Operators of the Oakland Coliseum, home of the NFL Raiders until they fled south in 1982, yesterday offered to provide temporary quarters for the team if its earthquake-damaged stadium in Los Angeles can not be repaired in time for the coming season.
"Oakland would view this as the best thing that's happened since the discovery of the United States," Oakland Coliseum president George Vukasin said yesterday.
He said he sent an invitation yesterday to Raiders owner Al Davis, who announced a deal to return to Oakland permanently in 1990 only to have the agreement unravel.
Damage to the Los Angeles Coliseum from the Jan. 17 earthquake was more severe than initially feared and the structure was shut down on Friday until it can be repaired or demolished. Officials say a fast infusion of federal money is needed for the building to be ready for next football season.
All this has tossed the future home of the Raiders into doubt, and whetted the appetite of Baltimore football fans. The team reportedly was not satisfied with the L.A. Coliseum before the quake and was considered a candidate for relocation.
Baltimore officials have been in contact with the team about a move to Camden Yards, where funding is in place for a publicly built stadium.
Team officials dismiss such talk as speculation and say they are waiting for more engineering reports that will reveal if and when the 71-year-old Coliseum can be repaired.
A special assessment task force could visit the structure as soon as next week, said Terry Hamlin, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
When an estimate of repair costs is made, it will be up to local and state officials to assign priority to the project, Hamlin said. The federal government has modified its usual 75-25 funding policy for this disaster and will pay 90 percent of the costs of repairing public buildings.
But with billions of dollars worth of repairs needed to roads, schools and hospitals, even a 10 percent share of rebuilding the Coliseum could be difficult for the community.
"Ultimately it is up to the local government as to what they want to do with the funds," Hamlin said.
Vukasin said the Raiders have only a few options if they can't play at the L.A. Coliseum, such as playing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or accepting his offer in Oakland.
"They've got a fan base here that is still in existence. To come here would be easy," Vukasin said.
Others have suggested the team could share the Anaheim Stadium with the Rams temporarily, in the way the New York Giants and Jets share a facility at The Meadowlands.
The move of the passionately followed Raiders was as devastating to Oakland as the Colts' shift from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. Many people in the Northern California city still follow the team.
The Oakland Coliseum now houses the baseball Athletics, but can be reconfigured quickly for its old football tenants, he said. The Coliseum would want to make money on the deal, but would be willing to negotiate a lease that is mindful of the transportation costs the team would incur, he said.
Word of the Raiders' stadium problems spread quickly throughout the league. Speculation centered on several relocation candidates, chiefly Baltimore and St. Louis.
"If he doesn't have a place to play, he's got to do something," said one football executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
A team owner, also requesting anonymity, said he's heard of Davis' interest in moving but said the possibility of the Washington Redskins moving to Laurel might detract from the appeal of Baltimore.
"With a team going to Laurel I've got to think that would hurt Baltimore. But California is not a great market for the NFL -- anything is possible," the team owner said.