A simple conversation with a friend over lunch about the NFL and exapansion turned into one of the funniest, and perhaps greatest practical jokes in history. During lunch one day a couple of years ago in February, we were discussing NFL expansion and where they would go if they did expand. The city of Memphis, TN. came up. I didn't think the NFL would put a team there, but thought an owner might move there. "Who would move a team to Memphis?" I thought that Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders would be a logical choice since Al has moved from Oakland to LA and back a couple of times.
That's when the idea was born to somehow incorporate this into a joke on a mutual friend who is a huge Oakland Raider fan. We had weekly planning and strategy sessions. We finally came up the ruse. Al Davis would retire as owner of the Raiders and a group headed up by former Raider, Ken Stabler, would buy the team. Since Stabler is still associated with the University of Alabama football program, he would want to move the team closer so he could still do 'Bama games on the radio and be close enough to the team to do his owner duties. Memphis was the target of the move.
The plan was implemented in stages. First, a simple conversation with Craig (the unsuspecting Raider fan) talking about an article seen on the web that Al was thinking of retiring. A couple of weeks later, an actual webpage was developed by someone wanting to participate in the ruse that stated the same. Raider Craig begin to bite. A couple of weeks later, it was "reported" that Ken Stabler would buy the team. Craig was estactic about this because then the "Raiders would stay in the Raider family."
About ten days before April Fool's Day, it was leaked that the Raiders could possibly move to Memphis. We talked to Craig and convinced him it would be great that since we lived in South Carolina, he could go to more Raiders games and possibly even buy season tickets. He bought into that idea too. In fact a road trip was beginning to be planned by Craig. This plan was working to perfection.
We had to get more people involved in this because the information couldn't keep coming from myself and the other friend. The final stage of the plan was launched on March 31, because we knew he wouldn't believe it if it came out on April 1. I got a co-worker involved who had a copy of a new story he found online that stated Stabler was definetly buying the team, moving it to Memphis and renaming the team "River Raiders" to bring a more local flavor to the franchise. The story had a copy of the new helmet design. That plan was effective as Craig called me as soon as he read the press release. I played along like I hadn't seen that new story and, again convined him this was a good thing for him personally. He couldn't get over the fact that despite the fact the colors would remain silver and black, the name was being changed.
As the day progressed, Raider Craig became more depressed. He called other members of the Raider Nation to tell them the news and while they believed Craig, they too felt the same emotions. How could his beloved Raiders change their name? Why would Ken Stabler do this? The curiosity got the best of him later that night. Since he couldn't sleep, he got on his computer to research the story more. He searched the media outlets in Oakland, ESPN, NFL with no mention of an impending move. Finally his wife suggested they research the story by the author's name, Lars Lipofo. After he typed in the name of the author, the letters begin to spin around to spell out "April Fool's." He finally knew he had been had. Despite that, he still felt there was a slight chance there was some validity to the ruse we started.
The next day and we had a person in place with a hidden camera to capture the moment of when the joke was finally disclosed. He came in wearing a black shirt, silver pants and his Raiders tie. As we were discussing it, we finally broke the news to him and the photo was priceless. Although our joke was meant for him, we didn't think of the collateral damage of others in Raider Nation. After we all got a huge laugh out of all this, we presented him with a few momentos of the occasion. We had a t-shirt made with the Memphis River Raider logo, a couple of plaques designating him as the only fan of the River Raiders and a certificate from the Memphis River Raiders Community Affairs Division thanking him for his patronage.
Since I couldn't figure out how to put the images on this blog, they are in my image section of my profile should you want to see.