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Davis' procrastination makes NFL brass edgy


CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Al Davis, boss of the Los Angeles Raiders, and Carmen Policy, president of the San Francisco 49ers, got into what NFL sources described as a heated argument yesterday during a discussion over whether the Raiders would play the 1994 season in Los Angeles or Oakland.

No decision or agreement was reached, and -- with the season beginning in little more than three months -- the league neither gave Davis a deadline to make a decision, nor did he indicate a date by which he would. But some team owners took the exchange to mean that Davis wants to go north.

"It got pretty lively," said Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, who was in on the exchange at the NFL owners' meeting. "He pretty much showed his hand. He pretty much wants carte blanche to go wherever he wants."

And if that means Oakland, it could mean a fight not only with the 49ers, but with other owners, too. Some of them, recalling that Davis won a $34 million judgment against the NFL when he originally moved to Los Angeles over the league's objection, raised the issue of territorial-rights fees to play in Oakland.

"He'll have to get some definition of territorial rights if he plans to go there," Smith said. "I think he'll run into a buzz saw on that one."

The Davis-Policy exchange ended, according to sources, with Policy telling Davis just to let the other owners know what was going on, and with Davis saying there was no reason to get upset, because he hadn't done anything yet.

Yet seemed to be the key word.

Outside the meeting room, Davis said as little as he did inside it, telling reporters he would speak more fully with them but promising no revelations. Policy said he would make no comment concerning the Raiders "until the Raiders decide, in fact, what they want to do."

Inside the room, however, Policy had plenty to say, according to sources.

The 49ers are upset that the Raiders haven't even discussed a possible move back to the Bay Area with them.

Sources said Policy questioned why Davis would look at Oakland instead of first checking out alternatives in the Los Angeles area, the implication being that Davis is using Oakland for bargaining leverage. He asked if the Raiders really faced an emergency because of the January earthquake, or if looking to move was simply Davis' way of doing business.

Who said the 49ers and the Raiders aren't rivals?

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue took a conciliatory tone. But even though Tagliabue didn't set a deadline, he said there was "a sense of urgency" to Davis' decision, and said Davis would have to seek NFL approval to play Raiders home games outside the Los Angeles area.

Davis never has acknowledged that a potential move could be subject to approval, and a legal fight could result if Davis decides to move, even for just one year.

The condition of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, currently undergoing repairs, remains uncertain. Officials there have said they expect to have 50,000 of the Raiders' 68,000 seats ready by September. But Davis never has gotten the luxury boxes or other improvements he was promised more than a decade ago, and he has questioned what Coliseum officials mean by "ready."

One curious twist was Tagliabue's answer when he was asked if he preferred that Davis first exhaust his possibilities in Los Angeles before looking at other cities.

"I don't have a preference at this point," Tagliabue said.

A spokesman for Tagliabue explained later that the commissioner meant to say only that he hadn't yet considered alternatives in Los Angeles, such as Dodger Stadium. But there have been reports that league officials would be happy to see one team, either the Raiders or the Rams, move out of Los Angeles.

"I'm hoping that Al will come back in the morning and say, 'We're going to stay where we are and reduce the size of the stadium to 50,000, or we're going to go someplace else -- temporarily,' " said Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, emphasizing the last word. "He didn't cause the earthquake."

In the only significant decision yesterday, owners set the final roster cutdown to 53 players for Sunday, August 28, one week before the season opens and one day earlier than in the past. In another change, teams will cut their roster only to 53; the last couple of years they had to trim to 47 and then were permitted to add six players.

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