By Dan Rubin
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.