In 1973, on the United Airlines charter flight home from Baltimore carrying the Oakland Raiders, who had just beaten the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium, head coach John Madden was complaining to two reporters sitting with him and me in the front seats that faced each other.
“They have us playing on different days, in different time zones and we still haven’t even played a game in our home stadium,” Madden griped. The ‘they’ Madden was referring to was the powers running the National Football League. Team owner Al Davis had promoted an environment where everyone was out to get his beloved Silver and Black, and we operated from a mentality that we had to do more to overcome their obstacles.
While I think it could be accurately stated that the feud between NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Davis was such that the Raiders were not going to get any breaks, the complaints about scheduling and officiating was as essential to the Raiders game plan as 17 bob trey oh, one of the team's favorite offensive plays.
“They tried to screw us with all their scheduling crap and we are returning home after seven weeks and six road games in first place,” Madden said as the reporters, Frank Cooney and Art Spander, scribbled notes.
It is true that the Raiders hadn’t played a game in the Oakland Coliseum until November that year, but the reason for that was not sinister. It was Davis and his top assistant, Al LoCasale, who chose to move our second week game out of the Coliseum and to the stadium on the campus of Cal Berkeley because they could sell more tickets at Cal than the Oakland Coliseum could accommodate. LoCasale had convinced Davis the Raiders could fill the 80,000 seats at Cal for our matchup against the Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins who were coming off their perfect 1972 campaign. The Coliseum capacity was just over 54,000.
The NFL schedule makers also had to consider the Oakland A’s home baseball schedule in September and their likely participation in the October playoffs because the Raiders and A’s shared the same stadium. In 1973, the NFL regular season schedule was limited to two days a week, the Sunday games and Monday night primetime contest, until a couple Saturday’s were utilized the final two weeks of the regular season after college football had completed their regular season. The Raiders were often scheduled for Monday Night Football and the late season Saturday games. The Raiders also often played in games that started at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time because they were a draw for television ratings.
Madden was complaining about the scheduling that his team’s success had actually created. If he wanted to play every game on Sunday afternoon with a 1:00 p.m. starting time, like the Detroit Lions and other bad teams did that year, all he had to do was stop winning and skip all the dynamics that distinguished the Raiders.
Personally, I don’t think officials were out to get the Raiders any more in 1973 than they were last Saturday in Cincinnati. The official errors on the field are much more a product of incompetence than design. How a league can run a multi-billion dollar business and not have full time officials who work twelve months a year at their craft is beyond me … and something the league is now going to have to address given they have partnered with the gambling world that is not going to stand for too many botched calls shifting billions of dollars in the wrong direction.
So, while I am confident that the league is legit and officials along with schedule makers are doing their best to have the teams participate on a level playing field, I can’t necessarily defend them this week. If Madden was the head coach and Davis owned the San Francisco 49ers today, I know they would be lodging strong accusations that the league was out to get them.
This week, they might have a case that could withstand scrutiny. I think John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan do have reasons to question the league this week, although that is not part of their game plan.
San Francisco played the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday on the road, and are on the road again this week in a Saturday night game at Lambeau Field against the number one seed Green Bay Packers. At the same time, the Buffalo Bills played last Saturday night at home and are scheduled to play the last of the four Divisional games this Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 49ers are forced to play on a short week in back-to-back road games against a Packers squad that had a bye last week? And the Bills get an extra day before their game against the Chiefs after playing at home on Saturday in the Wild Card weekend?
Doesn’t seem fair. Doesn’t appear to have the best intentions of creating a level playing field for all the teams.
Now, someone in the television business and scheduling department may know the reasons for this seemingly unfair disadvantage for the 49ers just like I knew the real reasons the Raiders were playing away from home and on different days and times in 1973. I understand that the Chiefs/Bills game may have the most interest of the four games this weekend and that the league may want to use the cush Sunday night slot to generate the highest ratings.
Is that reason enough to hurt the 49ers chances to advance to the NFC Championship Game?
Most NFL coaches will say that their offense is designed to take what the defense gives them. Davis and Madden used to scoff at that statement, instead declaring, “We’ll take what we want.”
This weekend, I’ll lean to take what the NFL is offering. While I think the 49ers have a real good chance of beating the Packers on Saturday night, I’ll take what the league is offering, the advantage they have afforded the road team in Kansas City.
Qoxhi Picks: Buffalo Bills (+2½) over Kansas City Chiefs