A pioneer and a visionary, Al Davis passed on October 8, 2011.
I'm not going to rehash the valuable contributions Al Davis has made to the Raiders' organization and the National Football League in this piece. By now, you have read and reread article upon article by those in the nation's sporting press.
Even hours after his death, Mr. Davis is still trending on Twitter and has been on the minds of Raider Nation and football fans across the country. I don't have any interesting personal anecdotes or any in depth insight whatsoever. I am simply just a guy. Instead, I am going to talk about what Al Davis' life has meant to me as a fan and as a person.
I became a fan of the then Los Angeles Raiders around 1993, when I was five years old. I didn't have an older brother who was a Raiders' fan, I am the oldest of my parents' three children. My dad was not a Raiders' fan, he was a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I didn't live in Los Angeles, Oakland, or even California for that matter. I live in New Jersey.
What drew me to the Raiders was my affinity for pirates and Tim Brown. When you're five, it really is that simple.
I had no idea of the culture behind the Raiders, the misfit attitude, the commitment to excellence. I had seen Al Davis, but I didn't know much about him other than "Just win, baby." What I learned over the course of the next 18 years is that if you were to prick my finger, I bleed Silver and Black.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was born to be a Raiders fan.
Like many of Mr. Davis' decisions involving the Raiders, my decision to choose the Raiders was mine alone. For me, that is the part of Al Davis that will live forever: The value he placed on individuality and doing things his way.
Often times, in league matters, Mr. Davis would abstain from voting, feeling that his lack of a voice sent more of a message. He was dogmatic and adhered to his set of beliefs, almost to a fault at times. But no one can take away how unique of a man he truly was.
When I woke up and looked at my cell phone, I saw a barrage of text messages. I immediately knew something was wrong. We all knew (though some doubted) that this day would one day come. What we didn't know was how we would react.
I felt empty. Mr. Davis was the only thing that was consistent in my life. Al Davis was Raider football, but he was much more. I knew that regardless of who I was watching the game with, my dad, my brother, bar patrons, my friends, my grandparents, Mr. Davis would be at the game, or in his later years at home, watching. And I knew there was at least one other person who cared more than me about the outcome of the game.
I took him for granted. I think we all did. Football analysts would often times criticize his draft picks and free agent signings. Those same analysts are now speaking the world of him. Fans everywhere, including myself, at times bemoaned of how much control he had over the organization. Yet now, the Raiders face an uncertain future.
Forget Raiders football, Al Davis was the Raiders.
I always tell my family and friends that to me, football is more than just a game. It is a metaphor for life when you look at it a certain way. Not only is it a conversation piece, but it is the basis for many of my closest relationships.
So when I heard Al Davis had passed, my eyes began to tear. The tearing turned to crying, the crying turned to weeping, the weeping turned to sobbing. This fact in itself saddened me. I had never even met the man.
I got in my car and drove the short trip to my grandparents' house. If you have ever seen Hey Arnold, picture that apartment building and that is exactly how is it at my grandparents' house. This is where I spent every Sunday in my childhood, cultivating my love for football. Even though they are Cuban immigrants, my grandparents learned the sport and supported my Raiders.
With Al Davis passing, I was not going to take anything else for granted.
My great grandpa is 96 years old. The similarities to Mr. Davis are numerous, down to his wrinkled and cracked skin, the shape of his nose, his personality. Hell, they even look alike if it wasn't for the few extra pounds my great grandpa has put on over the years. Most of all, they are two of the most unique characters in my life. Al Davis would sue the NFL, my great grandpa would cheat at dominoes.
What I learned from this event are two of the biggest cliches in life: To be yourself and to not take things for granted. This has given me a focus and a motivation to chase what it is I truly want to do in life after I graduated from college this past May and an appreciation for those that have always been in my life. The things you sometimes take for granted.
On Sunday, the Oakland Raiders will face the Houston Texans, the roster filled with players Mr. Davis drafted or has given a second chance to. Think the team will be upset that the last game he watched was a 31-19 loss against the hated Patriots?
As for me, I will make sure the spirit of Al Davis lives on, at least in my own life. His commitment to excellence and love for all that he held dear are two lessons that resonate in every walk of life.
I think all of us see a little of Al Davis in all of ourselves. Many people joked that he was immortal. In a sense, he is.
I will continue to honor his legacy by living life as he did and the only way I know how: My way.
My prayers go out to his family and friends. Tonight, all of Raider Nation grieves. Rest in peace, Coach Davis. You will be deeply missed.