NFL Legends: Al Davis

James WilliamsonSenior Writer IJanuary 1, 2009

Everyone on this site has heard Al Davis mentioned at least once. Most of the time, he is the brunt of a joke or a humor article. I, myself, have made a joke about him.

However, do we know the real Al Davis? Most talk about him as if he has never had any success, and has been the Dr. Frankenstein of the football world with his creature known as the Oakland Raiders football team.

There is much more to Al Davis than meets the eye. This man is a genius. I think he has made the Raiders into one of the best teams in history. In fact, I think their success at times is better than any other team in the game.

Where do we start with Al Davis though? Let’s start when he was younger, before the skin started to sag.

"Al Davis was born on Independence Day of 1929, a few months before the stock market had its historical crash, and the Great Depression followed. He was lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family and graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in English.

However, he was a master in football. He was a line coach at Adelphi College, then went to U.S. Army team as a head coach. After a few years, he became the line coach at Southern California.

He finally came in the professional league as an offensive end coach (receivers coach) for the San Diego Chargers. He worked there from 1960 to 1962, and trained Lance Alworth, one of the top receivers of all time.

Then came the event that changed his life. He became the head coach and general manager for the Oakland Raiders. Before he arrived, the Raiders had compiled a 9-33 record in their first three years of playing. Davis came in, and in his first year, led the Raiders to a 10-4 record. He was the unanimous decision for AFL Coach of the Year in 1963.

His next two seasons as the head coach were not as successful though. In total, his record with the Raiders was 23-16-3 for his entire three years. He was appointed to be the Commissioner of the AFL in 1966." (Paraphrased Bio from Wikipedia)

Now this is where it gets a little confusing, so pay close attention.

The AFL was a separate league from the NFL itself. A group of wealthy businessmen, lead by Lamar Hunt, had petitioned the NFL separately for their own NFL expansion teams. After they were denied, Lamar Hunt brought them together to make a separate league themselves.

A total of ten teams were created as a result. They are (were): Oakland Raiders, New York Titans (now the New York Jets), Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs), Boston Patriots (now the New England Patriots), Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, and the Cincinnati Bengals.

The two leagues were having their own Cold War with each other, but it reached its peak when, you guessed it, Al Davis showed up.

To put it simply, Al Davis is like a raider. He's fierce, doesn't back down, and when you combine that with his intellect and genius, he was a deadly opponent. He went into the position of Commissioner and started his own strategic attack of getting the best players.

Now, in case you are still a bit puzzled, let me explain. We have a set draft of today. The worst team gets the first pick of the draft, and it follows a pattern until the draft is done. However, when the AFL showed up, it wanted the best players too, naturally.

The competition for draft picks was more like an auction really. The two leagues would each have separate drafts and players were picked at different positions in each draft by a different team. The player would have to choose which team to go to, and usually that was the team with the most money.

This led to a lot of acrimony and malice between the two leagues, and the cost of doing business just skyrocketed from there. Al Davis saw it as an Age of Empires game, battling for victory after victory with lucrative contracts.

Because of his actions, Tex Schramm and Lamar Hunt met to discuss a merger for the two leagues in order to stop all the lunacy.

Davis firmly believed the AFL was a superior league and was against the merger from the start. In his mind, it was an insult for the AFL to make compensations in order to join the NFL. He left his position and went back to being a general partner with the Raiders along with seven other men.

More drama and action followed Davis. He used crafty tactics to gain control of the Raiders organization. He even drafted a revised partnership agreement that gave him a dictatorial power over the Raiders.

He wanted to be in charge of the Raiders and use them as his army against the league itself. After the other manager, Wayne Valley, sold his stake in the Raiders, the other owners just let Davis do what he wanted. Probably because they were scared of him.

So, Davis had control of the Raoders and he didn't even have the majority of the share in the franchise! He never got the majority until 2005.

His ferociousness grew stronger when Pete Rozelle became the commissioner of the new league and started a feud against the NFL, that has continued to this day.

Bill Currie, of KDKA Pittsburgh, stated, "The public perception of Mr. Al Davis paints the man as an avaricious creep, having no ethics, and also who is a heretic, who has possibly with satanic help, publicly expressed doubt as to the divine origin of all the words uttered by Mr. Pete Rozelle." 

Davis hated him, and Rozelle didn't exactly have Davis high on his list for afternoon tea. Davis felt that he should have been commissioner of the united league, but while Davis was an aggressive bulldog, Rozelle was more of a peacekeeper, and he was more able to stabilize any problems that arose.

While Davis has always held that grudge, it did not affect his abilities as a general manager. He not only drafted players that had great physical ability, but had certain personalities. Davis wanted guys that would epitomize the difference of the Oakland Raiders. Davis has never wanted to fit in, so he basically says to players, "Come to the Raiders, where being different is normal."

Look at who Davis brought to the team:

Ted Hendricks was an outside linebacker that was nicknamed the "Mad Stork." He was 6'7, 220 pounds, and had arms as long as men's legs. Hendricks was a freak by every sense of the word. On the first day of training camp, he comes in on a horse and parades it around the field. Ken Stabler looks at it, and thought, "Fits right in."

Another fond memory the Raider players have was one of Hendricks is when he arranged for a woman to come out in the middle of the practice with a raincoat on. It turned out she was a stripper, and she dropped the raincoat, and ran two laps around the field.

Ken Stabler was the Crimson Tide's party animal. He also was left-handed in throwing the football, so teams had to adjust the defensive line to get him on his blind side. He was an amazing quarterback that bonded with star receiver Fred Biletnikoff, to make a deadly passing combination. Stabler is a quarterback, that many feel, has been wrongfully kept out of the Hall of Fame.

The Secondary was the deadliest part of the Oakland Raiders. When it comes to defensive history, the Steelers are the best at linebackers, the Cowboys at defensive linemen, and the Raiders at secondary. This secondary had the attitude Davis wanted, a bunch of men high on adrenaline and hatred of the norm. Jack Tatum was easily the deadliest, presenting receivers with hits that would put normal men in hospitals. He even paralyzed a young receiver, Darryl Stingley of the Patriots, in a preseason game.

Other names like Howie Long, George Blanda, Ray Guy, Rod Martin, and George Atkinson are all unique to the extreme, and that is only a few. The players Al Davis chooses are players with great talent, period. They don't have to have talent at a certain ability, just talent, and that has been Al Davis's way of breeding success.

Al Davis has always been different. Not just to be different, but because he thinks it’s right. In 1973 he drafted a punter named Ray Guy in the first round, which is just ridiculous because you're supposed to pick a man who is going to be in every down. Then when they get him, he has a broken foot. That takes a lot of faith to roll the dice on a player like that. 

However, it was definitely the right pick. Ray Guy, to me, is the greatest punter in the game of football, and he revolutionized the Raiders defense with his high spirals and accurate punts. He should be in the Hall of Fame, but the voters are reluctant to put a punter in.

The Raiders have not won a Super Bowl since 1983, and the last time they went there was in 2002. Since then, Al Davis has been criticized, insulted, and labeled many things of which 99 percent are negative. 

The players disagree with the general public as shown by the fact that eight players and John Madden asked Al Davis to introduce them to the Hall of Fame and one of them was his old receiver, Lance Alworth. No one has presented more people than Al Davis, and he may even extend that record if more of his people go in.

All of his former players of the early Raiders, except Marcus Allen and Ken Stabler (He had some difficulties with them), have nothing but great things to say about him. Michael Haynes said of Davis, "Al was a guy, where you felt like you could go to him and talk about your problems, and a lot of people did."

I think it is wrong to disrespect this man. He is the Oakland Raiders as much as Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens or Peyton Manning is the Indianapolis Colts. He has impacted football's history in so many ways, that I could write a book on it.

No team has had a variety of success like the Oakland Raiders in my opinion. Teams like the Bears, Giants, and Packers have a lot of their Hall of Famers from the days when there were not a lot of teams and those teams had fewer players, so it would be easier to have a Hall of Fame player on that team.

However the Raiders have either a Hall of Famer and/or a legendary player at nearly every position.

QB: George Blanda

RB: Marcus Allen

WR: Fred Biltenikoff

OT: Art Shell

OG: Gene Upshaw

C: Jim Otto

TE: Dave Casper

CB: Mike Haynes

S: Jack Tatum

LB: Ted Hendricks

DE: Howie Long

P: Ray Guy

PK: George Blanda

HC: John Madden

If one considered Warren Sapp a Raider, then defensive tackle is added to the list.

Most teams follow a specific plan of success. The Bears have always used running backs and defense to win games, the Colts use a high powered offense with a decent defense, and the Redskins have used an offensive line so great, that any quarterback or running back can flourish with.

The Raiders have never followed a specific plan, which has resulted in this wide range of success at different football positions with different methods.

In 1976 the Raiders won their first of three Super Bowls. They consisted of several players that either retired or moved on very soon after. Only nine were left four years later when they won the Super Bowl again with a new Head Coach.

It is hard enough to build a team, but to rebuild a team within four years to go to playoffs as a wild-card team, and beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl is like trying to run a marathon backwards.

Who rebuilt that team? Who drafted all these players? Who took a chance on some players that were felt to be busts?

Al Davis and his "commitment to excellence" is living proof that a person does not have to be the same as everyone else to succeed in life. He and his ways have affected NFL history in so many ways, that it would be easier for me to count the hairs on a sheepdog.

Davis has evaluated talent above all else. He hired the first Latin American Head Coach in Tom Flores, and promoted a woman, Amy Trask, to president of the club, higher than any other team.

He doesn't care if you are black, white, blue, green, purple, female, male, or the creature from the Black Lagoon. If you are good at your job, you get the job, whether you are a player or coach or executive. He holds no superficial criteria for his people. "Just win baby" is all he wants from them.

People criticize him for what he has done, but I applaud what he is trying to do. He is trying to get unique talent at certain positions. He drafts JaMarcus Russell, who is 6'6 and weighs 260 pounds. That is gigantic, but a lot of that weight is muscle, so Russell is probably one of the top three strongest quarterbacks in the league. If he gets hit hard, then he is more likely to get back up than other quarterbacks.

Last year, he drafted Darren McFadden, who has been struggling, but the things he did at Arkansas in his collegiate years were amazing, absolutely amazing. It shows that Davis is trying to set up an effective backfield.

The thing that I believe is wrong with the Raiders is the most common of the seven deadly sins, which is greed. The early Raiders had passion, resentment, and whatever else in that locker room, and it transferred on to the field. Today, football is more of a get rich quick scheme than it is about teamwork, brotherhood, and success.

Salaries have taken away the competitive drive. More men think about the fat paycheck more than the glory of holding the Lombardi Trophy. That is why Al Davis is struggling. Because there are not enough men like him, that are willing to put success over money.

Al Davis has always been seen as this ruthless, football version of Ebenezer Scrooge, who will do anything to get his way, whether it is breaking the rules or battling in the courts.

Al Davis has been involved in several lawsuits against the NFL. When he decided to move his team to Los Angeles, he did not ask for a league vote, and the league blocked his move with a court injunction. Al Davis then sued the NFL in the form of an anti-trust lawsuit, which are used to prevent monopolies, and won.

Another lawsuit he filed against the NFL was based on bias towards the Raiders, when they allegedly did not do enough to support his building of a new stadium after they came back to Oakland in 1995. He lost that one though.

"Al's a businessman. If you're standing in his way, puh, don't stand in his way. Its like standing in Tony Soprano's way." said Brian Murphy, a San Francisco radio personality.

Al Davis's life with the Raiders can easily be made into a movie with all the ups, downs, and in betweens he has had in life. The Raiders have been in more controversial/miracle plays than any team in football from the Immaculate Reception, to the Sea of Hands, to the Tuck Rule, and yet Al Davis has never really changed.

He still wears those same flashy clothes, and his love for the Raiders is unrivaled along with his determination to succeed to the point where the Oakland Raiders are his family, and for any of us to tell him to leave the Raiders or stop being involved, is basically telling a father to not care about his son.

Whatever people think of Al Davis is irrelevant for him really. I'm defending him, but Al Davis cares about no one who doesn't like the Raiders, and to his credit, he has enough success to silence those who criticize him.

Al Davis has accomplished: Three Super Bowl titles, five Super Bowl appearances, 12 Hall of Famers in his organization, and an induction to the Hall of Fame for himself in 1992, and immortality in the world of football.

Al Davis has also done something else that should also be noticed.

I'm a writer who does not hold the amount of respect for contributors or owners as I do for the players. If I was a Hall of Fame voter, I would vote for a player every time, rather than vote for a contributor, and the same thing goes for my articles.

However, Al Davis is one of the very rare exceptions. I find him more than qualified to deserve placement in NFL Legends.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the latest addition of NFL Legends. The one and only, Al Davis.


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