With tomorrow being the birthday of the great Al Davis, we take the time to remember. We remember not only a Raiders legend, but a legend of the NFL and the sporting world. What he did for the game is unparalleled, and he did it with a swagger and mystique impossible to match. Al Davis did it his way, and his way only. Many loved him, many did not. For him, it was about one thing: Just Win Baby.
When the team lost Al on the Saturday morning before their week 4 game in Houston, emotions were rampant. Not only with the team, but around the Raider Nation as well. In a hard fought game, the Raiders did just what Al would have wanted them to do. Win. Fittingly so, the game ended with a Michael Huff interception in the endzone, with no time left on the clock. The Raiders had only 10 players on defense on that final play, and media around the league began to hint that just maybe Al Davis was on the field with them as the 11th man. I believe it.
Al never got a lot of media attention, nor did he want it. Especially in his later years with the Raiders, the only time we would hear from him or see him was during his new coaching hire press conferences. Not the best of occasions, but the media and fans everywhere knew they were going to be in for a show when Al Davis took to the podium. Even as he aged, it was apparent that the incredible knowledge of everything to do with the game of football was still there, and people around the league would certainly attest to that.
He was different than most NFL owners both past and present. Known as a hands on owner, he was quite often criticized for that, but far too often it seems that became a forgone conclusion as a problem for the team. While many owners today, are involved with the organization as a business investment, Al was different. For Al, it was about football, and a commitment to excellence of the Oakland Raiders. How many owners today could sit down with their coaching staff, break down film, and simply talk football to the level that Al Davis could? None. Al was as involved as much he was because he had the ability to do so. At the beginning of last season, now former Raiders coach Hue Jackson was raving about just that, and just how wrong some media perceptions of Davis were.
I was once asked if I could ever sit down and have lunch with anyone in the world, past or present, who would it be? Without a second of hesitation, I said Al Davis. Yes, I am a huge Raiders fan, and I always have been, but it is for more reasons than just that. The stories that you would get to hear about both the Raiders, the game overall, and really anything else for the matter, would be incredible. In the days following his death, all of the major sports networks held tributes to him and his life. They would speak to many people who came into contact with Al over the span of their football careers, and the stories they told were fascinating. As former Raider Matt Millen said in an interview with ESPN, in the NFL owners meeting rooms, when Al Davis spoke, everyone listened.
One thing that almost everyone was sure to include in their stories of Al Davis, was that the league would not be the league, or be anywhere close to what it is now, without him. Coach, Commissioner, General Manager, Owner, he did it all. What he will quite possibly be remembered and respected for the most, was his efforts to break, or more so his lack of recognition of, the racial barrier in the game. In Al’s mind, if you can play, you can play. If you can coach, you can coach. Color did not, and should not matter. He hired Tom Flores, the second Hispanic coach in NFL history. He hired Art Shell, the first African American coach in NFL history. Proving to be a proponent of equality on all fronts, he also hired the first female chief executive, who is still with the team today, Amy Trask. Famously included in NFL Films programs on NFL network, were the words of Eldridge Dickey, the first African American quarterback to be taken in the first round of the draft. “There was so much against him for that. Al was saying, ‘Let it go! You’re stifling the growth of the game!’” Al Davis did not see color. He saw players and people that deserved a chance, and that he wanted on his team.
It was well known that he loved his team, and that he always took care of his players. Some might say that he over paid on contracts in the later years, but who hasn’t? If you were a Raider, and you did not cross him, Al was going to take care of you. It is no coincidence that Raiders players rarely held out of camp demanding a new contract like we so often see around the league today. As a player, you knew that if you earned it, Al Davis was going to take care of you. As a result, he quite often made an effort to keep former Raiders in the family well beyond their playing years; Willie Brown, Fred Biletnikoff, and Jim Otto to name a few. It is quite fitting that the new management in place is led by a former Raider at General Manager, Reggie McKenzie.
Despite there being this new regime in Oakland, and much talk about change being on the rise, Al Davis will always remain a huge part of this team. Whether you agreed or disagreed with the ways in which he ran his team, he made the Raiders who they are, and a worldwide brand at that. As recognizable as the pinstripes of the Yankees, and the Purple and Gold of the Lakers, the Silver and Black is synonymous with the Oakland Raiders. Without Al Davis, Raiders fans would not have the team that they know and love today. He will always be known as one of the most powerful and influential figures in all of sports.
Today, the organization remains in the Davis family. Although Al is no longer there in person, his legendary presence will always be felt within the team, and throughout both the league and sporting world. He embodies what the Raiders are, and they too embody him. Pride and Poise, Commitment to Excellence, the Will to Win, and Just Win Baby. Al Davis is, and always will be, The Raiders.
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