Legendary Oakland Raiders owner and general manager Al Davis passed away on Saturday at the age of 82.
Davis was one of the last remaining links between the present day game of football and its pre-merger predecessor days.
A former local native from Brockton, Massachusetts, he is only person in the game to serve as head coach, general manager, owner, and commissioner capacities over his tenure.
Davis, who spent most of his lifetime with the Raider franchise, became general manager and head coach of the organization in 1962. At the time, he was the youngest person in professional football history to hold the position. He is credited with introducing the “vertical offense” to the Raider organization, a style of play developed by legendary Charger head coach Sid Gillman. As a variation, it used passing as a primary form of attack, which was something unseen in the professional ranks at the time.
After being named AFL coach of the year in 1963, as well as coaching the Raiders through 1966, Davis was named commissioner of the American Football League in 1966. As head of the league, the AFL began unprecedented attacks on the National Football league. The attacks, coupled with the AFL style of play, allowed the league to make major headway against the incumbent power of the NFL. Davis, who wanted to overtake the NFL and defeat it as the major football league, would never see that dream through to fruition when fellow AFL owners negotiated a merger with the NFL. Davis was vehemently opposed to the merger, and his lingering disdain for the NFL would be seen in countless votes and seminal moments throughout the rest of his life.
Al Davis returned to the Raiders following the merger announcement as one of three general partners. He shrewdly negotiated a ruthless coup of the Raiders until he became the sole owner in 1972. Before this time, the Raiders qualified as AFL champions for Super Bowl II, but they lost to the Vince Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers, 33-14.
Yet, once Davis became sole owner and controlling partner, the Raiders became one of the league’s premier franchises – winning three Super Bowls in Super Bowls XI, XV, and XVIII along with 15 playoff appearances too.
Also, despite their success on the field, the Oakland Raiders players found themselves constantly at the center of controversy and were unable to secure a new stadium in Oakland, which forced Davis to move the team to Los Angeles to play in the LA Coliseum. After an attempt to secure a new stadium in the greater Los Angeles area, one with luxury boxes that were becoming the major moneymakers for franchises in the NFL, he would move his team back to Oakland.
The moves left a legal rubble field in his wake. On both occasions, Davis was the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL, where he claimed the league was trying to force him to do what they wanted him to instead of letting him control his team how he wanted to.
Al Davis also caused a major stir during a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL brought by the United States Football League. As a witness for the USFL, he was the only owner to break from the pack, siding with the rival league in its ill-fated lawsuit.
But Al Davis’ greatest legacy will be the success and tradition of the Raider franchise. His attitude as being the league’s greatest “renegade” shined on the field, where the Raider franchise became known for its physical style and fierce competitive edge. The Raiders themselves were renegades, castoffs from other teams that brought a swagger and attitude never before seen in football. They didn’t so much beat teams as they did beat them up, and the gang atmosphere on the field was reflected in its sometimes-mysterious owner.
Al Davis will best be known for his two mantras – “Commitment to Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby.” Both terms, trademarked by the Raider franchise are the building blocks of the Oakland/Los Angeles legacy, and it’s an attitude that’s taken on by players who wore the Silver and Black. In fact, the colors, which were dictated by Davis were intended to insinuate that his team could go out and win at any cost. He was the perfect icon for the perfect logo, in a city hardened like its team, as well as a pioneer, he remained defiant to the end, plowing through head coaches in the attempt to find one that could do what hasn’t happened in over 20 years – bring a Super Bowl championship back to the Raiders.
One of these days, the Raiders will win another championship, and the Lombardi Trophy will be handed to someone wearing Silver and Black. In the memory of Al Davis, the commissioner should be mortified to have to hand it to him, and a team that wasn’t so much a football squad, but instead a gang that bullied and sullied their way to a championship. That’s how Al would’ve wanted it, a renegade pioneer that can never be replicated by anybody in not just football, but also all of sports.
Noontime Sports had the chance to talk some football with our good friend Aaron Burns of the Charlotte Weekly recently about the upcoming season, as well as what fans should expect to occur the next few weeks around the league.
DR: Free Agency is off to a roaring start, but due to the short window, does that mean some players are going to be overpaid or underpaid? Also, does that mean players are more likely to get short or long-term deals and jump at the first offer?
AB: I think with the number of free agents being so high, the number of teams with many needs being high, and teams’ front office personnel being the same number, phones are going to ring off the hook. It’s going to make for possibly the most entertaining preseason ever.
DR:Al Davis abstained from voting on the new CBA deal. Can we confirm if he was actually alive or at least sane?
AB: Al Davis is the guy in the fraternity who voted no on the best incoming pledge class just because he could. There’s always one guy like that, and frankly, I thoroughly enjoy his presence as both outlaw and owner of a middling at best team.
DR: During the lockout, drafted rookies weren’t allowed to receive playbooks and in the case of the Carolina Panthers, who drafted Cam Newton, how did that particular waiting period help or hurt his development toward future success in the league?
AB: Newton got his playbook in the one day the lockout was lifted and has been training at IMG headquarters in California with former pro quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Ken Dorsey. Supposedly in late June, he had already absorbed “95 percent” of the Panthers’ new playbook. His learning curve shouldn’t be as bad as some say.
DR: As for the direct part – a lot was made about rookie wage scales and contracts. It looks like draft picks will be forced into more amenable contracts against the salary cap. For a team like the Panther, who had the number one overall pick, being able to avoid giving Newton a top-dollar contract means they’ll have more money to spend on other areas of need. How much is that going to help rebuild the franchise?
AB: The Panthers have always looked to keep their own, and bringing back DeAngelo Williams, Charles Johnson,James Anderson and Thomas Davis will be paramount. But with this extra cap room, they have the funds to go after a veteran quarterback or a solid offensive lineman, defensive tackle or cornerback. There are some on the market.
DR: When teams report, it’s a short window for preparing for the upcoming season, so which teams are going to get ready the quickest and which ones could fall behind without the offseason conditioning and OTA’s?
AB: The Cincinnati Bengals have to be in the worst shape. Their presumptive quarterback, Andy Dalton, to my knowledge, as a second round pick didn’t get a playbook. Even if he did, he hasn’t been in a camp-like environment like Newton and Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder. No team is in great shape, but the quickest turnaround could be in New Orleans. With a rookie running back and most of the core intact, their drop-off is almost non-existent.
DR: Prediction time – Week 6, who’re the teams that break out of the gate fast? Who would be a team or two that you’d believe would be ahead of the curve by this point of the season?
AB: The Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers routinely start strong, and I think they can do it again this year. If I’m going with a surprise pick, watch out for the Kansas City Chiefs.
DR: Instead of spending 11-hours in front of the television, what was your Lockout plans?
AB: You can’t lock out college football. So the gridiron would still dominate my weekends, NFL or not.
DR: How happy are you that the NFL is back in action? Is it a good feeling?
AB: It’s more of a relief to have the NFL and the NCAA than just the NCAA. My life seems to have more harmony with both. But the seasons haven’t started yet. Everyone can have hope of a championship. Well, maybe not the Jacksonville Jaguars’ fans, but most of everyone.