SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Al Davis' last great act of defiance?

A huge American eagle with blood-red eyes and razor-sharp talons swoops down, its beak open as if shrieking at its prey. Below, a mouse stands straight and proud, a defiant smile on his face. In the last instant, before the eagle's talons close around his small defenseless body, the mouse raises his hand and offers his middle finger as a final gesture to his attacker.

The scene is titled, "The Last Great Act of Defiance."

It was this visual that came to mind when I read that Al Davis had lost his billion-dollar lawsuit against the NFL. A few weeks ago, I suggested that Davis at least had a chance at winning this suit, in which he claimed the NFL sabotaged a deal for a new stadium and forced the Raiders to leave Los Angeles. But in the end, the jury just didn't buy Davis' claims that the NFL had acted with "oppression, malice and fraud" in its dealings with the Raiders.

It wasn't the jury's decision that recalled "The Last Great Act of Defiance," though. It was the release of a top-secret file entitled "Raiders vs. the NFL, Exhibit 681." Somehow, the Los Angeles Times got its hands on this file, which included an astounding level of detail on the financial workings of every team in the NFL.

As I perused chart after chart of financial ledgers detailing heretofore-unseen accounts of revenues, expenses and operating profits, I could almost see Davis smiling as he raised his hand in an obscene gesture toward the NFL. It appeared "the man in black" had struck again and in doing so had created an unprecedented state of chaos and anger within the halls of the NFL league offices and amongst his fellow owners.

Virtually every NFL owner in the country was asked to comment on how they thought this highly confidential information had been leaked to the Los Angeles Times and whether it was accurate. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney had perhaps the most succinct (if not the most eloquent) response: "It's that lying creep, Al Davis, trying to influence a jury in L.A. And he gave out this information. ... Basically, we were in a loss situation, not a profitable one."

There are three main reasons why Rooney and his fellow owners were so upset about this information becoming public.

 As detailed and accurate as the numbers in Exhibit 681 were, they were incomplete and therefore misleading.

  The charts showed an average per team operating profit of more than $11 million in 1999 for the NFL's 31 franchises. Many owners who had been claiming losses were, at the same time, asking for or accepting public funds to build new state-of-the-art stadiums. The Los Angeles Times' revelations made it appear as though they had misled their communities.

 Perhaps most galling of all, one of their own had betrayed the other members of what can arguably be characterized as the most exclusive private club in the country. The operative word here is private.

The fact is the financials printed by the Los Angeles Times do not include costs of servicing debt for the owners' investments in their franchises, nor do they account for team investments in new stadiums. Costs for up-front player bonuses were also not included. These three omissions alone could change a team's financial picture by millions of dollars a year. Simply put, many of the teams that appeared to be profitable in these charts could actually have lost millions of dollars.

The Bonham Line: Al Davis committed a great act of defiance and in the process embarrassed and angered his fellow owners. But it could be his last. It looks like the NFL's talons are about to close. When they do, Davis could be removed from the American sports scene once and for all.

Dean Bonham is chairman and CEO of The Bonham Group, a Denver sports marketing agency.

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