel left out as the third choice of a field of three teams approved to move to Los Angeles, McCombs expressed the desire for the fan base at San Antonio to get the NFL in their city because the city has proved it can sustain and thrive with a professional franchise.
When McCombs brought the ABA to San Antonio in 1973, he was one of 36 local businessmen that joined to form a partnership to bring the franchise from Dallas to San Antonio. McCombs emerged as the primary owner when the NBA merged with selected ABA teams and he believes the NFL can thrive as much as the Spurs have in the community.
“We’re fortunate here in San Antonio because, when I brought the Spurs in here in ‘73, we didn’t even have any basketball fans,” McCombs said. “It’s proved the vital franchise really for all professional sports. It’s served our city and done everything we’ve wanted it to do, which was to get us on the national stage. It certainly has done that.”
While the NFL frowns upon moving franchises, the Raiders find themselves in a unique position as a franchise that is technically homeless.
Davis had hoped that a combined stadium project with Spanos would have brought both the Raiders and Chargers to Los Angeles, but when the owners voted for the relocation of the Rams and gave the Chargers the right of first refusal to be the second Los Angeles team, it has left the Raiders high and dry.
Despite the contentious relationship between the Davis family and the powers that be in Oakland and Alameda County, Mark Davis wishes to stay in California but knows he has a backup plan in the event things don’t pan out with stadium improvements in Oakland.
“My understanding is that it’s a deep-rooted thing that goes way back with Mark Davis’ father Al,” McCombs said. “There’s bad blood, if that’s the right phrase. Al didn’t like them in the last go-rounds, and they didn’t like him. They don’t like each other. And, like Mark told me, ‘Red, I love the package you guys put together for me in San Antonio, but if I can stay in California, I want to be honest with you, I would rather be in California.’ I said, ‘I don’t know who’s going to do for you in California what we’re going to do for you here.’ Nobody has stepped up yet. Maybe somebody will. But, at the end of the day, we’re ready to roll here.”
Asked to read to tea leaves, McCombs believes the Raiders will wait out the one-year window of opportunity the league gave to Spanos and the Chargers to decide if they want to join Kroenke in Los Angeles. For the 2016 season, the franchise may be in limbo and the San Antonio group will likely be kept on hold as the Raiders weigh their options.
“I think they’re going to get a chance to play one more year (in Oakland),” McCombs said. “During that time, anything could happen. They don’t have it now, but I think they’re going to get a chance to stay there one more year.”
For now, McCombs and the movers and shakers in San Antonio are being kept on hold while the NFL finalizes its Los Angeles relocation plan. McCombs is remaining active in the NFL, which he still loves and misses, but doesn’t plan to be a hands-on member of any ownership group.
He said he was offered the chance to run a franchise for another ownership group, but, at age 88, said his days of running the day-to-day business of an NFL franchise are over. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a part of a larger ownership group if the opportunity presents itself, but his focus is finally bringing pro football to his hometown.
“I would be a part of an ownership group in San Antonio if they needed or wanted,” McCombs said. “My days (as an owner) – I’ve done my thing. I will do anything I could to help somebody to get it done here. I wouldn’t be interested in a team somewhere else. I was offered a team this year. I can’t name any names, but a group (offered), if you’ll come and just stay four years – they already have a team – if you come and run this for four years, we’ll make it really, really worth your while. I said, ‘That’s not what I’m in it for. I want to get a team for San Antonio.’”
When last Vikings fans saw Red McCombs, he was riding off into the sunset after selling the Vikings to the Wilf family. Many thought that would be the end of his association with the NFL, but, if things fall a certain way, we may once again see McCombs involved in professional football in some capacity.