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A group of Raiders fans with a website, www.messagetoal.com, have paid for this billboard off Interstate 880 at High Street in Oakland, Calif. for a month starting Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

THE PLIGHT of the Raiders was discussed in a recent conversation with one of the team's former stars. Slinging theories is popular among the distinguished alumni, nearly all of whom have one.

But I'd never heard anyone express his so bluntly.

"I hate to say it, because the old man is a legend," the former player said. "But I think we're going to be like this as long as he's around to run things. And I really don't see him giving that up."

The conventional thinking is that Al Davis never will sell the Raiders, for they are his life's passion. That's the feeling among ex-players, former employees and the broad variety of people who make up the fan base.

Indeed, thousands of fans came together to raise enough cash for a billboard advertisement that went up Tuesday, visible from northbound I-880 above High Street, about a mile south of the Oakland Coliseum. It depicts a Lombardi Trophy — and a plea for the 80-year-old owner and general manager to hire an actual GM.

These fans weeks ago constructed a Web site — messagetoal.com — that, along with record-low attendance, makes clear the widespread disgust with the steady decline of the franchise. Asking Davis to sell, however, sends a message too easily dismissed.

It is entirely coincidental that this billboard went up two days after it was reported, for the second time since January, that Davis is trying to sell a portion of the Raiders. If Fox Sports reporter Jay Glazer is right — and everything I've heard indicates he is — at least 10 percent of the franchise is very available. Davis owns by far the largest percentage of the team.

While there are numerous wealthy shoppers gazing at that Silver-and-Black slice of the NFL's massive pie, nearly all have no desire to invest heavily in the organization as currently being operated.

There is the hope that former 49ers Steve Young and Brent Jones, who have sniffed around in the past, still might consider lending their names to a group.

More intriguingly, one multimillionaire sports figure who does not wish to be identified has several times over the past 18 months expressed an unwavering curiosity. A longtime fan of the team, he is displeased about its decline and, moreover, says he is in contact with one or more billionaires with a DEFINITE interest.

So the desire to buy is there. The money is there. A deal probably could be assembled and presented in a matter of weeks.

The biggest hang-ups, the only hang-ups, are stipulations regarding percentage and control.

The last time Davis sold a portion of the team was in 2007, when he added three minority partners. They are considerably younger than the other partners; they did not, according to the Raiders, receive an option to buy.

They probably wish they had. After the sale was completed, Davis decided to "make it rain" in some of the unlikeliest places, sprinkling gargantuan deals to the likes of Tommy Kelly, Javon Walker, Terdell Sands, DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson — none of whom has proved a sound investment.

Though it's unlikely another bucket of gold would lead to similarly irresponsible spending, it's only reasonable that any new investor would demand some influence. Just because the NFL is a cash cow doesn't mean carelessness is acceptable.

The only way new partners could ensure their participation in the decision-making process is if Davis were to relinquish a measure of the control he has had for more than four decades.

Anybody checking the team's books would find compelling evidence toward that end. They'd discover Oakland is an NFL-worst 27-80 since losing the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, growing distrust in Davis as a deal-maker and team-builder and, above all, in the language billionaires speak fluently, depreciation of a franchise in a league where depreciation typically does not exist.

After years of rising despite declining performance, the value of the Raiders dropped from an estimated $861 million in 2008 to $797 million in 2009, according to Forbes' annual report. That figure is the league's lowest — roughly half that of Dallas and Washington — and others speculate it should be lower.

So moving a piece of this team under the current conditions won't be as easy as it should be, if it can be done at all.

There is plenty of potential for growth, though, if you bring plenty of money, gain the trust of Al and persuade him to at least share authority. Good luck getting a man with the heart of a gladiator to budge from his favorite seat.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.