Lowell Cohn: NFL appears ready for Las Vegas

Two points about the Raiders potentially moving to Las Vegas, something Mark Davis said he wants to do:

Point One: Vegas is ready. Has been ready.

Has been lusting for a big-league pro team a long time. Made a run for the Montreal Expos. Even had architectural drawings of a baseball palace one block off the Strip. It had glass walls - totally Vegas, right? - so passersby could look in from the street.

Since then, there was talk about an NBA team in Vegas. The Maloofs, who used to own the Sacramento Kings, own a casino there. The NBA once put its All-Star Game there. As a courtesy, the books did not post a line for the game. The A’s once played there - I covered the game. The Lakers played there. The Las Vegas 51s, the Mets’ Triple-A team, play there. An arena will open soon near New York New York for a possible expansion hockey team.

So, Vegas long has been in the conversation for a pro team. It just never got the right answer.

Football always was the ultimate Vegas dream. The NFL. It’s every city’s dream. Commissioner Roger Goodell used to have a staunch No Vegas position. And that made the NFL to Vegas a fantasy, a pipe dream.

Which was kind of strange to begin with. The NFL plays every year in London. There are bookmakers on every corner and Londoners bet on everything. They’ll even give you odds with Hillary vs. Donald.

Seems like the NFL has a double standard. A bit hypocritical. London is OK. But Vegas isn’t. What’s the difference?” If anything, the betting rules are stricter in Vegas than London.

Recently, Goodell has softened his rhetoric, cooled his jets. A possible opening for an NFL team in Vegas. It would be a football palace. They could play a Super Bowl there. And college bowl games.

The Vegas population isn’t enormous. The 2010 U.S. Census measured the population of Clark County, Nev., at nearly 2 million with a projection of growth to 2.2 million by 2012. But on any given Sunday, 200,000 additional tourists descend on the Strip and the MGM Grand, the Bellagio and the other joints. And the tourists have money. And they’re looking for fun.

I’m saying Las Vegas is a royal straight flush waiting to happen for the right team. And this may be the right time. Just eight regular-season games. Easy to sell those out. I’m saying sooner or later someone will take a chance on Vegas. I’m saying it may as well be the Raiders.

Personal Interlude Before I Get to Point Two:

A San Francisco newspaper had just hired me in November 1979. The paper sent me to Vegas to cover the welterweight championship fight between Wilfred Benitez and Sugar Ray Leonard. I never had done anything like this before.

The night before the fight I was revved up and couldn’t sleep. I took a walk on the Strip trying to calm down, telling myself I knew fighting and could do a good job. A pink sports car pulled over and stopped. It was a convertible with the top down and inside was the most beautiful woman I ever saw close up. She smiled a lovely smile.

“Do you want to go on a date?” she asked, almost shyly I thought.

She saw something in me. Maybe she knew I was a sports writer with a bright future.

“I’d love to go on a date with you,” I said in my most polite voice. “But I’ve just been hired by a newspaper to cover tomorrow’s big fight and I’m so preoccupied I don’t think I’d be good company.”

Trying to let her down easy.

She frowned and drove away.

I felt like a big man about town. Until a block later when the little irritating voice in my head roared, “Schmuck, she was a hooker.”

That was my first Vegas memory. Which brings me to …

Point Two:

I am sympathetic to Mark Davis. He tried to make it work in Oakland. I am an Oakland resident and I feel no bitterness toward him. For a long time, he said he wanted, most of all, to remain in Oakland. He meant it. Oakland never could make a proposal that worked.

Not Oakland’s fault. Oakland has lots of problems. I know. The inability of Davis and Oakland to reach an accommodation is just one of those things in the modern world. A while back when the NFL wanted Oakland to make a presentation explaining why the Raiders should stay put, Oakland did not make a presentation, offered no public money. Wasn’t in a place to do it. Of course not.

Last week, when Davis openly courted Las Vegas, he changed his tune about Oakland. Softened his commitment to remaining in the Coliseum. Who can blame him? He’s a businessman and his home city, for valid reasons, is not fighting for him. He has said, if the NFL allows him to move to Vegas and if he gets a stadium built, he’ll play games in Oakland in the meantime. Talk about a ghost team in front of a ghost crowd. That’s a subject for another day.

One more point. Call it Point 2A. If Davis moves to Vegas, the picture in Oakland clarifies. The Warriors are gone to San Francisco whenever. That we know.

Without the Raiders competing for space and money, Oakland can get serious about building the A’s a ballpark. The A’s always have been a better option for Oakland than the Raiders. Eighty-one home dates vs. eight. Not even close. The A’s finally seem resigned to Oakland. They can get a ballpark on the current site or near the water. Not so bad.

With a new ballpark, the A’s say they will spend serious?money and compete like other major league teams. If they are telling the truth - remains to be seen - better to have one rock-solid team than two teams struggling for life on the same patch of dirt.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at

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