Al Davis: Celebrating His Amazing Life and Accomplishments
I write this article with a 2,000-pound heart.
An NFL giant has passed away today at age 82, so today, I write this article in celebration. No—not in celebration of his death but in celebration his life in football and his many accomplishments.
Everyone loves to talk about what a rebel he was as he did things his own way, but it's much deeper than that. He was an innovator—giving opportunities to many that otherwise wouldn't get one and had an eye for talent like no other.
He is actually responsible for the NFL we have today.
I even wonder how much Raider fans would love the game of football if not for the vibe and mystique of the Raiders.
Turn the page for a closer look.
Changed the Game
There are six quarterbacks on pace to throw for at least 5,000 yards in 2011. Every one of those quarterbacks and the fans who watch them owe all of that to Davis.
Football—as the great Vince Lombardi described it, was "first and foremost a running game." The NFL in the '60s was a dominated by Lombardi's Packers who were the Kings of the "three yards and a cloud of dust brand."
Enter the AFL with Davis and watch the game grow from that to the all-out aerial attacks the NFL features today. It was the AFL, who Davis was the commissioner of, that brought in the high-scoring, exciting brand of football with the vertical game.
Not only were the offenses wide open in the AFL under Davis, but the game itself was open to the public with the multiple camera angles and wireless mics. With that, his AFL was competing with and outgrowing the NFL—forcing the NFL to seek a merger.
The merger obviously did happen—giving us the game we have today with the adoption of wide open offenses. Even the rules have changed of late to give the offenses more opportunities to make big, exciting plays.
If not for Davis, the NFL wouldn't be as entertaining.
Even though there were some black players in the 50s and 60s, the NFL was a good ole boys league. Running back was the position at that time black players could come in and attain individual glory for themselves.
The NFL featured whites in the more glamorous positions of leadership and smarts like quarterback and middle linebacker. Back then, the wide receiver position was another position mainly manned by whites.
Davis loved speed, a trait that Black players have in abundance and was willing to go to black schools to get it. He often bypassed the the more highly-decorated college players of the NCAA for the players who had the speed he looked for in a receiver at black colleges.
He didn't stop there—in 1968, Davis drafted a black quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft for the first time in history. Dickey did end up being moved to wide receiver, but that was a first in terms of opportunities.
In 1979, Davis hired Tom Flores to be the first Hispanic head coach in the NFL, and Flores repaid him with two Super Bowl wins.Then in 1989, Davis hired Art Shell as the NFL's first Black head coach of the modern era.
Davis also gave opportunities to those that were considered too you to be a head coach—hiring John Madden, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden and Lane Kiffin in their early thirties. Also on the opportunity list, he gave Bo Jackson the opportunity to be the first man to play NFL football and Major League baseball.
He didn't stop there either—in 1997, Davis hired Amy Trask as the CEO of his organization—giving the NFL it's the first female executive.
If the late Florence Griffith-Joyner could run a 4.2, she would have been given an opportunity as a receiver if she so wished.
Created the Vibe and Mystique
Davis looked for the biggest, strongest, fastest players he could find for his brand of quick strike football. But the other side of it was the big, strong, nasty players to intimidate anyone that they had to play against.
It was taken a step further with the silver and black uniforms and logo that Davis himself designed. With all of the disagreements and lawsuits he had with NFL, he made himself the bad boy of the NFL.
In making his team in his own philosophy and image, he made the Raiders the bad boys of the NFL. He realized that everything in life is looked at as a conflict between good and evil, and in the 60s, teams like the Cowboys and Packers were the All-American boys.
Davis then took the dark side—giving misfits all over the world something to pull for. This whole dark-side vibe that Davis created is probably the reason why a lot of us love the Raiders so much.
The Raiders image even crossed over into Hip-Hop culture with NWA as Ice Cube has recently put out a song called "Raider Nation." Put all that together with the physical, aggressive style he wanted on the field—that's gangsta!
He created a vibe and mystique that drew in fans that probably wouldn't otherwise like football.
Just Win Baby
Davis' mantra was "Just win baby!"
The 2003 to 2009 was an very unkind period to him as his Raiders had seven straight losing seasons. But just win is exactly what he did over his football life as the 40 years prior to that, they've had only seven losing seasons.
Under Davis, the Raiders won 16 division titles and went to at least an AFC Championship game in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. The Raiders are the only team to do such a thing, and there's plenty of time to make it in the 2010s.
Let us not forget those three Lombardi Trophies.
On the Way Back
After a his seven-year fall from grace and miss on first-round quarterback Jamarcus Russell, Davis appeared to have his Raiders on the way back. This young team is 2-2 right now with plenty of injuries while playing the toughest part of their schedule.
Davis looks now to have the right ingredients for a bright future despite having lost some key players going into 2011. If you look at the drafts the Raiders have had since 2008, you can see a dynasty could be on it's way—proving Davis had an eye for talent to the very end.
When I say talent, I mean the coaches too as Davis just hired Jackson, knowing that he would leave us soon. He wanted a guy that was going to bring his franchise back into prominence by using his philosophy.
Going over the individual players and coaches is for the next article, but Davis has assembled talent from players to coaches.
Davis is the only man in the NFL to serve as a head coach, assistant coach, scout, commissioner and general manager. For all of his accomplishments in each role he had, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Along the way, he gave opportunities to those that wouldn't have gotten such opportunities. He has Super Bowls, Division Championships and he has reclaimed many careers for players.
But to me, the greatest thing he's ever done is create the Oakland Raiders—the team we love so much. Thank you Al—I have an addictive type of personality and you gave me an addiction that I love to no end.
The Raiders will always be your team, and they are now ready to "just win baby!"