Publish date:


I have been awakened by the undulations of my bedroom floor as
it danced to the cruel rhythm of the Northridge earthquake. I
have smelled the smoke from the Malibu fires and the
South-Central riots wafting over the Santa Monica Mountains and
tried to blot out the sun that seems to shine nonstop 10 months
a year. I have peered through winter downpours at helicopters
rescuing drivers who couldn't believe that the streets they
travel every day would actually flood and turn as deadly as a
water moccasin. And now I have seen Los Angeles in its first
month of Sundays without the NFL since Harry Truman was
president. As local disasters go, this has been about as
traumatic as watching a failed starlet drag her wiggle back to
Cedar Rapids.

So the City of Angels no longer has to stare at Raider teams
offering conclusive proof that Martians control Al Davis's brain
waves. So the Rams no longer dwell in Orange County, where
Mickey Mouse proved a better draw than their Mickey Mouse
football. So what?

There have always been better things to do in L.A. than watch
fat men in shoulder pads lean on one another, and now those of
us who live here can enjoy them without risking a frown with an
NFL logo on it. We can take the time to discuss the surreal
rainbow that is Johnnie Cochran's wardrobe. We can go to Venice
Beach and see if the guy who juggles chain saws is still in one
piece. We can compare the chili cheeseburgers at Gooey Louie's
and the original Tommy's.

I suppose we can even watch the NFL on television, but that's a
revolutionary concept in these parts. When the Raiders and the
Rams were around to block the view, we rarely got to see both
ends of national doubleheaders and regularly had our eyes glaze
over at the sight of Cincinnati and Seattle boring each other to
death. Now the networks, scared to offend America's
second-biggest market, will make sure we get prime cuts. That
was proved when Fox kicked off the 1995 season by serving up the
San Francisco 49ers against the New Orleans Saints. But there's
something the nets should know, and so should anyone hoping to
cash in if--or should I say when?--the NFL gets its second act in
Los Angeles: It's too late.

L.A. isn't Baltimore, where the Colts' faithful still get misty
at the mention of Unitas throwing a down-and-out to Berry. Nor
is it Green Bay, where, if not for the Packers, the most
exciting thing in town would be making toilet paper. Los Angeles
hasn't throbbed with passion for the NFL since the Fearsome
Foursome was squashing quarterbacks and Jack Snow was running
under Roman Gabriel's bombs. That was 25 years ago, when the
Rams could lure 90,000 true believers into the Coliseum. They
had been a hot ticket since arriving from Cleveland in 1946 to
become the city's first major league team. The names from those
days echo with good feeling--Tank, Deacon Dan and Crazylegs. And
their quarterback married Jane Russell, one of those quaint
movie stars who kept her underwear on and still didn't get
mistaken for a boy. By the '90s none of that counted for much.
The Rams were in the clutches of Georgia Frontiere, who ran the
team like a fire sale until she flummoxed St. Louis into buying
her scraps. (It was fitting that, finally freed, the team
promptly went 4-0.)

Frontiere's greatest sin, however, was ceding Los Angeles to Al
Davis when she hied the Rams into the shadow of Disneyland.
Davis's greatest sin, in turn, was not knowing what to do with
it. He had 13 years to find out, but all he did was operate the
Raiders as if he were the Elvis impersonator he has always
resembled instead of the NFL's master schemer. It's as if the
Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII championship never happened. What I
remember instead is how Davis played fast and loose with his
business while his fabled long-ball offense rotted. You wanted
Davis back, Oakland. You got him.

Myself, I'm partial to the idea of living in a city without pro
football. I like the peace and quiet, not to mention the
satisfaction of standing apart from something that enables
Jacksonville--Jacksonville!--to call itself big league. But I keep
reading that L.A. wants to win back the NFL by refurbishing the
Rose Bowl or building a state-of-the-art stadium near Hollywood
Park. Next, someone will remember the gravel pit of Irwindale
that was the centerpiece of Davis's greatest L.A. debacle.

Even more chilling is the thought of who might occupy the
playpen of the future. The Browns have been mentioned, but they
would have no more business leaving Cleveland than the Raiders
did Oakland. Then there are Houston, Seattle and Tampa Bay--all
Grade D meat. And, naturally, an expansion team is waiting to
happen like one more accident in the land of the fender bender.
What I'm here to tell you is that Los Angeles doesn't need any
of them. It could, however, use a little help getting rid of the

John Schulian, a former sports columnist, is a television writer
and producer.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Stadium crowd watching football on television as Rams player and Raiders player walk away]