What words come to mind when i mention the name Al Davis?
Maverick, delusional, and overbearing are probably the first words that come to mind for the average football fan. The only word that matters when referencing Al Davis is; Iconoclastic.
Sadly, Mr. Davis’ legacy to most fans will be his last 10 years on this earth. But when on this 4th of July he should be remembered as a pioneer, and as a person who represented the values that are supposed to embody Americans. In fact, Mr.Davis is as American as apple pie if you think about it.
He lived out the “American Dream”, climbed the ladder to the type. He was born into a lower middle-class family in Brockton, Massachusetts. When he was young he moved to a suburb of Brooklyn, and spent the rest of his childhood there. He was a well known basketball player during his high school-years, to the surprise of most people, he did not play football at the high school level. He enrolled in Wittenburg College to play baseball, in hopes of playing for a higher profile school, he transferred to Syracuse University. He never achieved his dream of being a great athlete, he was a benchwarmer for Syracuse’s junior varsity baseball team. Once out of college, he chased something he was always interested in, football. Even though he never played organized football, he always had an un-breaking interest in the game.
He got his break. In 1950 he was hired as the Offensive Line coach at Adelphi university. He steadily worked his way up the coaching ladder, and by 1963 he was hired as the head coach of the AFL’s struggling Oakand Raiders franchise. He quickly turned them into a perennial contender by installing the Vertical Passing game and Bump N’ Run coverage, two of his trademarks that are still present in the NFL today.
In 1966 he left his head coaching position at the Oakland Raiders to become the commissioner of the struggling AFL. Once he took over as commissioner, everything changed. The AFL heavily challenged the NFL’s popularity at the time. He used his aggressive, out-of-the-box tactics that he is well-known for to put the AFL on the map. He was able to sign away many of the NFL’s top players, and convinced many draftees to play for AFL teams. The NFL realizing that the AFL was here to stay, decided to merge. Davis heavily pushed for the merger, so naturally he expected he would become commissioner of the unified league. Pete Roselle was appointed as commissioner of what was to be the NFL. Davis resigned as AFL commissioner in the summer of 1966.
In 1966 he bought a stake in the Oakland Raiders ownership. He also assumed the title of general managing partner. He was of the first people in professional football to draft black players.He drafted players from black college, which at that time most teams were unwilling to do that, and it payed-off with the Raiders’ performance on the field. You can say he was one of the civil rights pioneers of time. He didn’t care what ethnicity you were, “if you could play, you could play”"
Under his guidance, the Oakland Raiders became one of the most dominant teams of the late-1960′s through the 1970′s, and even into the 1980′s (at that time the Los Angeles Raiders). The Oakland Raiders won 3 Super Bowls uder his watchful eyes. The Oakland Raiders were considered a “dirty”, outlaw team, with Fred Biletnikoff and his stickum, to Jack Tatum and his hard-hitting, but Al Davis didn’t care. He wanted to win at all costs, and players who felt the same way. The Raiders always played hard and were tough to beat. His Bump N’ Run coverage-scheme and the Vertical Passing game were “in your face”, “take what we want” strategies. As I said they are trademarks of the Oakland Raiders, and are still prevalent in the game today.
He was known as a guerrilla fighter. Because of the poor situation with the Colosseum in Oakland, Al Davis moved the franchise to Los Angeles in hopes of getting a new, modern stadium. He fought Pete Roselle every step of they way and more often than not, he won in court. During the teams time in L.A., 1989 to be exact, he hired Art Shell the first black head coach in NFL history. By doing this he progressed civil rights even further. He also hired the youngest the youngest head coach three times (John Madden, Jon Gruden, Lane Kiffin). He never let your race, age or anything else about some from clouding his professional opinion of them, except for Lane Kiffin, he was a liar. To the surprise of many people, he moved the Raiders back to Oakand in 1995. He never got a new stadium in L.A., and supposedly the city of Oakland promised him a new stadium, which he never got.
By the early 2000′s the Raiders declined and became the NFL’s most losing teams through the 2003-2011 period. Many people started to forget all the contributions he made to the game of football. Many people started to label him as “out of touch” or said “he needs to sell the team, or hire a GM”. He never did sell the team until the day he died , that day was that day was October 8th, 2011. It was a very emotional day for many in RaiderNation and people around the NFL. The NFL lost a legend and an iconoclast. The Raiders lost the man who was the face of their franchise. He was able to make the Raiders one of the most marketable teams in American sports. Everywhere you go in the world you will find the loyal, passion fans of RaiderNation.
Whether you liked Al Davis or thought he single-handily ran the Oakland Raiders into the ground, you should appreciate him for the the impact he had on the NFL and football, whether the impact he had on civil rights in sports, or the breakthroughs in scheme he contributed to. He did what he believed in, fought for his beliefs, and made his way to the top. That’s as American as it gets.
When you sit down and watch fireworks and such, you should remember that it’s the birthday of an American legend. Al Davis is one of a kind, and we’ll never see another person like him again.
Thanks for your time, have a great 4th of July everyone!