Today is a sad day for any fan of professional football. No doubt, if you have been watching college football today, you’ve seen across the ticker at the bottom of your screen: Raiders owner Al Davis, dead at 82.
I’ll admit, I’ve poked fun at Al Davis the last 4 years. It was always around draft time, I would quip “They should re-name that team the Oakland Athletics, like the baseball team. All they do is draft athletes and not football players”. Could you blame me? Jamarcus Russell, Darrius Heyward-Bey….to name a few. Unfortunately, this may be how most of the younger crowd remembers Davis–a guy that drafts people with an outstanding physical skill-set, and that’s not his legacy. Regardless of his later years, Davis made a profound effect on the organization for the better half of his 82 years. 3 Super Bowls out of 4 appearances. Most teams don’t have multiple appearances, but Davis made sure Da Raiduhs had many trophies. They wouldn’t be the team he built unless they won multiple championships.
However much fun I may have “poked” at his drafting, I did always respect Al Davis, because I knew about his history. He took a team with one win on the record in previous year and coached them up to a 10-win team. It’s remarkable! It’s the kind of effect on a team that’s reminiscent of when Peyton Manning emerged after his rookie year. During the 1998 season, Manning’s Colts went 3-13 with only “promise” and “hope” carrying them into the next year where he indeed carried them, going 13-3. Al Davis had that effect on the team from the sideline and in his first season. He was special, to say the least.
It’s all over ESPN how Davis broke barriers. Hiring the first woman CEO, the first Latino coach, and the first African-American head coach (for the modern era) in NFL history. Then there are the countless times Davis would explore black colleges searching for football talent where no one else would. His famous mantra fits here perfectly: Just Win Baby. He didn’t care what you were to the outside world, when you joined his team, you became a “Raiduh”. He broke barriers at the cost of winning, and the amazing part, to me, is that he didn’t break a barrier to look good on tv. No, Al Davis broke barriers to accomplish his goal: Winning. Charlie Sheen might even secretly look up to Davis.
Here on the Fansided Network, we’re lucky to have Chris Shellcroft–a long-time Raiders fan with a unique perspective on the Raiders and Davis. Here’s an excerpt:
"With unmatched vision, persistence, dedication and commitment Davis made the Raiders and football as a whole into a larger than life establishment. While we all knew this day was coming it never seemed likely. Davis defied all the odds to get to where he was. It seemed as if Davis could defy death itself."
Paul Kuharsky, ESPN’s AFC South Blogger, wrote a story earlier in the day about the first time he met Davis. It makes me wish I could have met him myself.
"And the question I came up with produced the greatest answer I’ve ever gotten from a prominent sports figure. It was something like this:“So can you give me some advice, one Northeastern guy to another? How do I adjust to California?”We had been walking side by side, but Davis stopped, and turned to face me. I responded in kind.He put a hand on my shoulder and he said: “You don’t adjust. You just dominate.”"
How do you not miss a guy like that? Click for the full article.
Lastly, an excerpt from the Washington Post on what many believe reigns as Davis’ largest contribution to the league and the stalwart gem on his crown of a legacy:
"Before that, though, he was a pivotal figure in hastening the merger between the AFL — where he served as commissioner — and the more established NFL. Davis was not initially in favor of a merger, but his aggressive pursuit of NFL players for his fledgling league and team helped bring about the eventual 1970 combination of the two leagues into what is now the most popular sport in the country."