"The Autumn wind is a Raider. Pillaging just for fun. He'll knock you 'round and upside-down, and laugh when he's conquered and won."
Those words, flowing from legendary John Faceda's recitation of the 1974 Steve Sabol poem titled "The Championship Chase," seemed to personify the Oakland Raiders of the 1970s. Furthermore, they personified the man who was the Raiders.
The man who was, indeed, the ultimate swashbuckler, who represented a youthful, ambitious, strange brand of football known as the AFL.
Now that man, Al Davis, is gone.
For 82 years, Davis did it his way. He answered to no one.
The owner of the Oakland Raiders was more than just an owner. He began as a scout, then coach, then AFL commissioner, before ultimately becoming the Managing General Partner of the most brazen, proud and dominating franchise in the NFL.
Davis took over as head coach of the Raiders in 1963, after the franchise struggled as a burgeoning beginner. Following a 1-13 season in 1962, Davis immediately led the Raiders out of the doldrums by finishing 10-4 in 1963.
What followed were five AFL/AFC championships, three Super Bowl wins and the creation of a true brand that was Raider Football.
Davis was instrumental in the 1970 merger between the AFL and NFL, and was a true visionary. He hired the first African-American head coach, Art Shell, and the first Mexican-American coach in Tom Flores.
Color be damned, if you could coach or play, you were good enough to be a Raider.
Davis implemented what he termed "the vertical game"—an aggressive, downfield passing attack based on the offensive philosophy of Sid Gillman. In an age where running the football and playing defense were primary, Davis changed the game and played a major role in the exciting brand that is today's NFL.
Al Davis was the ultimate Raider, and it took his fearless character to handle other characters who became names, and helped make those names legendary.
Some were castoffs from other teams. Some were undrafted no-names who became stars. Lamonica. Stabler. Branch. Hendricks. Alzado. Matuszak. Plunkett. Long. No names shined brighter in a city of legends, with a franchise full of hardware.
None, save for the name of the man with the slicked-back hair, the Northeastern accent and the unquenchable thirst to win.
The man who started it all—Al Davis.
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