A true football legend is gone: Al Davis has died at 82. I really can’t believe it; I used to think the old man would outlive me. I know he drove Raider fans crazy in his later years, but he is also the reason the Raiders were ever great in the first place. This is not a day to celebrate, Raider fans; this is a day to mourn. Davis was one of the men who shaped the game of football. Sometimes ruthless, sometimes charming, always competitive, Davis was as fearless as he was meddling.
At his core, the old man was a gambler–was there a risk he was afraid to take?
As one of the head honchos of the AFL, he challenged the NFL at a time when it seemed untouchable. The AFL was as big a joke as Vince McMahon’s XFL, until Joe Willie Namath and his wagging finger stunned the NFL in Super Bowl III. The NFL eventually merged with the AFL, but Davis didn’t stop gambling.
He hired the first Latino head coach in Tom Flores, and signed a cast-off journeyman quarterback in Jim Plunkett: Then he went and won two Super Bowls with them. He hired the first black head coach in NFL history the first time he hired Art Shell–obviously, Shell’s first stint with Oakland was much more successful than his second one.
Years later, the gambler hired a little-known offensive coach named Jon Gruden who looked a little like Chucky from the Child’s Play movies, then signed another cast-off journeyman named Rich Gannon. The Silver and Black made another Super Bowl in 2002 thanks to those two men–unfortunately, Gruden’s system was still in place while he was actually on the opposite sideline. We all remember how well that turned out.
There were also many debacles during Davis’ reign, other gambles which didn’t work out so well. The horrors of watching Jeff George; the laziness of JaMarcus Russell; the coaching carousel of the last decade; moving the franchise back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is Davis is gone just as the Raiders seem on the verge of something great again. He made another shrewd move hiring Hue Jackson, and this team is loaded with young talent. Even as his health failed him, it’s clear Davis still knew a little something about the game of football.
Davis’ identity is all over the Raiders. He gave us the legendary slogans of "Commitment to Excellence" and "Just Win, Baby." The Raiders were a team that were dreaded and hated because Davis wanted it that way. Davis himself once said, “I’d rather be feared than loved and respected.” If that’s not the spirit of the Raiders, I don’t know what is.
In Davis’ era, the Raiders were always brash, colorful and fascinating. We had guys named “The Mad Stork,” (Ted Hendricks) “The Mad Bomber,”(Daryle Lamonica) and “Touchdown” Timmy Brown.
And the fans–don’t you think Davis loved us? I could never be a fan of another team. My team is disrespected in the media and hated by other fans; and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know Davis would agree. He cherished his beloved Raiders, but he didn’t give a damn about what outsiders thought of him.
Younger fans don’t understand the true legend that he was, and hopefully in death he will gain back a lot of the admiration he lost in his later years. As you listen to analysts and players talk about Davis this weekend, you might be surprised by what you hear–because the players absolutely loved him, and understand what a huge loss this really is. He was an innovator, a schemer and a true badass. Davis not only embodied the greatness of the Raiders–he was the Raiders.
When you put on the Silver and Black this weekend, Raider Nation, remember the man who made the Raiders what they are today. Just rest in peace, baby.