In another stunning reversal, the AFL awarded the eighth and final franchise to the city of Oakland. Much of the credit for the change went to Chargers owner Barron Hilton. Hilton, who had been out of town for previous votes, made a strong plea upon his return for choosing Oakland. And on the league’s fifth ballot, the California city was chosen unanimously. Commissioner Joe Foss gave three reasons for the decision: the creation of a west coast rival for Los Angeles, the Oakland community’s strong show of interest, and better geographic balance than would have been provided by a team in Atlanta. Foss also credited a strong presentation by Chet Soda, Wayne Valley, and in particular, Robert Osborne.
The complete ownership group was as follows:
Art Beckett – East Bay contractor
Harvey Binns – owner of The House of Harvey restaurant and Affiliated Government Employees’ Distributing Company stores, a membership-based discount department store chain
Don Blessing – stockbrocker and winner of gold medal at 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam as coxswain of eight-man rowing team
Charles Harney – Bay Area contractor and builder of the recently completed Candlestick Park
Ed McGah – Bay Area contractor and father of Ed McGah, Jr., a catcher with the Boston Red Sox for a couple of years in the mid-1940s
Robert Osborne – member of the Oakland city council
Chet Soda – real estate developer and construction magnate
Wayne Valley – Bay Area contractor
The ownership group released a joint statement following the news:
“We are overjoyed at the news that the American Football League has decided to include Oakland in its plans. This victory resulted from the combined efforts of Bay Area men who feel pro football should become part of the East Bay.
“We feel the granting of a professional football franchise to Oakland and the city council’s announced intention of building a stadium here will open the door for the city to gain other major sports. Gaining the franchise was only our first problem. Now we must get down to the business of running the club. There are many problems, but we will take them one at a time.
“We haven’t had time to discuss such things as a general manager, a coaching staff, or player personnel, but we will tackle these problems with the idea of putting together the best team possible. None of the men in the group owning the franchise went into the project with the idea of making a living out of pro football. The number one concern was bringing a major sports franchise to Oakland.
“We owe thanks to many people in Oakland and realize we will need the support of the entire East Bay to make this venture a success.”
Some of the new owners made individual statements. Echoing the press release, Robert Osborne praised the work of “many people” and said, “we have much work in front of us, but we are all confident of success.” He then noted that “football men must run a football team and we are going after the top men.”
Ed McGah was confident, but realistic. Talking about his fellow owners, he said, “We are all pretty loose with a buck in a sensible sort of way. I’m prepared to lose a few dollars and I believe my associates feel the same way. If we should make any money in the next few years it would certainly come as a stunning surprise to me.
“We’re going to have our problems, make no mistake about that. To begin with, the National Football League is firmly entrenched in this area. And we certainly are going to have to develop a few football stars of our own if we hope to compete with the 49ers. But I believe these are problems which will be solved in time.”
Discussing stadium possibilities, he acknowledged uncertainty. “I don’t like the idea of playing in Kezar,” he said, “The traffic problem there is one which discourages people from ever returning. I’m not too familiar with the setup at Candlestick Park, but I understand they have their problems there, too. Oakland could certainly use a stadium, no doubt about it. I don’t know but what it might be wise to go out in the direction of Hayward. The weather and accessibility in that area might prove more attractive than anything available in the downtown area.”
Noting that he and his son owned a potentially suitable parcel of land in Hayward, he added, “My own personal opinion is that we should get out in the flat area where the stadium will be close not only to Oakland, Orinda, San Leandro, and Hayward, but to the San Francisco peninsula as well.”
Chet Soda agreed with McGah about the possibility of early profits. “None of us needs a franchise or its problems to make a living,” he pointed out. “We felt a strong group was needed if Oakland was to obtain a pro football franchise, so we went out and formed what we believe to be such an organization. This could be the beginning of a new era in Oakland. We are all prepared to put this thing over.”
When asked about the process that lead to the league’s choice, he said, “I think this vote was brought about by indecision on the part of some of the owners. That is, I think there was some indecisive thinking on the part of a number of the owners of the other seven franchises. (Barron) Hilton was a tremendous help,” he added. “He had told me earlier, ‘Chet, I’m not giving up until you get the franchise’.”
Harvey Binns was unrestrained in his excitement, giving the lion’s share of the credit to Osborne and said the team was “the greatest thing that ever happened to Oakland. I was disheartened when I heard the AFL owners favored Atlanta by a 6-1 vote, but I’m just as much up in the air now as I was downcast earlier. It was a tough battle, landing the franchise, but there’s a bigger battle ahead. The work has just begun.”
Wayne Valley was content just to relish the victory for the moment. “Our number one concern was to get the franchise,” was his opinion, “Frankly, there are too many factors involved to discuss a stadium or anything else. We’ve had no discussion about a coach or players, but our next move is to obtain a staff.” His opinion was that it would talk about a million dollars to run a team and getting a good deal on the sale of television rights would be a critical step toward solvency. He added that the league was already negotiating with the major networks.
Civic leaders chimed in to offer their support. William Knowland, assistant publisher of the Oakland Tribune, said in a press release, “Oakland and all of Alameda and Contra Costa counties welcome the news from Dallas that our community has won the American Football League franchise. This will stimulate not only additional interest in professional football in this whole area but, once a stadium has been built, will result in professional baseball coming here, also. Increased civic interest, enthusiasm, and the spirit of moving forward as the second largest community in California will also have other economic and recreational advantages for the area.”
The Tribune’s sports editor, Alan Ward, said, “It puts Oakland in the big leagues. For years we’ve been in San Francisco’s shadow. This is the first dramatic step toward putting us on par with our sister city.”
Don Mulford, a California state assemblyman from the 18th district in Oakland, said, “I think Bob Osborne and all the owners of the new franchise are to be congratulated. They deserve a great deal of credit for their perseverance and for the tremendous risk they have taken to bring a team here.”
San Francisco 49ers owner Victor Morabito offered a more guarded response. Dismissing concerns about having to compete with the Oakland team, he insisted, “Our attendance will continue to rest on playing competitive football with the rest of the National Football League.” When asked about having to fight for players, he pointed out, “We’ve been going through this bidding business since 1951 with Canada. Now there will be three parties involved. It will be just more intensified.”
San Francisco mayor George Christopher reaffirmed his position that the 49ers were his priority. “We don’t want to hurt the 49ers in any way. They were the pioneers of professional football in the area and must be considered first. We can’t chase them out of Kezar, that’s for sure. As for Candlestick Park, there are conditions to be considered there, too. The condition of re-conversion for one thing. It costs money to change a field from a baseball diamond to a football field and back again and that cost must be met. I won’t spend the money for it. Even though it (Oakland) isn’t our team I welcome it in the area and I sincerely hope it accelerates interest in football on both sides of the bay.”
Of course, with the Oakland team’s late arrival to the party, player acquisition was certainly uppermost among the big questions, considering that their seven rivals had already taken part in a player draft and had signed many of their charges. The league said it had a plan in place that involved creating a pool of players from the other seven clubs from which Oakland could choose.
League founder Lamar Hunt was confident there were enough good players to go around. He said the college game served to develop plenty of talent and added, “The NFL signs only 60 (new) players a year and there must be three times that number capable of playing professional football.”
San Francisco Chronicle