See more of the story

A phalanx of tall, tribal statues guards billionaire Ed Roski's desk.

Dozens of wooden masks -- wide-eyed, big-nosed, demon-scaring masks -- loom along one wall. Roski brings the relics back from his frequent treks in Asia and Africa.

A former U.S. Marine who won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, Roski likes extreme endeavors. He has bicycled across Mongolia and Myanmar and plunged to the wreck of the Titanic in a Russian submersible. He's No. 128 in line to ride into space on a craft being built by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

One feat so far has eluded Roski, 71, chairman of Majestic Realty Co., which owns 80 million square feet of mostly industrial real estate. Roski has been trying with a Captain Ahab-like effort for 13 years to bring a National Football League team back to the Los Angeles area, which the Raiders and Rams both abandoned in 1995.

"Sports are part of the fabric of a city," says Roski, who has a full head of trimmed silver hair and always wears a suit and tie to work in casual Southern California. "I've been willing to spend the time on that. A lot of time."

Roski is closer than he's ever been to reaching his goal. In October, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill clearing opposition to Roski's proposed $800 million stadium in City of Industry, a smog-bound collection of factories and strip clubs 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles that Majestic has carpeted with warehouses.

Roski is succeeding, in part, because California is failing. Unemployment was 12.4 percent in December, compared with the national rate of 9.7 percent. The state faces a $20 billion budget deficit.

By promising to create 6,735 permanent jobs and 11,964 temporary ones in construction, Roski rallied support from California lawmakers and Schwarzenegger. The legislature passed a bill that exempted the proposed stadium from land-use laws that have been on the books since the 1930s -- and quashed a lawsuit brought by citizens worried about noise and traffic.

"This is absolutely without precedent," said Peter Detwiler, staff director for the state Senate Committee on Local Government. "I know of no other law that exempts a development decision from state land-use laws."

If he wants to make money, Roski would be better off erecting more warehouses, says Michael Cramer, a professor of sports management at New York University. "This transaction isn't for the faint of heart or the light of wallet," said Cramer, a former president of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers.

Being in the second-biggest media market in the United States doesn't help much because the NFL shares revenue from television with all 32 teams.

Roski says he won't start building a stadium until an NFL team agrees to move in. He wants at least a minority ownership, too. The seven he says are in play are the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams.

Representatives of the Bills, Chargers, 49ers, Jaguars and Vikings all say their teams plan to stay in their respective cities. "We've said in the past we're not looking to leave here," said Ted Crews, a spokesman for the Rams. Raiders representatives didn't respond to requests for comment.

"We would like to return to the Los Angeles area," said Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman. "While there is real progress for the first time on a new stadium with the Roski project, we are not ruling out any other potential sites."

Roski succeeds by grinding on where others might give up, people who know him say.

"This has been a hellacious process," Roger Staubach, who won two Super Bowls as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and now works in commercial real estate, says of Roski's stadium quest.

"He's a bull," said Tim Leiweke, chief executive officer of AEG, billionaire Philip Anschutz's company, which built the Staples Center arena in downtown Los Angeles with Roski and owns it with him. "He's a friendly bull. I've never seen him gore anybody."

Opponents of the football stadium say they've been gored. The group that sued to stop him lives in Walnut, a collection of chain restaurants and tract homes built into grassy hills overlooking the stadium site off the Pomona Freeway.

The Citizens for Communities Preservation Inc. filed its complaint against City of Industry in California state court in Los Angeles on March 30, 2009, just days after the city of Walnut did. Majestic was named as a party in both suits, and Roski was named personally by the city of Walnut. Both lawsuits said City of Industry didn't conduct a proper environmental review on the stadium.

In May, Majestic tried to get the citizens' complaint dismissed. When a judge let it stand in July, Roski's right-hand man, former U.S. Navy fighter pilot John Semcken, organized a lobbying effort in Sacramento.

The legislature passed a bill that gave Roski an exemption to the law requiring the environmental review. Schwarzenegger was driven to the stadium site in his black sport-utility vehicle on Oct. 22 to sign the bill.

Roski has given Schwarzenegger's campaigns more than $100,000, according to the California secretary of state.