Rod Martin played his college home games at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but confided to his boss after the 1981 season he wasn’t all that excited about going back home as a professional.
Owner Al Davis had moved the Raiders against the NFL’s wishes from Oakland to Los Angeles. Martin was a 12th-round draft pick in 1977 with more potential than power.
“I talked to Mr. Davis and told him, ‘I fell in love with the Oakland Raiders. I would like to play in Oakland,’ ” Martin said in a phone interview. “He said, ‘Well, son, I’m signing your checks in L.A.’ ”
The Raiders will move again in 2020 at the latest if all goes according to plan, this time to Las Vegas. The return to Oakland through 22 seasons has been mostly unsuccessful other than a Jon Gruden-fueled run from 2000 through 2002 and Jack Del Rio’s breakout 12-4 season in 2016.
In retrospect, the Los Angeles years weren’t bad in terms of wins and losses. The Raiders were 118-82, a winning percentage of .590 that dwarfs the .429 percentage (151-201) in Oakland’s second phase but is short of the .650 (176-85-11) compiled when Davis arrived in 1963 through 1981.
The Los Angeles Raiders won a Super Bowl following the 1983 season and went to the playoffs seven times.
But there was a suspicion the Raiders eventually went soft in Los Angeles and lost the mystique built up in blue-collar Oakland, winning just two of their last seven playoff games.
It’s a challenge the Raiders will face again once they reach their new home in the 24-hour bright lights of the Las Vegas strip.
Matt Millen, an inside linebacker who started his career in Oakland, believes Los Angeles changed the personality of the Raiders for the worse. Too much Hollywood glitz and glamour, not enough focus on football.
“I thought the attitude of Los Angeles just took over our team,” Millen told 95.7 The Game. “L.A., it’s kind of like a spell gets cast upon you. I used to say to the guys, ‘Don’t let the monster get you.’ And one by one, you’d watch ’em drop.”
Tom Flores, the former coach who won his first Super Bowl in Oakland following the 1980 season and his second in 1983 in Los Angeles, said the move south made for a dramatic change in environment.
“You’re in Los Angeles. You’re in tinsel town,” Flores said. “All of a sudden you’ve got people doing stuff they would never do in Oakland. You’ve got to live with that.”
Flores is interested to see how it all plays out in Las Vegas.
“Los Angeles was something,” Flores said, “but Las Vegas is really something.”
Yet Flores attributes the Southern California fade to issues of football and personnel rather than the Los Angeles lifestyle. The Raiders whiffed on first-round draft picks in 1986 (defensive lineman Bob Buczkowski) and 1987 (tackle John Clay).
Jim Lachey, one of the top left tackles in the NFL, was dealt to Washington for quarterback Jay Schroeder in 1988.
Once the Raiders had gotten all the mileage they could out of quarterback Jim Plunkett, they couldn’t find a replacement at football’s most important position.
Marc Wilson, Schroeder, Steve Beuerlein and Todd Marinovich all had turns before the Raiders achieved a playoff berth in 1993 with Jeff Hostetler.
“I think the struggles after those good years shows that it’s hard to stay on top,” Flores said. “And we never did replace the quarterback. If you don’t replace a guy with a winning one, it’s hard to do . . . we got Schroeder for Lachey. Marinovich was a bust. It seems like we were down for years because we never settled the quarterback situation until we got Rich Gannon.”
Martin loves Oakland and intercepted three passes representing the city in the Super Bowl XV win over the Eagles. But he rejects the assertion that the change to Los Angeles eroded the Raiders in terms of reputation and quality of play.
“Mystique comes from what you do on the field,” Martin said. “We had a proud group of individuals.”
Another issue was that Davis fought with Los Angeles over stadium improvements just as he had with officials in Oakland. There were talks of relocation to Irwindale, Sacramento and a move back to Oakland that eventually materialized in 1995.
The Raiders could be counted on for stability and consistency during their first phase in Oakland, but have been restless and erratic in a year-to-year sense ever since.
“We can’t seem to find the trees for the forest,” defensive end Howie Long told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “You can’t pay much attention to all of it, because when the man Al Davis says, `Go,’ You go. I’ve been here nine years and the one thing you get used to is being on the fence one way or the other.
“I’ve been through 40 defensive linemen beside me, four defensive coordinators, two head coaches and two cities with this team. What’s new?”
By the the end of the 1994 season, their time in Southern California had run its course.
“All I know is we had to get out of L.A.,” wide receiver Tim Brown said. “It was something we needed to do. We thought we were coming to the perfect situation. It didn’t work out that way.”
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