Al Davis Legacy: Why JaMarcus Russell Is Small Stain on Great Record

Jeff ShullAnalyst IOctober 8, 2011

ALAMEDA, CA - JANUARY 18:  Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis speaks during a press conference on January 18, 2011 in Alameda, California. Hue Jackson was introduced as the new coach of the Oakland Raiders, replacing the fired Tom Cable.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Al Davis is a legend, a pioneer, an innovator, and one of the founding fathers of football as we know it today. 

Even as a Giants fan, I can appreciate what Al Davis did for football. His impact is felt from the West Coast to the East Coast and everywhere in between. 

While I may not have lived through the so-called "good years," for Davis having been born in 1986, I've always been fascinated in the history of the league, which is why I agreed to contribute to the coverage of his death. 

His death is crushing for Raiders fans. Davis has been their fearless leader for so many years, and brought the franchise fame, glory and trophies. Who do they turn to now that their long lost owner is gone? 

Davis' legacy began 60 years ago, and when the NFL and AFL were planning to merge, Davis—the last commissioner of the AFL—was an integral part of making the deal happen. 

But not the way you would expect. Davis felt the AFL would be able to sustain itself if they gave it more time, but the AFL owners disagreed. Despite Davis going after and successfully recruiting NFL players to move to the AFL, the league's eventually merged into what we have now. 

To understand just how much Davis is a pioneer to the NFL, you need only look at his accomplishments. 

He was the youngest to be hired as general manager/head coach at the age of 34. He became commissioner of the AFL at age 37. 

As a general partner in charge of football operations, Davis led the Raiders to Super Bowl wins in 1976, 1980 and 1983. He was the first ever to hire a black coach (Art Shell), the second to hire a Latino coach (Tom Flores), and the first to name a woman as CEO (Amy Trask). 

Trask had this message to her employees (courtesy of Pro Football Talk)" 

During this indescribably difficult time, let us all reflect upon what it means to be a Raider — let us all reflect upon how privileged we are to be Raiders — and let us all be Raiders.

Davis had as much to do with the landscape of the NFL as he did on the field, which many agree he helped turn the game in to what we see now—one highlighted by the vertical passing game.

Perhaps Davis will be remembered by his most identifiable quality—you either got with his program or you were shown the door. He did everything his way, whether it was the business side of things or the player personnel. 

He would not tolerate backlash from his star players, ordering them to be benched on multiple occasions or trading them away if they would not cooperate. 

In his later years, Davis struggled to put forth a winning team. After they appeared in the Super Bowl in 2002, the Raiders went on to have seven straight losing seasons and had five coaches in a six-year span.

He traded away a coach only to be beat by him in the Super Bowl, and he made possibly the worst draft pick in NFL history, taking JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall. 

Davis, infatuated with the vertical passing attack, took a player with a big arm, while ignoring signs that Russel didn't have what it takes to make it in the NFL. 

He had a poor work ethic, was horribly inaccurate, didn't listen to his coaches, got fat in the offseason, and seemed content with taking his money and falling into obscurity. 

While Davis does have that tarnish on his record, it doesn't take away from the fact that he's one of the greatest owners/general managers we've had in the NFL, and fans should take this opportunity to honor a great man. 

To understand his impact on the NFL, listen to the words of his peers. 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: 

Al Davis' passion for football and his influence on the game were extraordinary. He defined the Raiders and contributed to pro football at every level. The respect he commanded was evident in the way that people listened carefully every time he spoke.

Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair: 

Al Davis was a pioneer in the American Football League and National Football League. He was a dynamic force in merging the National Football League and American Football League. He built a great tradition with the Raiders. We are going to miss his innovative thinking. Our condolences go to his family and the Raiders organization.

New York Jets Owner Woody Johnson 

Al Davis was a pioneer, a unique man of conviction who had a profound impact on the NFL.

It's a shame that most people of my generation and those younger than me might not appreciate the Al Davis that changed the NFL forever. They will only know him as the Raiders owner who refused to give up control of his team, which may have led to a decade of misery. 

Prior to that, Davis was a winner and should go down in history as such. R.I.P. Mr. Davis, you will be missed by many.