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Al Davis did it his way

John Madden, Al Davis AP

There will never be another NFL figure like Al Davis. The late, great Raiders owner blazed a path through football entirely his own.

He went from college assistant coach to NFL assistant under Sid Gillman to head coach to owner to AFL commissioner to Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of influential NFL figures, and he did it his way.

In many ways, Davis changed the game of football through sheer personality. Before TV money dominated the sport, Davis understood the importance of image. Bill Wallace of the New York Times wrote the following in 1965:

“Davis is the man that NFL management fears most when it comes to signing impressionable and needy collegians.”

With his slick-backed hair, incredible football acumen, snappy clothes, and Brooklyn background, Davis created a mystique early that drew people in. And scared the NFL establishment.

SI’s Peter King called Davis the most “unforgettable” man he’s covered in 32 years, which sounds about right.

“George Halas is the only one who truly compares in the NFL’s 92-yr history … and Al was more of an offensive innovator,” King wrote.

Davis was also essentially the defensive coordinator for the Raiders for most of his time as owner.

As AFL Commish, Davis sat back and smiled when the Giants signed Bills kicker Pete Gogolak, breaking an unwritten rule that the two leagues wouldn’t poach veterans from each other. Bills owner Ralph Wilson was furious.  Davis was happy.

“We just got our merger,” Davis said. “If we go out and sign their players, we’ll destroy them. And they’ll come to the table.”

That’s exactly what happened. In a coordinated effort especially targeting the Rams, the AFL counter-attacked with vigor. The merger happened soon thereafter.

Davis was a trailblazer in a number of ways, and that included to giving opportunities to anyone. He hired the first Latino NFL coach — Tom Flores.  He hired the first black NFL head coach (Art Shell) since the 1920′s.  He hired the first woman as chief executive, Amy Trask. He shaped the way the league is played on the competition committee.

There was always a mystery about Davis. He was loyal and rebellious. Cantankerous, vindictive, cryptic, incisive, petty, bizarre, and sentimental at the same time. Everyone that knew him well seemed to respect and fear him equally.

When long-time combatant NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle surprised the league by retiring at the NFL’s annual meeting in 1989, Davis embraced Rozelle and wished him good luck.  Those close to Rozelle didn’t know if the gesture was heartfelt, Machiavellian, or both.

With Davis, you never quite knew.

(Thanks to America’s Game by Michael MacCambridge for much of the source material used in this post.)

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33 Responses to “Al Davis did it his way”
  1. broncobillie says: Oct 8, 2011 12:58 PM

    The end of an era, whether we liked it or not.

  2. damnyoulinelliot says: Oct 8, 2011 1:01 PM

    I’m a die-hard Chiefs fan, but I’ll show my respect for Al today. He and Lamar Hunt helped make football what it is nowadays. Chiefs-Raiders is the best rivalry in the AFC, and thank you Al Davis for making us KC/Oakland fans get so riled up about it.

  3. pnut87 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:02 PM

    Regardless of your opinion about him, the man was an icon to the game of football

  4. bobbinski1229 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:03 PM

    Dude’s chilling in a tracksuit made of gold right now… Just Win Baby!

  5. invaiduh says: Oct 8, 2011 1:05 PM

    RAIDERNATION….. All day. (A.D.) Al Davis.

  6. jhart615 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:05 PM

    Say what you want about Al Davis, but he was a true innovator and was one of the most passionate people in football. You’ll be missed Al, RIP.

  7. kingsam8 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:06 PM

    Raider nation

  8. boknowsvt says: Oct 8, 2011 1:13 PM

    Draft day isn’t ever going to be the same. Today really stinks.

  9. rdrs68 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:14 PM

    Sports teams today are noting but corporations-Al was the last of the old breed of football owners who had personalities and weren’t afraid to be themselves. This is trully the end of an era and Al’s passing is as great a loss to sports as the passing of Steve Jobs was to the tech world. Al got a bad rap from the press and I hope people take the time to learn what a great person he was. In a world where loyalty means very little it still meant everything to Al and he did a lot of great things for people in and out of the game. The mold was broken when the world got Al and there will never be another like him. RIP MR. RAIDER!

  10. caskinsfan420 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:15 PM

    Jesus we are such a hypocritical society aren’t we. If you AREN’T a raiders fan you’re 100% guilty in pointing and laughing at that franchise, blaming davis. Facts are facts. He was part if the revolutionization if the game, yes. But if he sold the team in say they early 2000′s his legacy would be a bit more in tact. We can’t ignore the fact that he made terrible decisions and was way too stubborn to give his team a CHANCE in the last 10 years. Regrettably my initial reaction was “FINALLY”. Living in raiders country and seeing the sh*tstorm he caused this franchise to be its his own fault his reputation in this new era has deteriorated. With that being said rest in peace to a hall of famer. But now hopefully the raiders can pick up the prices.

  11. boknowsvt says: Oct 8, 2011 1:15 PM

    How fitting would it be if DHB caught a long bomb touchdown on the first offensive play tomorrow!

  12. raiderlyfe510 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:16 PM

    ONLY THREE WAYS TO DO THINGS IN THE NFL…THE RIGHT WAY….THE WRONG WAY….AND THE RAIDER WAY!

  13. canadianvikingfaniii says: Oct 8, 2011 1:17 PM

    The guy changed football for the good.

  14. letsgogetasnack says: Oct 8, 2011 1:21 PM

    R.I.P. Al Davis a true NFL Pioneer…but like SATO told Mr Miyagi in Karate Kid 2…”i give u time to mourn, then we fight” so we still got to whoop ya in H-town tmrrw!

  15. steeltuff says: Oct 8, 2011 1:28 PM

    As a Steeler fan, I was emotionally moved when I saw Oakland Al at Art Rooney’s funeral. I’m hardly a Raiders’ fan, but now it’s my time to grieve a legend. Anyone who can fly across the country to attend “The Chief’s” funeral, is OK by me.

  16. 2sausage11 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:39 PM

    Pats fan here
    I’ve talk my share of smack about Al Davis over the years mostly because he made us. He brought out the competitive nature in all of us. He will be missed by more than Raider Nation.
    “Go Raiders” and thanks for the memories Al.

    RIP

  17. steelerfan999 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:41 PM

    R.I.P. FROM THE ENTIRE STEELERNATION.

  18. antispy3 says: Oct 8, 2011 1:46 PM

    The story that underscores Al Davis is when he was coaching @ USC in the 50′s.

    he recruited a player by the name of Willie Wood to play quarterback.

    Trouble was Willie (better known as hall of fame free safety Willie Wood) is black. No black quarterback had played in the Pacific Coast conference (precursor to today’s Pac-12 & tomorrow’s Pac-16).

    And the rest is history. . .that’s the legacy (as innovator, groundbreaker. Not out of anything other than HE thought it was the right thing to do. . .) that I will remember. . .God rest your soul, Mr. Davis. . .Coach. . .

  19. 3yrsnfl says: Oct 8, 2011 1:56 PM

    His whole life was ALL FOOTBALL, ALL THE TIME. That’s COOL!

  20. ratbastardshanahandjob says: Oct 8, 2011 2:06 PM

    boknowsvt says: Oct 8, 2011 1:15 PM How fitting would it be if DHB caught a long bomb touchdown on the first offensive play tomorrow!

    Bey would just drop it. Want to honor Al then win. That means having the best WR’s play. Bey isn’t one of them…….

  21. jabroni1 says: Oct 8, 2011 2:43 PM

    “Jesus we are such a hypocritical society aren’t we. If you AREN’T a raiders fan you’re 100% guilty in pointing and laughing at that franchise, blaming davis. Facts are facts. He was part if the revolutionization if the game, yes. But if he sold the team in say they early 2000′s his legacy would be a bit more in tact.”

    Everyone could point and laugh all they wanted. Nobody can ever doubt that Al did exactly what he wanted with the team whenever he wanted to. He never caved into any outside pressure be it the NFL,press or fans. He did things most of us will only dream of. Doing things exactly the way he wanted no matter what.

  22. jabroni1 says: Oct 8, 2011 2:50 PM

    If Al wanted your opinion he wouldn’t beat it out of you. He would tell you to cut a million dollar check listen to you then tell you to F-off. Gotta love Al. RIP Big guy!

  23. oliv9768 says: Oct 8, 2011 3:06 PM

    Why I’m a Raiders Fanatic……..

    Here’s a short grocery list.

    The Legend; The Lore

    The Nostalgia

    The Black Hole

    The Autumn Wind

    The Iconic Mister John Thomas Ralph Augustine James Facenda

    The Cult-Like ‘Nation

    7000 Coliseum Way Tailgating

    The Immaculate Deception

    The Heidi Game

    The Sea of Hands

    The Ghost to the Post

    The Holy Roller

    Red Right 88

    The Tuck Rule (Which I dub; “The Great Snow Heist”)

    Fat-Ass 400 LB. Anthony “The Goose” Siragusa intentionally pancaking the shoulder of (which he was fined for) Richard Joseph “The Cannon” Gannon at the 11:00 minute mark of the second quarter in the 2000 AFC Championship Game (“The Big Flop”)

    The Raiderettes

    The Yaaaiiiddahs!!!! (Mister Christopher James “Boomer” Berman-ESPN; NFL Primetime)

    The Player Personnel Assistant, The Assistant Coach, The Head Coach, The General Manager, The League Commissioner, The Principal Owner and Chief Executive Officer, The Esoteric, The Revered, The Incomparable Mister Allen R. “Al-Just Win Baby” Davis

    The All-Time Dreaded; “Silver & Black!!!”

    Subtotal; “Priceless!!!”

    Should I continue……..?

    Rest In Peace Al’

  24. Mr. Wright 212 says: Oct 8, 2011 3:16 PM

    Always loved Al. I wondered what would happen on the day he finally passed away.

    At least the Raiders are headed in the right direction again, after their own fans were wishing for his death over the past decade.

  25. scd7 says: Oct 8, 2011 3:18 PM

    Al Davis was pompous, arrogant & many times completely self serving.

    I certainly didn’t like him for these qualities.

    He was also self driven, spoke his mind, passionate about his team and probably tried to do what he thought was best regardless of any outside pressure or influence. Whatever it took to win.

    I certainly respected him for these qualities.

    Good or bad, I believe Al did what he thought was best for his team & his teams interests regardless of what others thought. Maybe he went overboard at times, but in a day & age where people & companies bow at the slightest of pressure it was refreshing to see one never move away from his convictions, regardless of the pressure.

    You don’t need to like someone to respect them, and though I disagreed with Al more times than not, I always respected him. The NFL needs more owners that do what they feel is right for the game, and not because someone somewhere ‘said this is the way’..

    The NFL probably wouldn’t be what it is today without Al, and I believe the NFL is worse off today without him then yesterday with him I’m afraid.

    My thoughts & condolences are with his family, his friends and his team..

  26. packmanfan says: Oct 8, 2011 3:42 PM

    Never really knew that much about him.
    Thanks to articles like this, so far I like what I’m learning about Al.

  27. freewayjim says: Oct 8, 2011 5:26 PM

    Al Davis is one of the most influential pioneers of “Modern” professional football (Post 1960), a man who truly did it all!

    If the Raiders of the mid-70′s were in the NFL today, winning big games, contending every year with that cast of characters and take no prisoners approach can you imagine the media attention they would get?

    Al Davis was the first man to create a personna and image for his team, the silver & black, intimidating players (Ben Davidson, The Tooz, Lyle Alzado, Otis Sistrunk, Dr. Death, The Mad Stork & More), the “Old Raiders” were always compelling television, no matter who your favorite team was. It’s a shame that we never got a Raiders-Cowboys Super Bowl back in the day.

    Unfortunately Al’s last 8 years were below Raiders standards and must have been hard on him but there is no denying how important a figure he was in helping the NFL become the juggernaut that it is today. He will never be forgotten.

    RIP Al Davis.

    Signed, A 40-something Patriots Fan

  28. jutts says: Oct 8, 2011 7:53 PM

    Always a Raider in every sense of the word. R.I.P. Al Davis.

  29. rowdymon says: Oct 8, 2011 8:52 PM

    Browns fan and red right 88 was terrible for me, but great for the raiders. Weird to think he’s gone. RIP

  30. botchedextrapoint says: Oct 8, 2011 8:52 PM

    Well written article. Al is hard to sum up in a few words. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I feel like I need to lay off the Ryan twins a bit. What the NFL needs is larger than life personalities and less media savvy suits.

  31. hank10 says: Oct 8, 2011 9:28 PM

    ‘The quarterback must go down. And he must go down hard!’ The All-Time Al Davis quote. Will never be another like him

  32. greynraney says: Oct 9, 2011 2:48 AM

    Davis was like the Fidel Castro of owners, and now his family will continue to drag the Raiders into the ground.

  33. tominma says: Oct 9, 2011 1:25 PM

    The Raiders almost always had pretty vicious defense! They almost always had a mad bomber at QB! They almsot always had TOUGH RBs. And the always seems to have the WRs to go get the ball those mad bombers launched! That sums up the Raider Teams that Al produced when he was at the top of his game! And getting the AFL/NFL merger was just icing on the cake!

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