Five months after Al Davis' death, Raider fans remain reluctant to embrace his son, Mark, with the same devotion. As first reported by Yahoo! Sports columnist, Mike Silver, Al’s frustration with Mark's football acumen (or lack thereof) was well known within the Raider organization, prompting concerns that Mark was ill-equipped to decide Hue Jackson’s fate.
But the firing, while indecorous, was a logical move toward solidifying control, and the reaction of Raider Nation—well, that’s more complicated.
One of the NFL’s most visible and contentious owners, Al Davis became as famous for his public battles as for his team’s play. He fired coaches, drafted indiscriminately, and employed the subpoena with equal abandon.
Yet, for every benching of a crowd favorite (Marcus Allen) or trading of a franchise quarterback (Kenny Stabler), Davis won legions of fans through his irreverence. Where other owners were genteel and polished, Davis was insolent and defiant.
Still, for all his character flaws, the elder Davis exuded reassuring strength. His irreverence, though frequently boorish, was authentic. His subversive behavior, while sometimes unpalatable, reflected impressive ambition, and fashioned an owner intensely revered by Raider Nation.
Even in later years, as the victories became scarcer, the public battles less coherent and the gruffness that had long characterized his persona began to seem more curmudgeonly than endearing, there remained a defiant texture to his decline.
But the abrasiveness that helped lionize Al has proven less effectual for Mark, whose prevailing image—that of an entitled opportunist who flippantly followed the game his father revered, and then dispatched of threatening personalities when his time came—has been difficult to embrace.
Silver’s revealing account of the skewering Mark received in front of coaches has been particularly damming, and stories of his dismissal while a Raider ball boy have lent credence to an unflattering pattern.
Even as his health declined, Al seemed averse to giving Mark more authority, leaving his public admonishments to reinforce fans’ perception of an aloof, undeserving heir.
This from a man who, by all accounts, could be fiercely loyal. Jim Otto is among many in the Raider Family who received nightly calls from his former boss during hospital stays. Past players were usually the first to be offered jobs too.
In 1979, Al hired former quarterback Tom Flores as head coach, and a decade later, appointed the league’s first African American in Art Shell.
During the 1970’s, he defended player interests by boycotting games in segregation-friendly New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, and continued to buck convention when he tabbed Amy Trask to be the NFL’s first female chief executive officer.
In fairness, fans' tepid response to Mark may have more to do with the elder’s behavior than the son's. As stories of the pair’s sometimes-truculent relationship reached the public, Al never really refuted perceptions of his son's indifference.
But whether the elder Davis did little to trumpet his son’s pending succession out of a strained relationship, simple neglect, or disappointment, Mark’s recent moves have been more encouraging.
In keeping with tradition, new GM Reggie McKenzie is a former Raider and, more importantly, an adept talent evaluator. New head coach Dennis Allen, meanwhile, brings an astute, defense-heavy mentality to the Raiders for the first time since John Madden.
Perhaps most reassuring, Mark has acknowledged his limitations and pledged to leave football decisions to McKenzie and Allen. “One thing I know,” said Mark at the press conference introducing McKenzie, “is what I don’t know.”
And if he can’t mollify his critics? I imagine he’ll channel his father in giving them the bird.